Gavin Andrews and Jo Scott present a new series of the rural affairs magazine celebrating the richness of rural life in Northern Ireland.
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Hello and welcome to a new season
and a new series of Home Ground.
Over the next four weeks,
we'll be celebrating the richness of rural life -
its people, places and stories.
And here's what is coming up on tonight's programme.
Home Ground goes underground.
There's a honeycomb of abandoned mines under our feet
and these days they've got some new inhabitants.
It's one of the busiest harbours in Ireland.
So what will Brexit mean for the fishing industry in Kilkeel?
And I've been finding out how the humble trout is helping save
an endangered species in the Ballinderry River.
We're not trying to take all the fish out of this section of river...
-..because we obviously want some fish to spawn here.
That doesn't make me feel as bad now!
But first tonight, we're here in County Fermanagh
at the Crom Estate,
where preparations are under way to open the doors to the public
after the winter break.
On the shores of upper Lough Erne,
Crom is one of Ireland's most important conservation areas
and surely enjoys one of the best locations.
The estate is home to all sorts of wildlife and plants,
but something that sets this place apart is the abundance
of important woodland and trees.
It's sort of 50-50 make-up.
So 50% woodland on the estate,
-so a thousand acres of each.
So it's fair to say the trees are part of the main attraction here?
Oh, definitely. Yes.
We have the largest area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland.
But of course it's not all about the oak trees.
-No, definitely not.
-Look at these. SHE GASPS
-How old are these?
-To be honest, that's debated quite a bit.
It all basically boils down to the fact that if you look at the trees,
both of them either side, there's loads and loads of stems
sort of all twined and joined together.
So to get the accurate age is difficult.
But the best estimate is that the female tree,
which is this tree here,
is somewhere about 500 years old.
And the male tree, it's thought that it's about 100 years younger,
so round about 400.
A very naive question - how can you tell this is female and that's male?
This time of the year, with the female it's a little bit difficult
to tell. But the female has red berries in the autumn-winter time.
Actually, at the minute you can see on the male tree, the flowers.
You can see them on the outside,
the wee yellow... Little flowers growing.
Imagine, you know, 500 years...
..the stories this tree could tell.
And they're pretty famous, too.
Yes, they are indeed.
They would be on several registers of ancient trees, veteran trees,
whatnot. Going back in the 1600s there are records of them.
They wrote about O'Neill bidding farewell to his love
under the already ancient yew of Crom and stuff like that.
So they go right back in the history books.
They're really special. It's lovely to be here.
'And there is something magical about this place.
'Not just the look of the twisted and gnarled wood,
'but here underneath the canopy, it feels like a different world.
'It's like stepping into a fairy tale.'
Is there a lot of work in maintaining these yews?
To be honest, we leave them at it.
They don't grow massively quick.
And the only thing we would step in with,
say there was a branch hanging right down or something like that,
or something that was obviously dangerous, we might remove that.
But to be honest, we try and step back and don't really interfere
But other trees here do need attention.
The winter months are the important time of the year for conservation
on the estate, with rangers hard at work making sure the estate
is at its best as it opens again to the public.
Today is about making sure the trees are cleared of dead wood
and any signs of disease.
This is a tree on the entrance avenue that's identified
as showing the first signs of a bit of dieback.
So just as a preventative measure, they are looking at taking this limb
away here that's extending over the avenue just in case if ever it came
down on the avenue or on a windy day.
I guess you've got visitors coming in and out here all the time
so it poses a bit of a safety risk, but dieback, did you say?
Just at the very ends, you may be able to see,
especially just out this side,
some of the tips of the branches are not looking very healthy.
And why is that? Have they just weathered?
-Is that just age?
-It could be age as well, but there is some fungus
here on the far side as well, so there's probably some...
-Something at work here in this tree,
but that's not uncommon on an old tree like this.
How old would this tree be?
Crikey, it could be 200 years old possibly...
-..or fairly close to it anyway.
'Colin has been working on trees here for over 15 years
'and he certainly knows a thing or two about how to climb them.'
Do you find that the trees on the estate require special treatment
-There is a lot of veterans or a lot of old
sort of mature trees here so you don't like working on them unless
you have to and that's probably the National Trust's policy here.
Only really do things if they have to,
if it's a danger either to buildings or people.
I'm just going to go out that limb now, Jo.
-Probably about halfway or so
and then take those bits off at the end.
Is there a danger in taking that quite significant branch off there,
Colin, you could cause damage to the rest of the tree?
There would be a slight risk that you're creating a large wound
in the tree that sort pathogens can get into the tree,
but you've got to weigh these things up
with the risk to the public as well.
The tree is declining in health so it just makes sense to take this off
just as a preventative measure.
I'll make sure the final cut leaves the minimum surface area
for any pathogens to get into.
So we'll hopefully do the best we can for it anyway.
Trees generally, they store their defence mechanisms just sort of
at that branch collar which is just about here so we're going to try
and take it off. That's roughly 90 degrees to that branch collar,
so not too flush in with the stem and that will give the tree the best
chance to protect itself against infection
coming in through that wound there.
I'm happy enough with that, Jo.
Any more, I'd be going into the tree itself,
so I'm happy enough with that.
-A cup of tea time?
Now, did you know there is an underground maze of old mines
beneath the Northern Irish countryside?
I've been to Mallusk in County Antrim to discover this hidden world
and the things which live there.
This might just look like regular farmland,
but hidden beneath my feet is a labyrinth of tunnels,
physical reminders of our mining past.
'Today I'm at Lyle Hill near Mallusk with Geological Survey NI
'who maintain these mines.'
-How are you?
-What's the plan of attack today?
Well, what we're going to do is look at one of the old iron ore mines
and bauxite mines in Northern Ireland.
There is a network of these across County Antrim.
Hundreds of them around the country.
There is roughly 2,500 old mines working throughout Northern Ireland
in different places, County Antrim,
but specifically on the iron ore and the bauxite,
where the industry only took off in the middle of the 19th century,
steadily declined in the early 20th century,
however it reappeared again during the Second World War.
There is a real maze of tunnels to see today?
Yes, this is an original mine plan when the mine closed up.
This is from 1945.
This as where we stand just outside this entrance here.
As we look at the plan,
it's 650 metres long,
350 metres wide and there is almost 9km of tunnels underground here.
-Shall we take a look?
-Yeah, let's go.
'We're heading into a subterranean world, rarely visited today.'
Kieran, what were they mining in here, then?
Well, this mine was first driven into the hillside
in 1880 for iron ore.
It closed down in the early 1900s
and then it was reopened again in 1942 for its bauxite properties.
You can see here on the rock, you have the iron ore...
..seam. This is extending down and what we have at the bottom here
is a bauxite seam.
Bauxite is a mineral ore which is processed to make aluminium.
And it was big in the war?
It was much needed during the Second World War. There was...
therefore, the Ministry of Aircraft Production
set about investigations to get reserves because importing reserves
wasn't possible due to the U-boat threat.
'During World War II,
'180 men were employed at this mine
'producing 15,000 tons of bauxite per week.'
I can imagine what conditions would have been like to work
back in the day.
Yes, well, it would have been done by hand,
by pickaxe and shovel.
And the mine itself would have been lit by candles.
So what you see throughout the mine is a number of these carved out
into the rock. These would have been done by the miners where they can
put their candles so that they could work.
No torches in the '40s.
No torches, no electricity underground back then.
Let's get on down in. Don't get me lost.
The mines are mostly used now
Yeah, different inhabitants - badgers, foxes, bats,
so wildlife has really taken over the space.
'While the public are advised to keep away,
'we're in here today under strict supervision along with
'bat conservationists working in a mine for the very first time.'
Looking in through the nooks and crannies, I found Dave.
-How are you?
-Hi, there. How's it going?
How are you getting on with the search for bats today?
We've been quite lucky today, we've actually found the bats.
That's a nice wee surprise cos we didn't know whether we were going to
find any at all down here today.
This is new for you - this whole experience getting into a mine?
We've never really looked for hibernating bats before
in Northern Ireland or Ireland as a whole, so, yeah,
anything that we find is exciting and new for us,
so, we've been very lucky, though,
we found a bat around the corner.
So, yeah, do you want to go and have a look?
Yeah. Let's go for it. You lead the way.
Well, most people I know are scared of bats.
What got you into them?
Well, your friends wouldn't be alone in being frightened of bats.
Most people have quite a few misconceptions about them,
from getting stuck in your hair
and carrying disease and things like that,
but, no, I think they are amazing little creatures.
Are there many different types of species in Northern Ireland?
Where would you generally find them?
We've got eight different species of bat in Northern Ireland.
There's nine in the island of Ireland as a whole.
-Where would you find them?
-Well, at this time of year,
down mines because they're going to be hibernating.
Places like this because generally bats are only active in Ireland
during the summer - spring and summer months.
When you come into wintertime, they go into hibernation.
They're looking for nice, cold, cool places like this.
This is the hibernating bat.
We've found one and he's hanging in the top of the chamber here.
I feel like I need to keep my voice down. Not to disturb...
Yeah, I think we really don't want to disturb hibernating bats
because at this time of year,
there's not many food resources for them
so if they do wake up, they've got to use all their food resources
that they've saved up for the winter, just like hibernating bears.
It's a myotis bat.
We've got three species of those in Northern Ireland.
So this is one of the species of bat which in Britain that they monitor
populations by going down in mines like this and looking for them.
So this is kind of exciting because we've never done it.
We've never found hibernating bats like this.
So, hopefully this will be the first of many adventures underground
-that we will be taking.
-He's in bat heaven up there, isn't he?
Yeah, he's having sweet dreams.
Very sweet dreams hopefully.
'Nowadays, the miners may have gone, but thanks to their hard work,
'our native bats have a home.'
Kilkeel Harbour is one of the busiest in Ireland with around 1,000
people employed in the fishing industry there.
Ruth Sanderson has been to the village to see how Brexit
could affect their future.
The fishing industry has been in decline throughout the UK
for several decades. Yet while other ports might be empty,
Kilkeel bucks the trend.
Around 1,000 people are employed locally in fishing and its related
businesses and Kilkeel wants to keep expanding.
These scallops have been caught a few miles off the Kilkeel Harbour
so they are a fresh product straight in from the sea.
'Around 20 tonnes of scallops get processed and are exported from here
'each year, mainly to France.'
The fishing industry famously was very pro-Brexit,
very much wanted out of Europe,
said it would be a lot stronger for the industry.
But as a businessman who exports to Europe,
what are your thoughts on it?
Well, my thoughts on Brexit,
it's going to be good for the fishing and the processing industry.
Fishing-wise, we'll get a fairer share of the quota in the UK waters
which will bring more raw materials into the processing market
and as well, the customers that I have been dealing with
and talking to still want the product from the UK,
still want the product from Northern Ireland.
So I can't see a problem of selling our product into Europe.
Even if, say, tariffs were introduced later down the line?
Later down the line, that's something, a hurdle we'll have to
cross, but I think the quality of the goods
coming from Northern Ireland... That the European market
will still want our products. We've looked further afield.
We've looked at markets in China and in Hong Kong and the Asian market
as well. So it has given us a prompt to go further afield as well.
A lot of people in food production are really panicked about Brexit
because they rely on seasonal workers and a lot of staff,
especially from Eastern Europe.
Are you going to face that problem here?
I don't think we will. I think there is a future for local people,
that they see the industry building,
they see that there is a future and they're willing to invest now
and want to work again at the harbour.
They can see that there is a brighter future there.
'But it's not just a good deal from Europe which is needed.
'The harbour needs to physically expand if it's to make the most
'of any benefits Brexit might bring.'
Well, the Endurance is part of the local fleet in Kilkeel
and the Endurance is undergoing a significant modernisation
and refurbishment and behind me is a new ship that's been built
for the Irish Republic and it is one of the great success stories
about Kilkeel, that we're building boats,
not just for the local fleet,
but we're exporting them all over Europe.
Do you have the capacity to build all the boats
that you need to build?
If you're getting orders in from the south and from Europe and from...?
Well, this yard has actually outgrown itself and the problem
that we have is there is not enough capacity in Kilkeel for all the work
that we could handle. In fact, the marine engineers tell me
that about 50% of the inquiries that they get,
that's work that they have to turn away.
-Sorry, 50% of the work...
-The prospective work when people come
to ask engineers from Kilkeel to work, you have to say,
"No, I'm sorry, we don't have the room"?
You look at geographical position of Kilkeel in terms of the east coast
of Ireland, we're right in the middle, so therefore,
you can attract trade from the north and you can attract trade from the
south and attract trade from the east too because we've got a boat
here today from Fleetwood.
And the reason they come here is because we've got the facilities,
we've got the engineers who have the expertise and everything else.
So Kilkeel is a real hub, it's a real maritime hub,
it's a real fishing hub,
but the problem we have now is we don't have the capacity in Kilkeel,
we don't have the infrastructure in order to handle all the enquiries
and all the work that we could be doing and when you're in a situation
where here in Kilkeel we've got three of the largest fishing vessels
in the European fleet that are too big to get into this harbour
and have to base themselves in other parts of the United Kingdom,
there's so much lost opportunity to Kilkeel,
to County Down and the Northern Ireland economy.
That's amazing that you've got boats from Kilkeel which are too big
to actually get into your harbour here?
Absolutely. We have a new ship being built at the moment.
It is called the Voyager. It's owned by a local family.
It's crewed by a local family.
It is 100% private investment,
but that ship is traditionally based on Shetland because there is no
infrastructure in Northern Ireland to bring that ship in to.
'But the ships that do land their catch here,
'a lot is riding on the Brexit negotiations.'
So what are you fishing for on this boat?
Nearly all year round, we're targeting prawns.
And you're about to go out again.
-Where are you off to now?
-We're going to head south again,
back down to the Celtic sea. It takes us about 20 hours.
Steaming to get there.
I take it you were pro-Brexit yourself?
What are you hoping for going forward?
Instead of being governed by Brussels -
Brussels tell us what we can catch, you know, when we can catch it,
you know, where we can fish, and I want us to take control,
stop a lot of the European boats coming in and over-fishing
our areas, certain areas.
Big super trawlers and, you know...
But mainly, I hope that...
..we can start looking after our industry ourselves.
When they sign Article 50, hopefully they don't sell us down the river.
-That's the fear, isn't it?
-That is our fear.
They use us as a bargaining chip to keep some other things in Europe,
you know, for whatever reasons, but that is one of our biggest fears.
What fishermen here in Kilkeel and County Down want is absolutely
a fair share of the opportunities that are within UK waters.
But when a fisherman in County Down is asked on annual basis
to give up quota,
to give up the quota that the scientists have recommended,
that should be given away to their colleagues in the Irish Republic,
that's an EU rule. The deal needs to be fairer.
And when 75% of the waters in the Irish Sea are under the UK's
jurisdiction, you tell me,
is it fair that County Down fishermen should have around 40%
of the catches in the Irish Sea? I don't think so.
So what's the future for this harbour?
Well, the future for the fishing industry in County Down
and specifically Kilkeel is bright.
As I walk out round the quay in Kilkeel and I talk to fishermen,
those guys are saying to me,
"There's a future and we're investing in the future."
We're investing in the future for ourselves and we're investing in the
future for our children. So all the signs are positive.
'Not only could fishing in Kilkeel continue to grow,
'but it could bolster the entire local economy.
'So will the gamble to leave Europe pay off?
'Only time will tell.'
Trout are now common in our rivers and lakes,
but because of declining numbers in the past,
some still need a little help.
I've been to the Ballinderry River to find out
how a healthy trout population benefits the river's ecology.
'The Ballinderry River and surrounding area support
'an abundance of wildlife,
'but this river catchment has suffered from pollution.
'Worryingly, low levels of fish stocks in the 1980s
'prompted the establishment of the Ballinderry Rivers Trust
'who've made it their mission
'to keep this river system clean and healthy.'
Well, Mark, you're fully kitted out, complete with shades.
Tell us about some of the work you're doing today.
OK, so what we're doing today is electro-fishing and the reason we're
doing this is to catch larger fish to bring back our hatchery
so we can take the eggs from them
and grow those eggs on in the hatchery so we can breed fish
to put back into the river again.
And the shades so you can see rather than look cool?
They're not just to make me look cool, no!
The shades help me to see through the water.
So at this time of year when we're looking for these fish,
the sun is very low in the sky...
..and it reflects on the water.
It's quite hard to see the fish and these help me to see right
to the bed of the river.
I didn't pay a lot of attention at school,
but I'm pretty sure electricity and water doesn't really go too well
-Well, you learnt the important lesson, then.
You shouldn't mix electricity with water!
Nobody should really try this at home.
But it is the standard method that is used across Europe and the world
and essentially what we're doing here is just putting a very small
electrical current - just enough to attract the fish towards this lance
that I have in the water.
What kind of fish are we expecting to see today?
We're looking here for Dollaghan trout
and Dollaghan trout are unique to the Lough Neagh basin.
So they are born in the rivers here, in the Ballinderry
and all the other rivers around Lough Neagh
and at two years of age
they go to the lough.
-Here's fish now.
-There we go.
-So we're starting to...
-Oh, that's a biggie.
Good recovery. What's that?
'It's not long before more fish are drawn towards us.'
There is your fish there.
-There we go.
-Lift him up. Brilliant.
Here, here, here.
Oh, that's a biggie.
-That's it. Lift him up.
-Ooh, he is big.
There we go.
Mouth open. Get him out of the water.
There we go. A few leaves in there for good measure.
You're doing well. We're doing well.
There's actually a good number of young fish in here that we're seeing
-as we go, which is a good sign.
-Yeah, that's encouraging for you.
Yeah, because it means that fish that were hatched out of their eggs
in March of this year or in fact even March of the previous year
are still here living in this section of the river.
Now, that one has got away.
-It's nice to let one or two away.
We're not trying to take all the fish out of this section of river
because we obviously want some fish to spawn here.
That doesn't make me feel as bad now!
-That's what we're looking for.
-It is, yeah.
'Well, it has been a pretty successful day out on the river.
'Time to get these guys back into the hatchery.'
I think that's a fantastic-looking fish.
And hopefully she'll give us plenty of eggs
to put down in the hatchery here.
'Frank Mitchell has 20 years' experience in this hatchery
'and is going to show me how it's done.'
And if she's just right, the skin should be loose here
and the eggs are all lying in the cavity of the fish here.
If we just add a nice piece of pressure and the fish settles down,
hopefully we should be fit to take the eggs from the fish.
Now you can see the eggs come from the fish.
I'm no expert, but that looks good.
I suppose it has been a few years of practice to get this skill.
And you try to do it without harming the fish.
Essentially the cell wall of the egg has to open
to allow the milt in and then we gently agitate the eggs...
..so they all become fertilised.
Are they getting lighter or it just me?
Yeah, you can see them getting lighter because they're getting
fertilised so they're actually starting to change colour.
Going kind of from red to orange?
It literally does happen in front of your eyes.
'Breeding in the hatchery increases the chances of success
'by an incredible 90% and a healthy fish population
'has a knock-on effect on the whole ecosystem.'
So, these are freshwater pearl mussels
and this is a globally endangered species.
The freshwater pearl mussel is now only found in five rivers
in Northern Ireland and the Ballinderry is one of them.
Historically, we would have had hundreds of thousands,
if not millions of them in our rivers
and we're now down to the last few thousand
in each of those five rivers.
But they are an unusual creature because they need fish to survive.
So the males and the females are sitting here in this tank
and the male releases sperm into the water which is taken in
by the female and they're fertilised and then the female releases
microscopic mussels into the water.
It's at that point those microscopic mussels have to attach to the
gills of a fish and in our river it is trout they attach to.
So the big picture becomes clear.
So if you don't have very good numbers of fish in the river,
these guys haven't got a hope at all.
So by redressing the balance of fish in the river,
we're also helping to preserve these mussels
and save them from extinction.
And then we've put those fish carrying their precious cargo
out into the Ballinderry River to drop them on the bed of the river
as it would have happened naturally.
So what's the future looking like for the pearl mussel?
Well, the future for the pearl mussel in the Ballinderry
at least is looking a bit brighter now
because of the work we've been doing here.
We've been able to release freshwater pearl mussel
back to the river and we're just about to start
a major reintroduction programme.
'It's the end of the day and this is what it's all about -
'releasing these endangered mussels back into the river.'
-What's the technique to pop them in?
-So it's not complicated,
you'll be glad to hear!
We have to make sure that we get it the right way round.
So this is the bottom of the mussel here where the hinge
is at the lowest place and then we put it facing upstream
into the flow of water.
So those mussels, believe it or not, do wiggle around in the gravel
and they allow oxygenated water to get to the fish eggs
and so very often where there's lots of mussels,
more trout would survive as well.
It is a really close relationship the two have.
Are these the days when you really feel your work is really worthwhile?
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah.
It's great when you can come out, get away from the computer,
come out to the river and this is making a real difference
to the conservation of a globally endangered species.
Not just for those mussels,
but for all the people that live in this river system as well.
That's all for this episode of Home Ground.
Join us at the same time next week.
-We'll see you, then.
Home Ground returns for a new series, celebrating the richness of rural life in Northern Ireland. Gavin Andrews and Jo Scott introduce us to a host of stories and people who use the countryside for work, rest and play.