James Breslin, an Inishowen hill farmer, runs a suckler and sheep farm in Donegal. He has reintroduced Galloway cattle to his farm as he feels their hardy nature is well suited to the mountainous conditions of the land.
James has resown some of the farmland with red clover swards and multispecies grass swards, further reducing the need for nitrogen fertiliser and increasing biodiversity on the farm.
“When the red clover is in flower, you can hear it before you see it – because of the amount of bees it attracts,” he said. These diverse swards help build soil fertility and improve soil structure.
Colm Gavin is an eighth-generation farmer based in the Bundorragha catchment in Mayo. He farms 90 to 100 Mayo Blackface ewes.
The sheep are out on the mountain year-round, grazing the multispecies natural vegetation and maintaining the land.
Colm operates an extremely low-impact farming system and very few external inputs are required on the farm.
Colm is involved in the Pearl Mussel Project EIP. This project rewards participant farmers for the ecological quality of their land, which in turn contributes to the pristine water quality needed by the Freshwater Pearl Mussel.
Avril and Willie Allshire along with their two sons, William and Maurice, farm a herd of 100 crossbred pigs in Caherbeg, Co Cork.
They have been farming the land since 1997 and the farm has grown from 15ac of marginal land to a 58ac enterprise containing forestry, agroforestry, free-range pigs and an on-site processing plant.
All of the produce is processed on-site and sold direct to customers under the Caherbeg Free Range Pork or Rosscarbery Recipes label.
Fifty acres of the farm are under forestry – a mix of Sitka spruce and broadleaf woodland, along with eucalyptus groves planted around the farm.
Norman Dunne along with his father Michael Dunne, runs a 400ac tillage farm outside Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Cereals grown on the farm include beans, oats, barley and wheat for the animal feed market. Norman also produces hay for the equine market.
The family keeps a small number of pigs and sheep to graze cover crops and pasture.
Participants of the Danú EIP Project and members of BASE Ireland, the focus has been on regenerating soil biology and reducing external inputs where possible on the farm.
Cereal crops are grown on the land using minimal disturbance methods like direct drilling and/or min-till. Crop rotations and permanent organic soil cover systems are in place.
Cathal Mooney of Heather Hill Farm is a regenerative farmer located in Donegal. He takes a holistic approach to farming, focusing on ecological, social and economical goals. Heather Hill Farm produces pasture-raised turkey, pasture-raised chicken, pasture-raised eggs, wildflower honey and grass-fed lamb. They operate a holistic planned grazing system, meaning their animals are moved to fresh pasture every day.
Not only does this benefit the animals, but it helps to build soil fertility and create habitats. They have implemented a silvopasture system where fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes have been planted throughout their grassland. This increases biodiversity and contributes to healthy soil.
Rena Blake and Lisa Fingleton are based in north Kerry where they run a 20ac organic farm.
Part of the farm makes up a market garden and orchard, where they grow tomatoes, potatoes, salad leaves, apples and other fruit, which is sold direct to their local customers at the Ballybunion community market. They keep bees as well a small flock of hens whose eggs are also sold locally.
Nature conservation and attracting wildlife is central to how the farm is run. Last year they planted nine acres of their farm under native woodland – a total of 10,000 native Irish trees were planted. Last December, they planted 500 holly trees as part of a community initiative.
Eoghan Daltun runs a high nature value (HNV) farm and rewilding project on the Beara peninsula of Co Cork.
Three different types of land make up the farm. The main block of private land is 21.5ac, the majority of which is highly species-rich native Atlantic temperate rainforest. This area has been fully given over to nature and Eoghan has taken immense pride in watching this unique ecosystem restore and regenerate itself naturally.
Previously a sheep farmer, Eoghan has recently replaced his flock of sheep with a small herd of Dexter cattle. He believes the cattle, as they are non-selective grazers, are better suited to his HNV farming practice and to the regeneration of the land.
Gearoid Maher farms 80ha in Co Limerick. He has a dairy herd of purebred Friesians, milking 80 cows in total.
The land is a heavy clay type and requires careful management. Gearoid carries out regular soil tests to determine what specific nutrients are required in each field and at what exact quantity.
He has been gradually increasing the clover content in the grassland and has sown some multispecies grass swards on the farm -with the aim of improving the soil biology and reducing the amount of fertiliser needed in the future. Gearoid is passionate about increasing biodiversity on the farm. He has planted trees all around the farm, an orchard by the house, as well as hedges and tree lines throughout the fields.
Nia O’Malley farms 60ha in the Slieve Aughty Mountains in Co Galway. She took over the family farm in 2010. Since then, she has worked incredibly hard to rebuild and regenerate the farm and has done so with respect and consideration for the natural landscape and wildlife of the area.
“Something you learn as a hill farmer is you have to adapt to the area – you can’t just come in and change things as you wish ... You have to adapt to the land and work with the land, rather than forcing the land to adapt to your farming practices,” she said.
Nia currently manages a small herd of Galloway cattle that play a crucial role in grazing the mountain vegetation, fertilising the land and regenerating the soil.
Liam and Justina Gavin run Drumanilra Organic Farm on the shores of Lough Key, Co Roscommon.
Along with their farm manager Noel Higgins, they manage a 300ac mixed livestock and horticulture farm. They farm a pedigree herd of Irish Dexter cattle, a flock of Jacob sheep, outdoor-reared pigs and a flock of laying hens.
The organic animal produce is processed locally and sold directly to their customers via their farm shop/cafe or through a box scheme.
The market garden produces organic salads and vegetables which are also sold direct to local customers.
Most of the land is in permanent pasture and they are experimenting with multispecies herbal leys.
About the Farming for Nature awards
The national Farming for Nature Awards are now in their second year and aim to source and share stories of farmers across Ireland who are adjudged to be managing their land and livestock in a way that really benefits nature in their area.
By celebrating these Farming for Nature Ambassadors, it is hoped to inform and inspire other farmers, and members of the public, to follow suit and do what they can for nature.
The key sponsor of the awards is Bord Bia’s Origin Green Programme and it is also supported by the National Rural Network.
These featured farmers are just some of the nominees for the Farming for Nature awards this year.
For more information, visit www.farmingfornature.ie