Northern Ireland news

Lifelong angler warns climate change already having an impact

Mairead Holland

A CO Tyrone man who received a Queen's award for services to angling and the environment says climate change has already begun to have a real impact.

Tommy Conlon, from Dungannon, says insect life in the local area has been depleted, which is having severe repercussions for fish and birds.

The 83-year-old has spent a lifetime observing the natural world and says the changes have been particularly apparent in the past few years.

He said: "About three years ago, I noticed a big change in the numbers of insect life hatching out in the evenings on our lakes ... insects that fish and birds depend on to survive.

"Last year it got worse. The swallows and swifts could not find enough insects to feed their young so they abandoned them.

"I saw two young swallows that had fallen out of their nest at my home. They were skin-and-bone and dead."

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This year, he said, the insects had "all but gone except for a few midges and the odd bee and wasp" and he had not seen "one swallow building a nest".

"I saw thousands of swallows on a local lake looking for insect life, but none in the meadows near the lakes," he said. "The next day they were all gone. I don't know where. I visited six different lakes and there were none on any of them.

"Some people have told me they have driven from Dungannon to Belfast and their windscreen was clean."

A keen angler all his life, Mr Conlon has also been struck by the effect the loss of insect life has had on fish stocks.

"Anglers always looked forward to the evening's rise of insect life hatching out on the surface of the lakes, and fish coming up to feed on them, but now the trout are hunting on the lake bottom for the insect life," he said.

"Pike are on the protected list. Who ever thought that would happen in today's world?

"Yes, climate change will and has happened. Can it be stopped? That's the main question."

Mr Conlon, the angling and environment correspondent of his local paper, The Tyrone Times, for many years, was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s birthday honours in June 2016.

He told the paper at the time: “I came from the top of Ann Street, where when you put the light out at night there was mice and cockroaches running about the floor.

“The water tap was outside the house and the toilet was outside the house - and that’s the background I came from.

“I had no education - and the papers gave me an education - were it not for them this would not have been possible today."

Mr Conlon, who worked at Tyrone Brick and the Glass Fabrics weaving factory in Dungannon, is still the 'go-to' expert for anyone in the area concerned about pollution or environmental matters.

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