In the first of a two part series examining rural Irelands relation with the environment we look at the relationship between rural communities and the environment and the various ways rural communities negatively impact on the environment and biodiversity.
Longford Councillor Paraic Brady’s passionate call for a cull of pine martens, which he described of ‘being out of control’ is symptomatic of the long tradition of particular politicians and interest groups connected to rural Ireland disregarding environmental concerns as a rule.
While rural communities maintain a geographical and economic closeness to nature this is not always reflected in the attitude of rural people towards nature and the environment. With rural politicians such as Mr Brady describing the recovery of the once near extent pine marten as akin to an increase in problematic vermin, and high profile rural TD’s such as Michael Fitzmaurice and Danny Healy Rae both publicly questioning the validity of climate change serving as a examples for this disregard for the environment.
It is not just rural politicians who are guilty of dismissing climate change and other environmental impacts humans have on the plant, farmers groups such as the IFA which have promoted the image of Irish farmers as being mindful of nature while simultaneously lobbying successive governments to adopt policies which negatively effect the Irish environment.
This conflict between environmental protection and agriculture which has seen Irish farmers pitted against environmentalists is not a simple reflection of farmers opposition to environmental protection, indeed many farmers see themselves as having an attachment to nature and are willing to take steps to limit the negative environmental impact of farming. The continued success of various argri environmental schemes attests to this.
Farming is of course an industry, and like an other industry those working in agriculture make decisions motivated by the need to make a living from themselves and there families. This need to make a living has meant that the nature of Irish farming has changed with more intensive farming being adopted as a more profitable system.
While environmental schemes have provided an opportunity for farmers to limit the environmental impact of farming while maintaining a sufficient level of income, they nevertheless represent a minority of the farming community. Of greater importance is the potential impact of the targets set by harvest 2020, the increase in production called for by harvest 2020 with its associated rise in green house gas emissions will of course negatively impact on Ireland’s efforts to achieve our stated target of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Balancing agriculture production and efforts to reduce emissions will require an examination of agriculture as an industry,particularly the movement towards increased intensity and scale. In order to ensure agriculture produces as little pollution as possible while stile providing an income for farmers and contributing to the national economy. While emissions represent a critical challenge for Irish farmers, another aspect of the conflict between agriculture and nature has been the impact of agriculture on biodiversity.
Farmers often invoke their image as stewards of the countryside who maintain habitats as a part of their days work , this image however glosses over the impact farming (and other human processes) have on the environment. Many issues including hedge cutting, turf cutting, gorse burning and the use of artificial fertilisers has seen farmers defending practices which have a proven negative effect on biodiversity .
Despite rural communities being the most at risk from the climate change environmentalism has been perceived by many in rural communities as an ‘urban’ with the most vocal environmentalist voices receiving little support in rural areas, or as in the case of turf cutters being perceived as a threat to rural interests.
The tragedy of this is that the rural way of life many seek to defend and the biodiversity long associated with the Irish countryside are threatened by climate change through flooding and increasingly volatile weather, and by practices which negatively impact on the ecosystems rural people ought to protect as stewards of the environment.
Rural communities must reassess how they relate to the environment that they live and work in if there is to be a sustainable future for rural communities.