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Award-winning Burren scheme inspires hen harrier farmers
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Award-winning Burren scheme inspires hen harrier farmers

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Farmers getting paid to achieve environmental goals they have set themselves – the model pioneered by the Burren locally-led agri-environmental scheme is moving into hen harrier-designated areas.
Farmers getting paid to achieve environmental goals they have set themselves – the model pioneered by the Burren locally-led agri-environmental scheme is moving into hen harrier-designated areas.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed formally presented the rural community of the Burren with the European Union’s Green Award in Kilfenora, Co Clare, on Thursday. The prize singles out the best of 4,000 projects supported by the EU’s environmental LIFE fund over the past 25 years and was awarded to the Burren programme last month.

“What this says is that the farming community here in the Burren, and the team who have supported and worked with it over the last 15 years, have created something very special, something which has caused the rest of Europe to sit up and take notice,” Minister Creed said.

On the wall of the community hall hosting the ceremony, one of may drawings by local schoolchildren claimed: “We’re the guardians of the Burren.”

The Burren scheme has evolved from LIFE-funded pilot projects into an integral part of Ireland’s rural development programme. Its current version opened last year and will run until 2020. It offers €1m in annual payments for farmers applying agri-environmental measures they contributed to design. The National Parks and Wildlife Service contributes to administration costs. Some 320 farmers are currently enrolled and numbers are growing.

These include tailored grazing, feeding and watering management that protects the fragile ecosystem of the Burren and efforts to combat invasive species, such as bracken and scrubs.

’A model to follow’

“This project is consistently pointed out as a model for other communities, and indeed countries, to follow,” Minister Creed said. This is verified a short distance away, in the hen harrier special protection area (SPA) of the Slieve Aughty Mountains that straddles the border between Co Galway and Co Clare.

There, suckler farmer Michael Cunningham is one of the 12 farmers collaborating with scientists and planners in preparatory work for a similar scheme. Michael is very much aware of the environmental services provided by his land in combating climate change, flooding and biodiversity loss.

“I don’t think they are recognised enough, or that people are enough aware of this,” he told the Irish Farmers Journal.

A local scheme for nine counties

Fergal Monaghan, the newly appointed manager of the hen harrier project team, added: “This is modelled on the Burren programme, but over six SPAs in nine counties.”

In addition to experiments conducted on the 12 development farms, the project will conduct up to 50 of meetings with local farmers in hen harrier-designated areas in the coming weeks to get their input into the scheme.

  • Read more about what the Burren and hen harrier schemes mean for the future of local farmers in the coming weeks in the Irish Farmers Journal.
  • Read more

    The Burren: where cowman is king

    Full coverage: locally-led agri-environmental schemes

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