"Gathering seaweed, Mayo coast, 1909" by Jack Butler Yeats RHA (1871-1957)
We have heard stories that evoke images of how hard our ancestors had to work when their access to resources was taken away from them during occupation. Do we really want our children to have their resources to feed themselves taken away from them? Do we want to allow them to live under an economic occupation that undermines the fabric of cohesive, creative, social groups by denying them the right to feed themselves from their local environments?
A culture emerges from a community of people living with the environment, interacting with the environment and each other within that ecological context. The culture is a function of the place, the environment and everything in it. To take away people’s land and their means of providing for themselves is to destroy their culture. To preserve an old stone ruin and deny a man the right to cut seaweed from the shore in missing the point of cultural heritage.
The ecosystem and the community are interdependent. An ecosystem is a community. A community should be treated with as much respect and importance as the ecosystem its culture has emerged with. People who love where they live give something back to it, they care for it, they nurture it. People who work the land and the shore every day have a deep knowledge of the places they know and love. It is because people have looked after areas that they are worthy of being Special Protection Areas and Special areas of Conservation. It is not local communities that the environment needs to be protected from, it is industry and market forces. The human relationship with the environment becomes out of balance when activity takes place that does not have the interests of the ecology or the community in mind…when environmental resources are treated as commodities by industries that are not operating with respect for the local ecology or community.
We have (all) been formally invited to submit our vision of what Ireland will look like in 2040. The National Planning Framework needs to acknowledge importance of local seaweed resources to the survival of Irish rural coastal communities. Objective 8 aims to "Protect places, features, buildings and landscapes of cultural, archaeological or architectural heritage. a. No unauthorised physical damage or alteration of the context of cultural heritage features." Q. How can the quest for cultural heritage ignore the preservation of communities who are the repositories of cultural heritage? For each rural coastal community we need to be asking: Q What does the ecosystem need to thrive for the long term beyond 2040? Q What does the community need to thrive for the long term beyond 2040?
Who are the people we want to own our natural resources in the future? People who do not respect the local environment? People who do not live with it and respect it? People who treat it as a commodity? People who exploit our natural resources for their own gain? People who demonstrate lack of care and cause reckless damage through their attitudes and actions towards ecosystems and communities…? The choices we make are not for us but for our grandchildren and great grandchildren. In the rural coastal communities of Ireland, seaweed is the last natural resource we have.
Give a man a job and he has something to do each day. Give a man and his neighbours a skill set and access to local resources and he has an opportunity to create a community of men, women and children who will be able to thrive through being be creative and self-reliant based on an industry that they are connected to through their hearts and minds. We need to create more than jobs in rural coastal communities. We need to create careers and long-term opportunities for future generations to grow in to. We need to safeguard our ecosystems and natural resources and use a regenerative, precautionary approach to the management of our local seaweed resources.
Seaweeds are often called sea vegetables. If the government tried to take away land that people used to grow their food on there would (hopefully) be an uproar. Why are we allowing the government to deny us access to the foreshore where food, plants, sea vegetables grow in the sea? Let the licenses to cut seaweed stay in the hands of our rural coastal communities. Let us add value to seaweed locally to keep wealth in the local community. Let us process our own natural resources locally by drying and milling seaweed where it is harvested. Let people be creative and innovative and develop artisan products based on their locally processed raw materials. Let our children become seaweed farmers, let them become engineers to run our processing plants, chemists and food technicians to develop new products, marine biologists to monitor the health of our local ecosystems and teachers to teach their own children about the potential of marine resources.
Our natural resources belong to the children not yet born. They are not ours to give away...
"To a Child Dancing in the Wind" by William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)
Dance there upon the shore
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?
Has no-one said those daring
Kind eyes should be more learn’d?
Or warned you how daring
The moths are when they are burned?
I could have warned you but you are young
So we speak a different tongue.
O you will take whatever’s offered
And dream that all the world’s a friend.
Suffer as your mother suffered,
Be as broken in the end.
But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.
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