The Earth's Corr: There was no escaping climate change at the Balmoral Show

Times have really changed when the bank advertising at the entrance to the Balmoral Show reads “No bull. Just clear guidance on climate change”.

Even for people in agricultural circles, there’s clearly no escaping the issue any more.

I headed along to the annual event on Thursday for a chat with Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Andrew Muir after he set out his priorities for his department.

Read more: NI potato shortage next month 'will hit chip prices'

While agri-foods are still clearly a priority, it’s refreshing to have a minister in post that isn’t shying away from talk of climate, biodiversity loss and what needs to happen in NI to manage all these competing priorities to build a more sustainable future for us all.

But after learning that the Executive Committee has been sitting on Northern Ireland’s first Environment Strategy for two months, it doesn’t fill me with hope that everyone around the table gets the urgency needed to act on issues like pollution and Lough Neagh. It was great, however, to hear farmers at the Balmoral Show talking about climate and accepting their role in the crisis.

DAERA Minister Andrew Muir setting out his priorities at the Balmoral Show
DAERA Minister Andrew Muir setting out his priorities at the Balmoral Show -Credit:Shauna Corr

While questions remain about how the sector will change to become more sustainable, grain, potato and apple farmers I talked to appeared more than up for the challenge and adaptations they will have to make in the years ahead.

It’s been an incredibly difficult year for these growers by all accounts with 10 months of wet weather that left their fields waterlogged and unable to be planted.

While the turn in the weather has brought with it some hope and a rush to get that work done, the months just past have clearly driven home the message they are on the frontline against climate change and will probably feel it’s impacts the worst in this wee place.

One thing that came up more than once however was the pressure they are under from supermarkets and huge retailers, who have driven the price of produce into the ground in order to attract shoppers instore.

The contracts they tie farmers in to often see them barely break even. And while there have been some improvements, one farmer said retailers’ monster profits are particularly hard to take when farmers get such a small cut.

Because growers have to produce so much on such low margins, they turn to pesticides and other methods that are doing more harm than good.

And it’s about time supermarkets and agri-food producers stepped up and took some responsibility for just how damaging and unsustainable modern day agricultural practices have become. They’ve had a huge role to play and in Northern Ireland it is causing so much havoc with our environment that we can no longer escape it in terms of what’s happening with Lough Neagh.

I eagerly await the plan to deal with that - because while recent sunny weather has helped farmers get their crops in and empty their slurry tanks- it has also helped the blue-green algae we already know is back in the lough to grow according to some of my sources around the lough.

Already, dunkers are making plans to swim elsewhere as the bright green toxin washes up on shore and there have been reports of a large bloom in the centre of the UK and Ireland’s biggest freshwater lake.

We also know there has been an outbreak of blue green algae in Fermanagh waters with the council issuing an alert on May 9, warning residents and visitors it is a risk to human health.

They have put up signs to alert visitors to Rossigh Bay to exercise caution and avoid contact with the water and adjacent shoreline.

If you spot some in any water body across NI, you should report it to the Environmental Health Service through their Bloomin’ Algae app which can be downloaded through the Google and Apple app stores.

In the meantine, I just hope the Executive manage to get their heads together and pass that environmental strategy we have been waiting almost a year for - we need to start tackling our environmental issues before they get any worse.

Delay, in the long run, will only end up costing us a lot more - even when it comes to money.

Boy's wonder at stick insect find in West Belfast

Climate change is bringing new and unusual species to Northern Ireland as a West Belfast boy recently discovered.

I reported just a few weeks ago how a new kind of beetle had been found in Belfast and Co Down, which thought have come from down under. Now eight-year-old Kohen Fitzsimmons has discovered Northern Ireland’s first water stick insect at school pond-dipping activity at Bog Meadows Nature Reserve earlier this week.

Only 16 have been recorded across Ireland since it was first noted in 2016, with Bog Meadows Nature Reserve off the M1, now proudly standing as the water insect’s debut NI location.

Dawn Patterson, Community Engagement Officer at Ulster Wildlife, said: “I was considering changing the pond dipping session with Holy Trinity Primary School due to the rain, but the kids were raring to go, with rain gear and nets at the ready.

“Kohen was so keen that he squeezed in a double dip by nipping to the end of the line, and that’s when he struck it lucky.

“At first, I hadn’t a clue what the creature was in his net, as it was so well camouflaged.

“I double-checked the ID sheet and couldn’t quite believe it, so I sent pictures to experts who confirmed the exciting discovery. The kids and I are absolutely thrilled! It just shows you don’t need to be an expert to find a new species for Northern Ireland.”

Kohen, who hasn’t quite grasped the significance of his find yet, said “I thought it was just a floating stick. I’m really surprised!”

The water stick insect Ranatra linearis was first recorded in Wexford, Ireland, in 2016, by entomologist Brian Nelson. While deemed native to Ireland, its presence has only been documented relatively recently.

Resembling a praying mantis, it is the largest water insect in Europe and hides among reeds and stems, using its front legs to catch prey such as tadpoles and small fish. It can also breathe under water and fly.

Rosemary Mulholland, Head of Nature Recovery with Ulster Wildlife, said “This is a fantastic find for this urban wetland haven in the heart of west Belfast – well done, Cohen!

“Although we will never know where this water stick insect came from, it’s possible that a warming climate is causing it to spread as our closest records are in Offaly and Dublin.

“As a native predator, it will take its place alongside the more common water scorpion, diving beetles and dragonfly larvae, that thrive here.”

Find out more about Bog Meadows Nature Reserve at

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