Preventing nature from being ‘whittled away’

 ‘Whittled Away’ is the title of a recently published book by Pádraic Fogarty. In the book, he describes the decline in Irish wildlife and suggests what can be done to ensure that many more species are not brought to the brink of extinction.   Another initiative is ‘National Biodiversity Week’ – it’s all about inspiring people to protect nature and it takes place from Friday, 19 – Sunday, 28 May.



‘Ireland’s natural heritage is being steadily whittled away by human exploitation, pollution and other aspects of modern development. This could represent a serious loss to the nation.’

Irish Government Report, 1969.


Whittled away


Pádraic Fogarty opens his book by quoting the urgent call for intervention to prevent the loss of our natural heritage which was in a government report published in June 1969 – almost 50 years ago.  He tells us that since that report was written, nature in Ireland has continued to disappear at an alarming rate. Overfishing, industrial-scale farming and pollution have decimated wildlife habitats and populations. In a single lifetime, vast shoals of herring, rivers bursting with salmon, and the sound of birds such as the corncrake and the resident curlew have all become folk memories.


‘Whittled Away’ charts the decline and the failure to manage our natural heritage. On a positive note Pádraic Fogarty says that all is not lost: he reveals the possibilities for the future, describing how we can fill our seas with fish, farm in tune with nature, and create forests that benefit both people and wildlife. He calls for the return of long-lost species like wild boar, cranes and wolves, showing how nature and wildlife can recover hand in hand.


Pádraic Fogarty is a professional ecologist who has served as chairman of the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), and now works as its campaigns officer and editor of the magazine Irish Wildlife.  In recent weeks he has been critical of the lack of action to prevent the spate of gorse fires countrywide. The fires have destroyed a lot of wildlife including the nests of already endangered birds such as the Hen Harrier.

‘Whittled Away’ is available in hardback or as an eBook from the usual sources as well from the publishers Collins Press at or from IWT

BIODIVERSITY WEEK (19th – 28th May)

Biodiversity Week takes place next week. It’s about connecting people with nature and communicating the importance of biodiversity and motivating people to play their part in protecting it. It’s also about entertaining people; showing the fun and wonder that can be found in nature; and inspiring people to learn more, see more, do more. There are over 50 events taking place around the country. While none are listed for Co Monaghan there are events in Co Cavan (a bat walk in Virginia) and in Co Meath (a bird/butterfly event in Girley Bog, Kells).

Are you an amateur photographer?  Would you like to be in with a chance to win up to €500 in cash prizes? Then why not enter one of the Biodiversity Photographer of the Year competitions! There are two photography competitions underway.  ‘Biodiversity Photographer of the Year’ competition is open to the general public and ‘Young Biodiversity Photographer of the Year’ competition is open to secondary school students. See details of events and competitions at


For those who would like hands-on experience in recording and monitoring Ireland’s flora and fauna, there are a number of citizen science projects that you can get involved with. Citizen scientists are volunteers who play an active role in gathering data for scientists. According to a recent study, citizen science has the potential to contribute hugely to regional and global assessments of biodiversity. Citizen science can engage thousands of people in conducting simple experiments, providing important data that would be too time-consuming to generate through other means.

Five suggested citizen science projects relating to biodiversity are listed on the website These are Bat Monitoring, Bird / Butterfly Monitoring, Ladybird Monitoring, Count Flowers for Bees and From Soil to Sky (Soil Monitoring). For more information see


The theme for International Day for Biological Diversity 2017 on Monday 22 May is Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism. Biodiversity, at the level of species and ecosystems, provides an important foundation for many aspects of tourism. Recognition of the great importance to tourism economies of attractive landscapes and a rich biodiversity underpins the political and economic case for biodiversity conservation. Many issues addressed under the ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ directly affect the tourism sector. A well-managed tourist sector can contribute significantly to reducing threats to, and maintain or increase, key wildlife populations and biodiversity values through tourism revenue. This is the challenge for tourism in Ireland and globally.

The Losers in Organic Farming

Written by Dermot McNally

‘Be sure to take all your organic information with a pinch of salt.’

Farmers are among other things, business people – they produce product to sell, hopefully at a profit. So with this in mind Dermot McNally was puzzled as to why more farmers won’t consider switching to organics. The question occurred to him in his local supermarket. He noticed that the rasher (bacon) in his hand was imported from Denmark. Surely we can satisfy the market for rashers ourselves? No is the answer. Dermot investigates why…

Is there a shortage of pigs in Ireland? Ha! Not a chance! We’ve about 1.3 million pigspigs.png being fattened for slaughter in Ireland. That number includes the pink porkers in the farm up the road. I try not to stand down wind on warm summer days. Was there something special about the Danish rashers? Not particularly. Just the fact that they were organic, more expensive and had a higher percentage of pork than the Irish rashers.

The truth is we can produce run of the mill conventional pork until the pigs trot into the concrete fattening houses but not enough organic pork. It’s a statistical fact that at a third of the European average, we’ve a dismal percentage of organic farmers versus other European nations. It’s also surprising because organic farming is generally more profitable (than other models) which is an important starting point. There’s other positives: it’s generally less intensive, enjoys better margins, attracts better grants and demand for organic products is outpacing supply (except perhaps for lamb where there’s little if any price premium).

Perhaps it’s because we’re slow to change our ways in Ireland and the transition from conventional to organic farming is challenging. And without doubt, organic farming isn’t a cure-all and may not work for many farmers (just as ostrich and deer farming never caught on). Still, none of this explains the low uptake of organic farming in Ireland. So why don’t farmers want to go organic?


One answer is that some are happy. Happy with their return on investment, the effective wage per hour when calculated against income. Farmers who’ve found a niche or vast economy of scale. These farmers exist and they are doing fine farming conventionally using intensive systems and doing everything that the environmental movement hates – using lots of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics. It works for them so why would they change?

However for every farmer like the one above, there are many not doing so well. The average farming income is stagnant or falling. Working long, unsociable hours and making a negative return on investment. (Of course lack of profits isn’t affecting the meat factories, the food processors, the suppliers to the farmers or the supermarkets selling on the end product. They all make profit almost every year – if they didn’t they’d go bust.) The truth is the average Irish farmer would be financially better off putting the same amount of working hours into stacking shelves in a supermarket and putting his/her land out to rent or into forestry. Or they could consider a new farming enterprise, one of which might be organic farming.

The thing is, many won’t even consider organic farming as an option. Many seem aware of the pitfalls and drawbacks and none of the advantages. But here’s the crux! Many farmers have never considered that some in the greater farming industry would prefer if the average Irish farmer didn’t rock the boat by going organic. The simple truth is that there are those who will lose out financially if more farmers go organic. And I’m guessing that their opinions are having a negative effect on the general perception of organics within the wider farming community. They include:

  1. The agro-chemical companies who supply pesticides, herbicides and fungicides which are heavily restricted in organics.
  2. Petroleum based fertiliser manufacturers lose out as farmers maximise on-farm sources of manure and natural nutrient to improve soil condition.
  3. The local farming cooperatives / stores who sell all of the above see a drop in sales.
  4. Vets are generally busier in conventional farms as large numbers of animals are pushed through more intensive systems.
  5. And the drug companies supplying the medicines to fix sick animals see a falloff in their sales.

To conclude then: for those would be organic farmers, be sure to take all your organic information with a pinch of salt.

The May noticeboard can be found here

‘Sustainable Energy Communities’ – the way forward?

Written by Liam Murtagh


How can communities – our parishes, villages, towns and county – become more energy efficient and develop more renewable energy? Such energy initiatives will benefit not just our communities; they will also have a positive national and global impact. Support for groups to undertake sustainable energy initiatives in their communities is being provided through the Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) Programme which is funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Liam Murtagh went along to a networking event to find out more.

On Saturday last, a number of border county sustainable energy groups came together at the Dolmen Centre in Portnoo, Co Donegal. The aim was to learn more about the SEC Programme and to share personal experiences in developing a ‘sustainable energy community’ in their areas. Coincidentally the event took place on Earth Day – it’s an annual global event and this year the theme was environmental and climate literacy.


The Dolmen Centre is a community resource centre that has a number of green energy features. These include solar panels and a geothermal heat pump. The Centre was built in the 1990s and on a tour of the facility it was pointed out the management of centre would now like to extend the building and bring the Centre to an almost ‘passive’ energy standard. Additional energy upgrade works being considered include extra insulation, replacement energy efficient windows and possibly a new wind turbine that would not just supply the Centre with power but would also export power to the grid.

 dolmen.pngPictured at the Sustainability Energy Communities border networking event at the Dolmen Centre, Portnoo, Co Donegal were Liam Murtagh, Castleblayney Sustainable Energy Group, Mel Gavin, IT Sligo, Seamus Dunbar, Manorhamilton, Leo Murray, IT Sligo, Kenneth Doherty, Dolmen Centre, Gillian Gannon, SEAI and Eithne Ní Lochlainn, Gortahork.


 Mel Gavin, a mentor to SECs in the border counties, reminded those attending that a SEC


Mel Gavin, IT Sligo and SEAI mentor

is a community in which everyone works together to develop a sustainable energy system. To do so, they aim as far as possible to be energy efficient, to use renewable energy where feasible and to develop decentralised energy supplies. Decentralised energy refers to energy that is produced close to where it will be used, rather than at a large plant elsewhere and sent through the national grid.


According to Mel Gavin, SECs can include all the different energy users in the community including homes, sports clubs, community centres, churches and businesses. The SEC Network in the border counties was there to help build capacity and share skills across communities.

At the networking event the five steps that SEAI recommends for Sustainable Energy Groups were outlined.

  1. Commit – develop a community charter and sign up a partnership agreement with SEAI
  2. Identify – energy master plan
  3. Plan – Establish goals, work programme
  4. Take Action – engage projects, finance, grants
  5. Review – assess impact, share learnings

The process gets repeated on a continuous basis and a mentor is available to the groups to advise on key steps on the journey. SEAI funding is provided to groups in order to develop their competencies and also for technical support.    Many SECs have only recently been set up in the border counties but there are a number well established community based sustainable energy initiatives around the country.


The event in the Dolmen Centre focused on the process by which Sustainable Energy Groups agree a partnership with SEAI and apply for funding for the development of an Energy Master Plan for their community. Some concern was expressed by groups in relation to the way SEAI funding is paid to groups retrospectively, on completion of a project or phase of a project. This involves groups seeking bridging finance which many group representatives felt creates unnecessary barriers for some communities participating in the Programme.

Despite the challenges, many groups will manage to access the substantial SEAI support that is available to groups wishing to undertake projects relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy in their communities. Further information on the Sustainable Energy Communities Programme is available at http://www.seai/SEC.

Events on in May can be found here