An Irish farmer’s vision for biodiversity

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Tommy Earley remembers the day a wildlife ranger spotted a rare orchid on his estate in Mount Allen, Roscommon.

“He got down on his knees and started peeling the grass and said, ‘You know what’s in here?’ said. “The farmer remembers.

Earley freely admits that she did not know and had never heard of the Irish Lady’s Tresses orchid until 17 years ago.

One of the first things he did was put up a fence around the protected species, which can take up to eight years to bloom, as her cattle graze near the shores of Lough Allen.

This discovery excited connoisseurs so much that Earley soon was amazed to see that the farm, located under the Arigna mines near the Roscommon-Leitrim border, had become an attraction.

On Tommy Earley grounds.  Photo: Brian Farrell

On Tommy Earley grounds. Photo: Brian Farrell

“It was like finding a small diamond in the grass. I bought nine carloads from the British and Irish Botanical Society here one day,” he says. “A lady came from Scotland, which is a very long way to see a flower.”

Switching to organic farming in 1996, Earley has since welcomed thousands of people who want to see firsthand the work he has done to preserve habitats and, as a result, observe the different species that thrive there.

As Cop26 concluded this weekend, Irish Wildlife Trust biodiversity champion Earley is hopeful that a way can be found to protect the environment from the worst effects of climate change.

He says several neighboring farmers are examining carbon storage efforts by “rewetting” the 25-acre raised marsh on his land. The project is under the supervision of Dr Raymond Flynn, a hydrologist at Queen’s University Belfast.

“I can drain the water tomorrow and pour grass seed over it and put it on the cattle, but this is a very scarce habitat,” says Earley, who has identified 15 species of algae in the swamp since the project began.

“The swamps have been there for thousands and thousands of years, storing carbon all this time. It’s like a history book under our feet. Who am I to change this?”

walking tours

Not only do neighbors come to their aid to use their own bogs to capture carbon, they also host walking tours of the farm where rare species can be found, including Earleys, protected butterflies Marsh Fritillary and Large Heath.

Another pet project for Earley, who ran the 100-acre farm, was a successful attempt to attract cubs by controlling predators like gray crows and foxes. Ireland’s kitten population is believed to be on the verge of extinction, but this year, with the help of ecologist Dr Sean Kelly, a pair of kittens raising three chicks was tracked on the farm.

“It’s so nice to hear her voice again and I hope there will be more now,” she says.

Earley enjoys hosting visitors to the ranch, whether for dawn choir marches, to observe the work being done to restore the marsh, or to admire its “butterfly meadow.”

“It’s great to see the farm through their eyes. “Visitors see different things and you can learn a lot from them about where you have lived your whole life.”

Many guests marvel at the history attached to Mount Allen House, which has 800 acres and was originally home to the O’Connor family, who had strong links to Wolfe Tone and composer Turlough O’Carolan.

“It’s an old house,” Earley says without exaggeration about the property, which dates back to 1671.

financial incentives

The Earleys moved there in 1888 when their grandfather, Michael Earley, who had worked there in his youth, returned from a job as a steel worker in the United States and bought the property.

One path through the land was the original Mohill to Carrick-on-Shannon route, and this was the route General Humbert took on his ill-fated march to Ballinamuck for the battle that marked the defeat of the main force of the French offensive. during the 1798 revolt. Two of the O’Connor clan merged with Humbert and had to flee to the United States as a result.

“One of them had a grandson named Charles O’Conor of New York, who was the first Catholic to be nominated for the U.S. presidential election in 1872,” Earley says.

Earley says it’s good to see Cop26 focus on climate change, but “at the end of the day, we all have to play our part.” Farmers have proven in the past that they are willing to do what is necessary, he says.

“When farmers were told to grow grass and produce more, they did it. there was no value [placed] on biodiversity then,” he says.

“Farmers are eager to restore their swamps for the public good. I think there will be financial incentives for them to do this because the farmers have to make a living and that is in the public interest.”