Green Shoots of Change
The prevalence of reports on the effects of climate change can cause people: 1) to “switch off” entirely, seeing no point in making attempts to change their lifestyle; 2) to suffer from climate anxiety, worrying endlessly about our future; or 3) to take action. The last is undoubtedly the most useful. Some farmers have always allowed corners to run wild (traditionally called the “hare’s corner”), left boggy fields by river margins etc. and not used fertilisers or chemical control for pests and weeds. However, recently these were in the minority as, for decades, the EU rewarded farmers financially for ripping out scrub, draining bogs, removing hedgerows or infilling ponds in order to maximise land for agricultural output, in addition to encouraging the use of artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to increase yields. The cost to the environment was hugely detrimental. Owing to the current climate and biodiversity crisis, EU regulations are at last changing and they now incentivise farmers to provide habitat for wildlife; the advantages of harbouring a greater diversity of plants and animals is already becoming obvious, for example when the return of barn owls has obviated the need for rodenticides. Some farmers are setting additional land aside for the sake of biodiversity. A number of folk in Wicklow are proactively engaging in ways to improve biodiversity and reverse the loss of wild habitat. Some do so quietly on their own, maybe by buying up an acre or two of land and letting nature move in. Others buy larger tracts of previously agricultural land, with the sole purpose of improving biodiversity. An example of this is to be found at Wildacres, where in 2017 Gilly Taylor and Brian O’Toole bought 17.5 acres of farmland on the Redross River and have transformed it into a wonderful nature reserve, creating many ponds, woods, wildflower meadow etc. Education is also a core mission and visitors can do courses there or go on tours around the reserve. Sites such as these are vital as reservoirs of wildlife and also show how nature can rebound. However, not all land can become nature reserves, as clearly land still needs to be farmed to provide food. Maybe the present increase in environmental awareness, from the EU down to every farmer, will encourage more interest in preserving our wonderful and diverse wildlife, whilst also producing healthy food.