Magazine celebrating rural life in Northern Ireland. Jo Scott enters the world of competitive ploughing. Ruth Sanderson investigates the harmful effects of plastic in the oceans.
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Hello, and welcome to
another episode of Home Ground -
the programme bringing you
a taste of life in the countryside.
Yes, tonight, Gavin and I
have a host of stories
from across Northern Ireland -
from people with a real passion for all aspects of rural life.
Here's what's coming up on tonight's show.
Horses were once the engines driving our farming industry,
and, in Ballycastle, this traditional method is thriving.
Every year, tonnes of plastic is dumped into our seas.
Ruth finds out the impact this is having on our marine life.
By 2050, there'll be more marine plastic in the ocean
than fish, by weight.
And I've got my binoculars ready to see how farmers are helping
to protect our local bird population.
But first, I'm here in County Armagh
to meet one farmer who diversified into flowers,
and, ever since, his business has been blooming.
Springtime brings Mother's Day, Easter and flowers -
lots of flowers.
Here at Greenisland Flowers in County Armagh,
it's the middle of the tulip season,
and approaching their busiest time of year,
so I'm here to give a hand.
What kind of scale are we talking about here?
I've planted about four.
-Yeah, well, you wouldn't...
There's quite a lot happening.
If you were on per plant, I think you'd be in trouble -
but what we're doing is, we're planting about 150,000 a week.
-So, we have to do that every week, as we go along,
and that's just tulips.
And we'll do that from October right through to, I think,
in about three weeks' time we finish, in April.
The most striking thing is, there's no soil,
which completely surprised me.
Yeah, well, for this - it is a very new system of growing.
A lot of tulips in the past have been grown in fields,
and also in soil and crates.
This is a new system now, forcing tulips, where they want to...
The Dutch are very good at getting everything mobile,
so whenever you grow something in a box,
it means that you can move it about.
With growing them in soil,
you have certain levels of disease and so on
that comes along with that.
For us, it cuts out that level of disease.
That's why we're just looking, the odd one -
it's keeping these right
so that we don't put the diseased ones into the box,
and whenever we're going through the crates later on,
in the house, we can pull out the diseased ones which are there,
which have been missed.
Is that one a bit soft or is that all right?
-That one's OK.
-It's all right.
-I thought the joy of farming was getting dirty.
I...I don't know what the joy of farming is, at the minute.
These bulbs will now spend between two and four weeks
in the cold store.
This tricks the bulbs into thinking it's winter,
and encourages them to grow.
Then it's into the greenhouse, and after another few weeks,
they look like this -
almost ready to pick.
The good thing about them is, they're in the water.
So, if we want to pick that one,
it's not just ready for picking yet, but it's not far off it.
If we were to give this maybe another...
probably until tomorrow, this would be not far off it.
The Dutch guys would probably pick them at this stage,
but because we're very, very close to Lurgan market,
we'll leave them just that bit longer,
because the energy is filling the flower up,
so what we're trying to do with them
is give them as best chance as possible
to have a nice, big, full flower whenever they get into the shop.
If this one's been picked by mistake,
the great thing about growing in water,
you can put them back in again.
So, it's all about timing and all about conditions
-and getting the balance right.
As you can see, the screens are closed...
closed over a wee bit today, because of the sun,
which is a thing that we don't normally see.
-Well, this wee lad seems to have found it...
-This pot here, yeah...
I'd say, this morning, this here fella would be more like this guy.
They are very, very, very fast.
Tulips are very fast - but he'll open out now,
with that wee bit of sun he has, but in a couple of hours' time,
he'll close back up again as soon as it comes night.
So, these ones here, pretty much what we're doing with these
is, these will be ready for picking.
So, what we're trying to do is pick them at this stage here,
-versus picking them...
-We call that a wee bit green.
Yeah, so it's like picking a green apple, whenever it should be red.
So, that's what we're looking at, whenever we're inside picking.
-That would be perfect for us.
-They are very, very similar.
So, is this the ideal scenario for you -
-that they're all coming at exactly the same time?
That is the best thing about growing in water,
because the water's pretty much all the same.
And look how clean that is.
-Yeah, that's the best thing.
-No dirt on that.
That's the best thing about it, too,
is you can see your quality by how the roots look.
There's not too many crops you can do that in.
Like, if you're going into a field of grass, you can't really see that.
You're only seeing the top part,
versus, with us, we can see everything.
Between tulips and other flowers,
they produce around eight million cut flowers a year,
all of which go to the major retailers.
The family business has a background in salads,
and they still grow lettuce here,
but, in 2004, decided to diversify to add value to the business.
Was it a big gamble for you to do it?
Well, for us, everything's to do with money,
so, for the likes of this equipment here, it's all expensive equipment,
putting in the container system, it's all expensive.
For us, it was good, because we had a lot of greenhouses here
to start with for diversifying into different crops, so...
Were there nights where you sat and wondered, "What am I doing?"
Some nights - there's a lot of people would tell you,
"What, are you wondering what you're doing?"
but I think whenever they look at it and see what you have done,
then they would go, "Aye, I can see the point in doing that,"
but there is some times whenever you go home,
whenever you have a crop failure, which does happen,
and everybody knows about crop failures,
through different ways of disease or floods or whatever,
them's the tough days.
The nice days are when you're standing in here,
the sun's shining, stuff's going through the machine.
Is that the way of modern farming, almost,
that you just have to try and move with the times
or you're going to be left behind?
Yeah, well, you have to move,
you have to look at being more efficient.
That's the big thing.
How do you get the most out of what you have?
So, the likes of our system, here,
it's half an acre we have of glass,
but we could get maybe half a million pound's worth of turnover
going through in a few months, coming out of it,
compared to, maybe, a bigger farm,
so it's really condensing what you're doing
and taking the complications out of it.
The aim is to get these flowers to the supermarket
and on the shelves within 24 hours.
Right, let's try and get involved here.
I know the production line's going.
-So, you need 15 bunches.
-right, there's bound to be...
OK, that's... Somebody throw this production line back!
Get them straightened up.
There is a knack to it.
We're slowing it all down!
Agh! There's a bucket!
Seems a shame, after all the delicate work,
to be ramming them into a bucket.
We'll have to look at your training.
One for the wife.
Well, I hope he saved a bunch for me.
Now, before the tractor, the horse was the backbone of the farm.
I've been to Ballycastle
to the annual horse ploughing championships
to see how they're keeping that traditional alive.
It mightn't be the quickest way to plough a field,
but until the arrival of the diesel engine tractor to Ireland
in the 1920s, horses were an essential part of rural life -
but, for one day a year in Ballycastle,
the horse, once again, is back to work.
So, how did you get into it, Sean?
I got into it through my father.
My father was always involved
with the society,
was always involved in ploughing,
and I suppose it just seemed like the natural thing to do.
Do you recall seeing him out with the plough?
Oh, I definitely do recall seeing him out with the plough,
anything to do with ploughing, he's just mad about ploughing, you know?
It's just some men, older men,
that would just be...they lived for them things, you know that way?
I was talking to my mum about it, actually,
and, you know, she recalls, as a young girl,
seeing the men out with the ploughs,
and just how demanding it was, how physically demanding it was.
You have to be quite fit to work with the horses, you know that way?
And the plough, erm,
there's a bit of skill in the work with it too.
Every year, these horse ploughing enthusiasts
turn out in rain or shine - rain in our case -
to keep the tradition of horse ploughing alive.
There's those that may say, "Look, it's from the Dark Ages,
"why do you need to do something like this today?"
Why is it important to keep this art alive?
I think it's important because, like,
there's families coming out and the young ones there,
they're seeing horses ploughing -
that's not something they see every day.
And it's just something that I think people like to see,
and we just like to try and keep going.
-And we need to learn from it too.
-We need to learn. Exactly.
It would be a shame if it died out.
'But it's not just about preserving the tradition -
'it's a competition, going back over 150 years.
'16 participants took part today, in five categories
'ranging in size of plot and skill.'
What are you looking for? What makes a winner in your eyes?
First of all, the ploughing has to be straight.
It has to be uniform,
all the grass has to be covered.
There's good local ploughmen that are very skilful
and there's a lot of visitors today that are very skilful ploughmen,
so the competition should be quite stiff.
There's a vicious rumour I'm going to get involved today...
-How easy is it to learn?
It'll be no bother to you.
-Have I got the muscles for it?
-Oh, I think you have.
No, you'll definitely enjoy it.
'Well, there's one competitor here today
'who's caught the horse ploughing bug -
'and she's someone who isn't used to the rain.'
-That's not a Ballycastle accent I hear.
-No, it's not, no.
Where are you from?
I come from Spain, from Alicante.
-From Alicante to this?
-You didn't bring us the sunshine(?)
-And how do you come to be here in Ballycastle?
-Well, I'm a vet,
and I came just looking for more farming,
more animals, more horses...
And green fields.
And to get green, you have to get rain.
'Today I'm helping Sonia plough a 4 x 12 metre plot.
'Unfortunately for me,
'the judges will be looking for accuracy over speed.
'I only hope I don't mess it up on her.'
Well, do you think you could make a horse plougher out of me?
I think so, I think you can give it a good try, yeah.
What do you think, Susie?
I think Susie will be very...
Susie is very gently, so is very experienced.
She is 17 years old, and she's done this all her life.
Well, is it difficult?
It's not difficult, you get the hang of it,
-and you need to know what way to do it...
And you need to be strong, it's quite strenuous.
In fact, if you have to plough an acre,
you will have to walk 11 miles.
Well, hopefully we're in for a good day today.
I'm sure you'll do very well.
That remains to be seen!
-Let's go and give it a shot.
-Let's go! Let's go.
-OK, we're trying to turn the land around, OK?
So what we do is you need to keep this wheel
in the land here,
and keep it as straight as you can.
Is that how it would have been done years ago,
or have you adapted it slightly?
No, no, this is the same way it was done 100 years ago.
The plough is probably about 60, 70 years old,
the harness are maybe 20 years old.
-Really? And still working as well as ever?
-As well as ever.
OK, well, let's crack on.
So you're leaning down, and you've got...
And just keep the wheel to the left there, that's the main thing...
'So, now it's my turn.'
Keep that wheel there. Yeah, you're doing well!
-Keep your left hand down.
-Left hand down?
-Left hand down.
-You are doing good.
'This is tough work,
'but I think I might just be getting the hang of it.'
It's SO physical.
-You underestimate how physical it is.
OK, Susie, hit it.
-Look at that!
-You're doing good. You're doing very good.
-That's good, perfect.
Look at that, Sonia, that's a work of art!
What would you give me out of ten for that?
Oh, I think I'll give you a seven.
I did all right in the end.
-Very good for a first time.
The odd wee squiffy bit, but we'll not mention that.
Yeah, I'm sure the potatoes will grow anyway.
What an effort, especially in that weather.
Now, the sea has always played an important role
in the culture and history of these islands.
But it's under ever-increasing risk from plastic.
Ruth Sanderson has been investigating
the scale of the problem.
We've got a huge problem with plastic on our coastline.
And while some ends up here...
the main issue is out there.
80% of the marine plastic that enters the sea,
that we find in the sea, has come from the land originally.
There's something like 46,000 pieces of plastic
per square mile of the ocean.
-Per square mile?
-Per square mile of the ocean.
Essentially we are turning the ocean into a kind of plastic soup.
Marine plastic, plastic in general, doesn't disappear -
when you put it in the sea it degrades,
but it doesn't break down or rot as such,
it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.
So essentially it never goes away.
'This beach isn't open to the public,
'so the accumulated build-up of plastic
'coming in from the ocean is easy to see.
'But the landowner is working with Ulster Wildlife
'to try and clean it up.'
I mean, this stuff hasn't actually been around for that long.
Plastic production's a newish thing
-in the whole scale of things...
I mean, really, it's a phenomenon since the...
If you think back, since the '70s, maybe, into the '80s,
single-use plastic packaging came into being.
It's only really very recently
that we've introduced single-use plastics for convenience.
How do we then begin to tackle that problem?
Because it's not like people are going to
stop using crisp packets or plastic bottles or...
you know, containers,
so what's the future for it?
Essentially in the long run that IS what we are going to have to do,
because we can't sustain this level of pollution of our oceans.
Currently there's about eight million tonnes of plastic packaging
enters the ocean each year.
That's set to double in the next ten years.
Of that eight million tonnes that enters the ocean,
about 70% of it sinks.
Sinks to the bottom of the ocean, and there it stays,
with untold impacts on the habitats and species on the ocean floor.
The remaining 30% floats around the ocean,
and then gets washed up, as you've seen here today, on our shores.
So this is just a tiny little tip of the iceberg.
-This is only a tiny fraction of the impact of marine plastics.
'Plastic poses a detrimental effect on sea wildlife,
'and while bigger marine animals make the headlines,
'more than a million sea birds a year are killed by ingesting it.
This is the Norman fulmar
that was found in County Kerry,
on the beach...
'Heidi Acampora is currently undertaking
'the only research in Ireland
'on the effect of sea plastic on marine birds.'
So from all of the fulmars that
we've found in Ireland so far,
which was about 15,
14 of them had plastics.
-14 of them?
'This is the plastic that was found in our fulmar.'
They have a small stomach, but normally we find lots of plastics
-in them so the stomach's normally pretty full of plastics then.
And most of the times they die from starvation, because they have
-no space for food.
And so, what sort of plastics are you finding?
Erm, we find mostly bits from...
like, broken-down bits from user items.
So you have, like,
for example a bottle cap that was broken down
because it was at sea floating,
and then a bird would ingest a little piece of that, and...
containers and all types of things like Styrofoam cups
and cooler boxes -
-you know, just bits of that that breaks down at sea...
..and then they... They just think it's food, you know?
Is this problem going to get worse?
Is this going to affect more birds
and sort of mammals around coastal areas?
Yeah, I think so, because...
Because it's breaking down,
then it's affecting also the bottom of the food chain, you know?
It is a big problem that is getting so spread out
-that it's very difficult to control.
I suppose, like,
what is very easy to do now is to prevent, you know,
try and reduce your waste and, you know,
be more responsible how you
-dispose of your waste.
-But it is still there.
There's still enough in the ocean that it's going to be a problem.
So it is more a matter of monitoring and seeing how this is affecting,
how big of a problem it is.
In Northern Ireland,
our current recycling targets are about 40%, which is fairly poor
when you consider the amount of plastic we are producing.
So this problem is ingrained in every single thing we do, it seems.
What we wear, what we eat and how we shop and how we consume.
So how can we ever get out of that cycle
short of going back to wearing clothes made out of hemp
and taking hessian sacks with us to do our shopping in?
-How can we live in 2017?
-Well, you laugh...
and you make jokes about, for example, bringing hessian sacks
for your shopping,
but up until the 1980s, we pretty much did that.
We used paper bags to pack our shopping
and what is wrong with that?
A much more sinister area is that we don't know the longer-term impact.
For example, some of the facts and figures - by 2050,
there will be more marine plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight.
Some of those statistics you are giving me, they are really shocking.
The fact that we are implicated in those consequences as well
by what we eat from the sea is shocking.
The main problem still lies out at sea, out of sight and out of mind.
It doesn't mean it's not there
and it doesn't mean that it is not getting worse.
But it is very hard for people to appreciate the scale
of what is happening out in our ocean.
Depending on your point of view,
the countryside is best used for different reasons.
For some, it is all about food production,
for others it is about preserving nature.
I've been to a farm in County Down
to discover that the two can go hand-in-hand.
Today I am joining 25 local farmers and landowners to find out
about farmland birds.
The day is being run by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
along with the RSPB and is part of a national bird-watching effort
to monitor farm wildlife.
I'm trying to improve the environment for wildlife
and to improve the wider biodiversity.
What about farmers out there, some of whom may say, "I need to
"squeeze every penny out of every square inch of my land"?
I think every farmer has a conscience about
looking after his land and the wildlife on it.
It is possible to do the two together.
I do think the farmers behind it all,
they have a huge desire to improve and make their farms better
both from an agricultural production point of view
but also the barometer which is their wildlife on their farm.
..and they've attracted kingfishers.
Birds are a brilliant indicator of the quality of our countryside.
So if you have a good population of a wide variety of species,
especially farmland-specific birds
like yellowhammer and great partridge
that David has here on the farm, then you can almost be guaranteed
that the ecosystem around that is doing very well.
So what are we specifically looking out for today?
The very specific arable mixed-farmland birds that I am
really hoping to see on the farm today is birds like yellowhammer,
tree sparrow, linnet, maybe a flock of skylark
would be nice, some meadow pipits,
we may see some lapwing down at the shore, great partridge, of course,
that David has reintroduced back onto the farm here.
So a real plethora of stuff.
-That is quite a list, so let's go for it.
That is a winter stubble bit, which is a great habitat
and very low cost and very easy to achieve.
We used to grow the winter cereals, intensive farming,
but we've gone back to the spring crop and having stubbles
over the winter time and doing our environmental cover.
-Do think it has made a difference?
-In what way?
Just seeing a lot more numbers and bigger flocks of birds
and different species and more of a mixture of birds.
Just simple things, just field margins and grow your hedges
in an A-shape, which is what we have been doing for years.
Well, you are a dab hand at making out what birds want,
by the tweet?
This is what today is good about, learning that.
We're definitely learning a lot.
I know a lot more about colours and types of birds
than I did 30 years ago.
Certain crops planted around his fields can give cover,
extra food and encouragement for birds.
I know they talk about leaving ten-foot margins around
large fields to leave borders for wild birds,
but on the field size in Northern Ireland,
four or five-acre fields, that is not profitable to do.
But there are wee awkward corners
where machines can't get in that well
and it is an option just to leave that wilder.
That's it. Do something as to oppose to...
Something is better than nothing.
And these little patches left for nature
are proving very effective on David's farm.
There is a little flock of linnets.
They're just going to go across there
and these are the ones that like the smaller oil-rich seeds.
And the birds keep coming.
I think I saw a skylark here.
It jutted down into the stubbles here.
We've got a group of people here that hopefully can all go
and see it together.
A very rare species in this country and a ground-nesting bird
so quite susceptible.
But the work David is doing here is fantastic
with the habitat management and the legal predator control.
So hopefully, fingers crossed,
we will be able to see one of these very special birds.
Hear them again?
I can hear them, but I can't see them.
You can hear the "choo choo choo".
It's not just farmland birds.
We are by the water, so lots of chance to see wading birds
encouraged here too.
If we just look down here,
-we see lapwing that are just flying down by the shore.
These are wintering birds,
they will be at the shoreline and using the fields around here.
I think David had a pair breeding on the farm
a couple of years ago as well, so really lovely birds.
They have those lovely broad wings, they make that beautiful call
-that we heard earlier on.
-Do it for us.
I can't, it is actually quite completed.
I won't do it, but they have that lovely tuft on top of their head.
-They are a beautiful colour and they are a really lovely species.
A perfect spot for them, isn't it?
-I am learning lots today.
-Mmm. Come on and teach me.
What is the starling?
This is lovely.
If you look down the shoreline now, if you hear that now,
that lovely curlew call, they are all wintering birds
so these might not be breeding in this country
but the birds have come here to feed up over the winter time
before they go off to breed.
You get nice flocks of them around the shoreline.
-This is your Brent geese going across now.
-Look at them.
These are heading back to Iceland to breed.
And even a few swans made an appearance.
No identification chart needed for these fellows.
It is safe to say that on this farm, at least,
the future is bright for wildlife.
Well, what a day we have had, albeit a chilly one.
We have seen skylarks, we have seen lapwings, we have seen geese,
we have seen a whole selection of things and it is so exciting
to think of the potential for our farmland birds.
-Impressive - you are quite the expert now.
-Well, I try, Gavin.
That is it for this episode of Home Ground.
-Join us at the same time next week.
-See you then. Bye-bye.
Jo Scott and Gavin Andrews present the magazine series celebrating rural life in Northern Ireland. This week, Jo enters the world of competitive ploughing, while reporter Ruth Sanderson investigates the harmful effects of plastic in our oceans.