Denis Fagan (right) and family, Oomchai (second left), Anita (age 2) and Amy (age 5).

Farmer ‘saddened’ by councillors’ approach to wind energy

A local farmer who runs his enterprise on organic principles is saddened by the stance Westmeath county councillors are taking on windfarms.

Denis Fagan of Shandonagh told the Westmeath Examiner that he signed up to organic farming a decade ago. “I was tired of poisoning myself with the chemicals we were expected to use,” he said. “And there was the harm I was doing to the nature on my farm – soil and wildlife alike.”

That was the way on the Fagan farm when around a year ago Denis’s partner, Oomchai, who is from Thailand, pointed out to him that he was discarding timber cuttings that are considered valuable in her native land.

“Timber is a regenerating product,” said Denis. “It, like us, has a lifespan – leave it too late and the quality deteriorates.

“When Oomchai said to me, ‘you throw away what we burn’, I though it was such a waste, and this goes on all over Ireland. The best burning is in the fresh growth and we don’t take the time or have the means to handle this.

“Most farmers burn the bushes, big and small, but if they even let it rot, nature would feast on it and it would support so much wildlife. You would not even notice it pushed into a corner."

“We are all busy mowing lawns, clipping hedges, just to be tidy. Nature does not like tidy as we do it. Nature knows best and does not pollute as we do, throwing rubbish out of our cars, burning plastic, spreading nitrates and phosphates in all weathers.

“Hedges should be allowed to grow and then provide fuel when mature, also providing habitat for birds and corridors for other wildlife. They should be cut a bit here and a bit there.”

Denis wasn’t content just to consider the matter, and decided to develop a way to handle the type of timber cuttings he mentions above. He studied footage on YouTube, and saw how other people had designed machines to handle it.

“The problem with the native Irish trees is that they come in all shapes and sizes,” said Denis. “It was with that in mind that I put together what I have today – two standard log-splitters, a wood-brancher, an elevator, a loading ramp and a winch in due course.

“The idea will be to tackle the tree where it falls and only handle the timber once, tipping the logs and chopped branches into the shed, where, with good ventilation, it will do the rest itself.

"Fallen branches and trees will be tidied up and removed seasonally. A year’s work and unexpected expense got me to where I am today. I enjoyed the journey but would be slow to do the same again,” said Denis.

“I enjoy farming organically and am thankful to neighbours who provide me with organic matter without which the viability may not be there.”

Denis turned to another, related, matter, and said: “I am sad to see how Westmeath councillors fail to recognise the importance of green energy in the form of wind power. We are capable of powering ourselves and also exporting.

“I, as a landowner, would facilitate a turbine if approached. I believe that every county should share the responsibility of providing green energy.

“The future for our children should be our main concern not selfish destruction of our unique planet. I admire the Swedish girl Greta Thunberg for challenging the governments of this world. I wish the Irish students would wake up and so the same here. We have to think of the long road, not just our lifetimes.”

“The councillors and in particular Cllr Andrew Duncan have gone beyond to limit any significant green energy in Westmeath, by seeking to protect views, change areas of potential to lesser zones, increase setback distances and seek to put them into wildlife habitats such as decommissioned bogland.”