The BFCP is an agri-environmental scheme which aims to conserve and support the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren, writes Amy Nora Fitzgibbon.

The minister confirmed today that payments under the 2014 BFCP have commenced issuing to farmers. This is the fifth year of the programme, which is funded from unused Single Farm Payment funds.

Coveney said he was delighted to support "high environmental value farming in the Burren which is one of Ireland’s outstanding landscapes and is known worldwide.

"This brings the allocation to participating famers by my Department over the five years of the Programme to almost €5 million.’’

Minister Coveney also noted the environmental benefits the programme had brought to the Burren over the years. These included a major shift away from the feeding of silage to ration-based feeding systems, leading to improvements in the condition of grasslands and natural water sources.

Additionally, over 89,000 meters of stone walls have been repaired while 214 hectares of invasive scrub has been removed – mainly by hand - from rare, species-rich grasslands and ancient monuments.

Hundreds of water supplies have also been protected by installing new tanks, troughs and pumps, resulting in improved water quality in the karst landscape.

Coveney praised the farming participants, Burren IFA, the farm advisors, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Teagasc, the programme management team based in Carron and his own Department for the success of the programme.

He said that in addition to the positive impact on farmers in the region, the culmination of these works has been a measurable improvement in the state of the Burren’s environment, which in turn supports the region’s growing tourism industry.

Finally the Minister confirmed that he has provided €1 million from national funds for the continuation of the Programme in 2015 as unused SPS funds are no longer available.