This weekend on Newstalk, in a new two-part documentary THE FARMERS WHO WENT WILD, Mary Brophy retraces the story of the supposedly unlikely friendship between two farmers and an ecologist. And how their shared love of wildlife saw them attempt to reverse the devastating impacts of decades of intensive farming on biodiversity, in one Cork river valley.
Photo ‘[L]Donal Sheehan, Dairy farmer and [R]Paul Moore, Tillage & beef farmer and co-founders’ of the B.R.I.D.E’ project’ © Neal Boyle
It has been dubbed the sixth mass extinction event as we lose biodiversity around the globe at an unprecedented rate in human history. Plants, animals, birds and invertebrates are all going extinct and this seismic change in the natural world is caused by humans. It’s two years since the Dáil announced both a climate and biodiversity emergency yet in Ireland too, biodiversity loss continues to accelerate as we push more and more species to the brink.
Insect and bee populations have plummeted, with a third of our 97 wild bee species in trouble. In 2021, close to two-thirds of common birds in Ireland are headed for extinction. The kestrel, a magnificent bird of prey associated with the Irish landscape for centuries, is now endangered. And farmland birds like the barn owl and skylark are among our most threatened species, with scientific study after study attributing these major losses to the changes in land use and agricultural practices. Since joining the EEC and signing up to the Common agricultural policy in 1973, Irish agriculture intensified, and across five decades brought more and more land into production. Gone were the mixed farms; pesticide use increased, hedges were taken out, wetlands drained and most pastureland now consists of only one or two grass species unlike the hay meadows of the past. All of which drastically reduced the diversity of habitats that healthy wildlife populations of insects, birds or animals need to survive. The Irish farming landscape is growing silent.
“Rewilding your farm is fine but you still have to make an income from it. There aren’t many people who are able to see how you can knit the two; I think that’s what we were bringing to the table” - Donal Sheehan, Cork dairy farmer & co-founder of the B.R.I.D.E. project
‘The Farmers who Went Wild’, tells the story of three friends – two farmers and an ecologist – who attempted to do something about the devastating biodiversity loss across their farming landscape of east Cork. For Donal Sheehan [dairy farmer] and Paul Moore [beef and tillage farmer], a love of wildlife had motivated them to create habitats and reduce pesticide use across their own intensively farmed land. But their isolated pockets for nature weren’t creating a habitat large enough to support significant numbers of species or one that would encourage endangered species to return. Then Paul introduced Donal to his birdwatching friend and ecologist Tony Nagle. And that was when the three came up with their ambitious plan to get the farmers of an entire valley in Cork to follow their lead. They just needed a million euro.
Across two programs, presenter Mary Brophy retraces their attempts to design and fund a scheme that would see intensive dairy farmers in the Bride valley introduce new habitats like ponds and woodland, decrease their pesticide use or farm differently to protect targeted species like the skylark. And how they tried to convince government officials, industry players and scientists like farmland ecology expert John Finn to help them. Through the documentary, we visit some of the growing numbers of farmers across the country who’ve made a deliberate decision to farm with nature, like Kim McCaul in Kildare and Thomas Early in Co. Roscommon - to find out why.
And discover what’s at stake for wildlife if the conversation around Irish farming and biodiversity doesn’t change.
So can the farmer and the ecologist be friends? Well yes, and this is the story of what happened when three such friends started talking.
‘The Farmers who went Wild’ will be broadcast on Newstalk on June 5th and June 12th with repeat broadcasts on June 13th and 20th. And will be available as a podcast and to stream online.
‘The Farmers who went Wild’ is presented by Mary Brophy, written and produced by Neal Boyle, and was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, with the television license fee.