Farmers and livestock systems are central to achieving environmental outcomes in upland landscapes, a ground-breaking symposium on hill farming was told. The Uplands Symposium 2023, which was organised jointly by Teagasc and CAFRE, heard that farmers cannot be portrayed as part of the problem in the hills but were in fact part of the solution.

Outlining the reasoning behind the symposium, Teagasc countryside management specialist Catherine Keena said it was essential to set out “the importance of the uplands and the multiple benefits they deliver” in terms of climate change, water management and biodiversity.

“It also shows how farmers are central to the uplands because the hills must be managed correctly to realise their potential,” she explained.

This message was echoed by Stan Lalor, Teagasc’s director of knowledge transfer.

“There is huge recognition of the opportunities provided by the uplands in terms of climate, water, biodiversity and livestock farming,” Lalor said.

“The task now is to build a framework to deliver on those opportunities,” he added.

Policy implementation

Mayo-based Teagasc sustainability adviser, Mary Roache, said it is essential that farmers are involved in the discussion around policy implementation if the ambitious targets on climate change and biodiversity are to be realised.

Roache said that explaining changes to farmers and getting their engagement is the key in securing “sustained behavioural change”.

However, she cautioned that farmers had to be “spoken to” rather than being “lectured to”.

Hill farming module in Green Cert

The course content for the Green Cert should include a module on hill farming, Micheál McDonnell of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) told the Westport symposium. There are close to 15,000 hill farmers in the country, McDonnell said, and this should be reflected in the make-up of the Green Cert.

Rushes don’t make land ineligible

The presence of rushes does not make land ineligible under the new CAP. “It is a message that clearly needs to be gotten across to farmers,” Teagasc adviser Mary Roache told farmers at the Westport symposium. Roache was speaking regarding MCPA usage, and the voluntary controls that have been adopted by farmers in the Newport area of Mayo.