Thursday 27 December 2018

Leave it to beaver

Beaver: Castor fiber [example R] not Jerry "Annoying" Mathers. Big things are afoot in the hills hereabouts. The Big Friendly Giant BFG = Blackstairs Farming Group has landed €1,500,000 to investigate sustainable solutions to the management of Ireland's uplands.  It's quite the project - 5,000 hectares, divided up into 44 commonages incorporating 250 commoners who have rights to the mountain. These hills have been lived in by people for at least 5,000 years: our ringstone is about that old and is only one of several examples of neolithomania in the area. But it probably hasn't been upland heath for all that time. The neolithic markers of the ringstone lived in a forest which blanketed pretty much the whole island. Many of my neighbours shop in the medieval town of Enniscorthy down in the flat-lands astraddle the River Slaney 15km East of here. The town entrance nearest to us is called The Duffry Gate [Dubh Tír - the dark country].

"The mountain didn’t get that way without work". The landscape grew to look like it does now  because the farmers could get more money from mutton and wool than they could from timber; and when the timber was gone, they dug up all the accessible peat for fuel. Species which supported, or at least didn't interfere with, sheep did alright, others maybe not so good. It used to be good shooting country and every 12th August, guns would go up stairs looking to bag a few grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus. But that's all over now. Grouse do well a) if you don't shoot 'em all and b) if the landscape is managed to suit their particular needs. Something changed on our hills from about 25 years ago that put the grouse off their feed; or at least off the hill. In searching for our sheep this Summer, I've been up-starting a slightly smaller moor-land bird the golden plover Pluvialis apricaria. That species is also on the conservation concern red list in Ireland.

I heard that, with €1million+ sloshing around the landscape, there might be jobs for the boys some ecologists. Unless the Sustainable Solutions involve sheep, then there aren't going to be many folk from our townland competent to balance the rights of the mollusc pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera against those of the angiosperm tormentil Néalfartach Potentilla erecta. In any case, I went off to talk to some local ecologists in case they had a nephew in need of a job. I used to share a house with two long-haired botanists who were strong on oak woodlands. But my local ecocontacts lean more towards hydrogeology and the impact that running water has on the landscape.

I was chatting to one of them at the end of term Christmas party at The Institute. He told me about a fascinating consultancy that he'd been involved in. If there is any sort of a spill of rain building on a longish wet spell, then the town of Graiguenamanagh gets washed out. Last major case was 3 years ago under the impact of Storm Frank. The problem is the Duiske: a tumbling mountain stream that rises on the sides of Mount Brandon and hits the River Barrow at right angles. That stream was early seen as a source of hydro-power and suggested the site of an ancient Cistercian monastery. The town grew up round the abbey and Main Street runs parallel to the stream. Buildings have appeared on both side of the stream which is now confined in a sort of open drain.
Too much rain and the water bursts out through the shops [R Jan 2016] to shoulder its way down-hill along the street. It is too late to remedy once the flood waters arrive at the town limits. My geo-engineering friend had advised them to encourage the water to dissipate its energy on the face of the hill.  "They've re-introduced beavers in England" he said; to let a potent image sink into the heads of the county council. Nobody is suggesting bringing beavers to Ireland - there is no evidence that they were ever part of the Irish fauna. But maybe some holding dams could be installed across the water-courses on the hillside above the town. Please make sure that they are properly constructed because a dam failure is far worse than any floods which occurred before its construction - ask Dolgarrog. It wouldn't be as a big a project as Oroville, but a series of dams has the capacity to even out the flow of water so that it is Goldiloxian = just right for almost all the time. Heck, they might even be induced to produce a bit of electricity.

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