9 January by Eleanor McGillie
Lorcan McBride is the director of Far and Wild who works alongside a wide variety of experienced instructors and guides bringing people a little closer to nature. In this opinion piece Lorcan urges for joined up thinking for border region waters.
Lough Foyle (Feabhail) straddles the border in the northwest of the island of Ireland but the wintering whooper swans from Iceland haven’t figured that out yet. The visiting Arctic variety are a bit late coming this year, some think. Every autumn they perform perfect V-shaped fly-bys across the Lough over primary school roofs and commuters alike – everyone loves the sight.
Apparently oblivious to Brexit-related cannon-shots across political bows over the unresolved ownership of the Lough between the Irish and UK governments, daily passage of these graceful migrants happily continues.
In December 2016, the BBC reported that oyster farmers in the Lough were cashing-in on a political no-man’s land. Cross-border environmental protection organisation, the Lough’s Agency, claims its hands are tied over regulating the exponential upsurge of iron oyster trestles on the western shores and, increasingly, on sand beds in mid-stream.
From an adventure perspective, it doesn’t make sense. Not until someone smart in Tourism Ireland decided to brand the entire west coast of Ireland the ‘Wild Atlantic Way,’ did the penny drop on our national consciousness that the natural environment is this island’s biggest shared asset.
International tourists join our adventure tours because nature offers the best perspective on life on this small island on the edge of the Atlantic. We cannot get away from the beauty of our coastline, rivers, hills and mountains. As a people, that reality is within us.
We might take it for granted but others don’t. It makes as little sense that the Wild Atlantic Way stops in Muff – the small village in south Inishowen on the border with Derry – and the Causeway Coastal Route that picks up in Limavady almost opposite Muff on the east bank of Lough Foyle.
Political borders don’t help tourism; they lead to duplication, or, in this case, stagnation. The idea of a Blueway – first piloted on the Mayo coast and since incorporated by Waterways Ireland along communities in the Erne-Shannon system – could apply here.
Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement you might think the notion of a waterway as a contested space would be illogical. If you consider where the water is coming from and going to, the Foyle — just like the Erne-Shannon system – unites a wealth of biodiversity over a massive area of which the human inhabitants are but a small part.
With Brexit on the horizon, could anyone successfully claim the water in Lough Foyle as exclusively theirs? In places as far flung as India and Aotearoa/New Zealand, the game has already moved on. The old idea that a political entity like a State can own a mighty watercourse has been successfully thrown out of court in test cases.
In a world-first last March, the Maori people succeeded in establishing the Whanganui River with the same human rights as a human being. The greatest of Indian Rivers, the Ganges, quickly followed suit. The Guardian reported that this means any harm done to the rivers in question can be legally challenged on the same basis as harm done to a person.
The legal moves attempt to protect the sanctity of life-giving watercourses. It might be difficult to appreciate what this means for us on the daily commute to work Crossing Derry’s Foyle Bridge always exposes the driver to a different vista of the tidal blueway below, whatever weather comes knocking.
This morning floating downstream our group of stand up paddle boarders are simulating a V-formation of a group of swans for a tourism video. The power of the river is real, pushing us along quickly, forcibly. Cars crossing the bridges appear tiny. Maybe it is all about perspective.
Far and Wild is a Live It Experience It Member.
Live It Experience It’ is a group of journalists and travel writers who tell the story of our members. We work with tourism businesses to promote Northern Ireland through water, air and land based activities, food and drink and great places to stay. Together we let our visitors know of all of the amazing things Northern Ireland has to offer. To become a member business in of ‘Live It Experience It’ call 07709805379 or please submit your information through our online form.T&Cs apply – Sign Up Here Let us tell your story! #liveitexperienceit