Farmer pleads guilty to excavation of river bank

December 9th, 2021 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

The illegal works resulted in the deterioration of water quality

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AN environmental lawyer has been invited to submit articles to various farming publications after a judge held that some landowners are ‘blundering through nature.’

Judge James McNulty asked West Cork-based solicitor Brian Harrington if he could help get the message across that industrial scale drainage works carried out by landowners is causing massive damage to wildlife.

He condemned ‘the industrial scale excavation at the most sensitive time in nature’s calendar’ after hearing evidence by Andrew Gillespie, a senior fisheries environmental officer with Inland Fisheries Ireland, against Ian Harrington of Lackareagh, Kealkil.

Ian Harrington pleaded guilty at Bantry District Court to permitting deleterious matter to fall into the Ouvane River on December 10th 2020; and with injuring or disturbing a salmon and trout spawning bed on the same date. Mr Gillespie said the farm is located adjacent to a tributary a mile and a half north of the Ouvane River. And that the works – which involved the use of a tract excavator – removed and stockpiled a significant amount of river bed material.

Vegetation, including trees, was removed from the bank of the river and it also resulted in the deterioration of water quality.

Mr Gillespie said part of the riverbed was excavated to a depth, which exposed clay prone to erosion, and this caused discolouration downstream.

The extent of the works and the timing of them were effectively a ‘bullseye,’ he said because it occurred at a time when both trout and salmon had either spawned, or were about to do so.

The officer said the accused arrived on site, admitted he had carried out the works in the hope of improving drainage in an adjacent field, and was co-operative in that he worked that night to put back some of the riverbed material.

Brian Harrington submitted that his client didn’t appreciate the significance of what he had done and that the situation was made worse by very heavy rainfall.

‘He is here to face the consequences. He accepts he was wrong,’ he said in defence of the farmer and electrician.

‘Has your client no awareness of the damage that he and others like him do to fish life, bird life and wildlife?’ asked Judge McNulty.

‘It is time for landowners, farmers and machinery contractors to make themselves aware of what they may do, and the times that they do this work,’ the judge added.

‘It was not a JCB, it was a tract excavator in the middle of spawning season. Your client is blundering through nature.’

‘At best,’ the judge added, ‘the offence is careless to the point of recklessness, and at worst it is a wanton or wilful destruction of a river bed relating to a salmon fishery.’

He noted that he had the power to impose a €5,000 fine on the first offence, and a €2,000 fine on the second but he adjourned the imposition of penalty until May 12th 2022. In the meantime, the accused is to pay €2,776 in costs and expenses to IFI.

The judge asked the solicitor if he would submit articles to various publications such as The Southern Star, as this was the third prosecution of this kind in his courts in recent months.

He said the articles could mean that landowners, farmers and machinery operations would no longer be able to say they didn’t know they were doing harm.

Mr Harrington said he would be ‘more than happy’ to do so.

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