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Robe’s rubbish a shocking reality

Outdoor Living

APPALLING VISTADespite the sign at the entrance to Creagh Wood near Ballinrobe, rubbish carpets the woodland floor, forcing resident deer to pick their way through plastic and glass. Pic: John Shelley

Country Sights and Sounds

John Shelley

How can we possibly be fishing for trout again already? It seems no time at all that we were packing away the fly rods and staring into the long gloom of another Irish winter. Over the last few months I have walked miles of river bank and kept an eye on traditional spawning places, where trout gathered over gravel shoals to produce the fish we hope to be catching in three or four years’ time.
While I walked and watched, a torrent of autumn leaves swept by, then storm-broken bare winter branches and all manner of other natural waste. There were days the rivers reached far beyond their banks to fill fields and threaten to edge onto roadways, and others when they shrank back to their normal defining course to leave a brief sample of the toxic load they bear on overhanging branches and fencelines. Plastic; plastic sullies our world.
I took stock today, looking through the few items I brought home from the shop. Steak, neatly bedded on a plastic tray and covered with clingfilm. A plastic dish filled with pasta in some kind of sauce, covered in plastic film. A packet of figs with an organic label, looking pretty and earthy as if we’d plucked them straight from the tree, yet wrapped in, yes, you guessed it, plastic. Even my wine has a plastic stopper.
What is wrong with us? Whatever happened to old-fashioned and honest brown paper, cardboard and cork?
How many millions of plastic pieces enter landfill daily, or are otherwise discarded into the environment?
This morning we walked through Creagh wood, near Ballinrobe, looking for fallow deer. We followed a familiar path through the few remaining trees until we reached the place the River Robe (once famous for its population of trout, now more so for the black bin bags and silage wrappers that line its length and decorate the bridges) enters the broad waters of Lough Mask. We were amazed... no, amazed isn’t the word – startled, shocked, appalled, I know not what – at the tide of waste that had been deposited by winter floods. It is nothing less than shameful.
We found a small group of female fallow deer with last year’s fawns at foot. They ran ahead of us, skipping over discarded bottles and bags, and plunged into the Robe when we pressed too close. Deer are strong swimmers and it took mere seconds for them to cross the swollen river and scramble out on the far side where we could not follow. Back on dry land, they wasted no time in losing themselves in the bushes.
There are but a fraction of the deer left, which is just as well. With less of them, the forest floor will have a chance to regenerate after years of being stripped bare. Still, I have mixed feelings on the matter. More than almost anything, I’d like to see the native red deer restored to its proper place. What are the chances of that happening? As close to zero as can be got.
The fallow deer’s fear of man has saved it from being eradicated altogether. The red deer, on the other hand, is naturally curious, and less likely to run as fast or as far. It is also bigger, much meatier and far more tasty, and so is highly prized by those who prefer to get their meat fresh from the land. With a little more work it could come already wrapped.
The large amount of waste at the mouth of the Robe brings to mind two questions.
One, how did it get into the river in the first place? The answer lies, or lives, in the towns of Ballinrobe and Claremorris, or close to river bridges between the two. It’s not for me to say how the gentlefolk who dispose of their waste in this way should be treated. Perhaps they could somehow be encouraged to share in the work of clearing up?
Question two: If such a great quantity of refuse lies in that one place, how much else lines the bottom of the lake? Lough Mask provides drinking water for a large number of people, including, no doubt, many who continue to pour their rubbish into it. Public education is sorely needed.
We could go on. Our wildlife, together with the natural systems it constructs and maintains, is in jeopardy. We are thoroughly dependent on the health of our environment. Clean water means more trout for me. It means much more than that for every one of us.