An evaluation of the KerryLIFE scheme has recommended that farmers should be paid for providing ecosystem services.

The socio-economic evaluation of the KerryLIFE agri-environmental scheme, which ran from 2014 to 2020, was launched this week by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan.

The authors recommend developing comprehensive markets for farmers’ produce through creating a model of farming built on a foundation of sustaining nature and farming households in high nature value areas.

The evaluation report highlights the importance of upland areas as refuges for biodiversity and as strongholds of indigenous farming practices and place-based traditional knowledge, according to the Department of Housing.

Local community importance

“It notes the importance of including everybody in the local community – farming and non-farming – in supporting agri-environmental initiatives.

"The report calls for proper investment in upland communities and services, including nature conservation, and it points out that urban and lowland communities depend on the wide range of ecosystem services that Kerry’s uplands provide.

“In the context of the current CAP negotiations, the report points to the merits of the European Green Deal and the current European Commission’s CAP proposals, particularly front-loading and convergence,” it said.

The scheme

The scheme covered two river systems, which are home to almost half of Ireland’s population of freshwater pearl mussels - the Blackwater and Caragh River catchments in the Iveragh Peninsula.

The pearl mussel is a very rare aquatic species and is an excellent indicator of pristine water quality.

Minister Noonan said its survival in Iveragh is testament to the local people, particularly the farming community, who have worked hard to protect their important local ecosystem.

KerryLIFE invested in on-farm works to enhance and protect water quality in the two catchments.

Farmers fenced off river courses, installed drinking troughs, blocked drains and allowed nature to flourish across 220ha of public and private land.

The evaluation was commissioned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

It was undertaken by an independent team of three researchers: Drs Caroline Crowley, Karen Keaveney and Breandán Ó Caoimh.

Speaking on behalf of the team of independent evaluators, head of subject for rural development and assistant professor in the School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dr Karen Keaveney said initiatives such as KerryLIFE need to be fully mainstreamed.

“Our ecology, particularly in our upland communities, is a strategic resource, and farmers need to be fully and properly paid for conserving biodiversity.

"The European Commission’s current proposals for a greener and fairer Common Agricultural Policy are long overdue, and all member states need to fully support them.”