Farmers are the first responders to the climate and biodiversity crises, Dr Derek McLoughlin, project manager with the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE project, has said.

The €20.6m nine-year scheme now has 800 farmers signed up to it for 2022, following on from a pilot phase with 160 farmers last year, he told the Irish Farmers Journal at Ballycroy community centre in Mayo recently.

“There’s a lot of really positive results from it. The first one is that farmers that wouldn’t have had much time for the biodiversity side of things are pointing out flowers on the hills to me now. They’re pointing out problems they have like rhododendron or if there is bare peat. So there’s a massive increase in awareness and in their own role I suppose.

“There’s also a massive increase in the understanding about how important their own role is and the knowledge they already have. They are our first responders to the climate and biodiversity crises and they’re the people on the ground that can make those changes.

“What’s really interesting as well is that farmers are hugely adaptable, they’re the most innovative I think in society just from year to year, depending on the seasons and whatever else as well,” he said.

Scores and payments

Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE covers land under Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) from south Galway and Clare right up to Donegal.

There is a results-based payment system aspect to the project up until the end of this year.

Farmers are scored on the quality of the habitats on their land – the higher the score, the higher the payment.

Payments worth €500,000 were issued in the last fortnight to farmers, with an average payment of €3,200. The minimum payment was €800, while the highest payment was over €10,000.

If you’re delivering and you continue to deliver, you ought to get more

“Farmers are just getting their scores for this year, they’ve gone through the training so they know the stuff on the ground. Now those with lower scores are thinking ‘how can I improve’ and that is a massive leap forward. That means there’s a strong understanding of what’s being sought and what’s being paid for.

“If you’re delivering and you continue to deliver, you ought to get more. If you bring more animals to the market you get more money for that and the taxpayer is looking for these environmental services and that’s what farmers are delivering.

“That’s really important. I would say caps [on payments] aren’t a good idea, I would suggest the digression of payments is a much better approach, because if you deliver more you want to be rewarded more,” he said.

The higher the ecological value of the site of your farm, the higher the score

The project has a particular focus on blanket bogs but it looks at all environmental services, the water, the carbon and the biodiversity of these areas, McLoughlin said.

“The higher the ecological value of the site of your farm, the higher the score. The higher the score, the higher the payment you receive and probably the most important aspect of that is that this needs to be supported.

“So we have these supporting actions that a farmer can do to improve their score as needs be. That could be peatland restoration, it could be removal of rhododendron, it could be keeping stock out of a river.”


“This year, we’ll have over 800 farmers and the whole objective is to build capacity towards the new CAP strategic plan, [using] the co-operation project model.

“We have four co-operation project areas [from the next Agri-Environment Climate Measure of the next CAP] within our footprint, so we are building capacity among farmers so they know exactly what’s on the ground, what’s involved in these schemes. They have a head start to see what’s ahead of them,” he said.

When asked if farmers in the Wild Atlantic Nature project will be able to take part in the co-operation project of the new AECM, he said: “Our programme is capacity building until the end of 2022 and we’d see that our farmers have had the opportunity to see what it’s like and then go into the co-operation projects after that.

“The way we’ll be working it then is we’ll be a support to farmers, we won’t be administering the results-based programme after that but we’ll be there as a support to improve their scores,” he said.

Food labels

McLoughlin said that the partners in the scheme are looking at developing a label for food, such as beef and lamb, for example, produced in the scheme project areas.

“A real key aspect we’re starting to develop is building on the added value of food that is produced in these areas, the idea that the higher the score the higher ecological value.

“That is a huge aspect from the production of food as well, so that when that [product] hits the shelf, is there a label there to say this because that is something that’s extremely important.

“It’s extremely important to the consumer as well. So we’re doing work on that, we’re getting market research done at the moment,” he said.