Well known within farming circles as the father and son team behind Clogher Valley Cattle Breeding Services supplying dairy and beef AI semen in Northern Ireland, Joe and Jody Kelly recently hosted a meeting for their Environmental Business Development Group at their farm in the townland of Lisbane not far from the village of Clogher, Co. Tyrone.
Whilst speaking to Phelim Connolly, CAFRE Agri-Environment Adviser, Joe remarked that for many years he had noticed teams from AFBI’s Freshwater Aquatics division surveying the Fury River at the end of his lane, monitoring fish and invertebrate numbers. However as the years rolled on he took more interest in what they were doing, taking time to speak with them and gain more understanding of how his and other farmers actions could have either a positive or negative effect on water quality.
As its name suggests the Fury River can at times flow like a torrent over the boulders and rocks of the river bed as pristine water makes its way off the blanket bogs of Slieve Beagh, winding along the Fury feeding the River Blackwater and eventually Lough Neagh. It is these same boulders and rocks that help to oxygenate the water and make it a suitable habitat for freshwater macroinvertebrates such as Mayfly, Stonefly, Freshwater Crayfish and many others.
The macroinvertebrate community provides an indication of water quality and are an important food source for the young of the Dollaghan (Lough Neagh) Trout and Atlantic Salmon. These fish make their way back here every autumn to lay their eggs in the riverbed habitat of the Fury. As those eggs hatch the juveniles will feed on the rich macroinvertebrate life that the river supports until they are old enough to migrate downstream.
The Dollaghan will swim to Lough Neagh whilst the Salmon will continue onwards through the River Bann and to the North Atlantic Ocean, an amazing feat given that they start their life in a small river in Co. Tyrone. Atlantic Salmon have been known to swim as far as 200 miles upstream to lay their eggs in the same place they were born and have been doing so for thousands of years.
As part of the meeting, facilitated by Phelim, group participants got the chance to view the rivers biodiversity close up. Monitoring staff from AFBI demonstrated how they access macroinvertebrate communities as well as how they use catch and release techniques to monitor over 100 selected sites on a three year rolling cycle across NI as part of the Water Framework Directive.
The group were able to look at some juvenile Dollaghan and Salmon smolts as well as some freshwater crayfish and discuss what makes a suitable habitat for these species. Although no Eels were seen on the evening of the meeting they are also known to use tributaries like the Fury and form an important part of the Lough Neagh ecosystem.
As a result of this monitoring programme it has been possible to establish a relatively long term dataset of river fish classifications stretching back to 2004, and in doing so classification trends have become evident at certain survey locations.
As Joe’s awareness of the Fury’s significance has developed so too have his management practices alongside the river. In 2019 the Kelly’s erected over 600 metres of fencing along the Fury to protect its banks from livestock erosion and sedimentation, helping to preserve the river habitat. It is in these fertile fields along the river where the family’s herd of pedigree cattle graze.
Although still retaining some pedigree Charolais and Limousin cattle, the predominate breed in the herd is now Aberdeen Angus. Joe likes many of the Aberdeen Angus breed traits and feels they suit his land type, thriving equally well on the heather moorland and lowland ground. When producing pedigree stock for sale Joes aim is to use well proven genetics. He focuses on easy calving traits and the ability to produce more carcase weight from grass with bulls suitable for both the beef and dairy sector.
These traits fit in well with the overall sustainable objectives of the farm, where profitability is a key driver but not at the expense of good water quality, something which Joe is very passionate about.
The Business Development Groups Scheme is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
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