Farming for Nature will feature each of these farmers in detail over the coming months, giving other farmers the opportunity to hear their stories and learn about the different ways they are working to support nature on their land.
Blátnaid and her husband, Niall, manage a diverse farm with a range of different habitats such as woodland, permanent pasture, bogland and rewilded land. Blátnaid runs a small flock of pedigree Galway ewes, producing organic lamb and Galway wool.
The farm is very extensively managed, with no chemicals used and external inputs are extremely low. Geese, ponies and donkeys are also kept on the farm. Much of the land is left for biodiversity and wildlife, including 6ha of bogland which is now a dedicated butterfly sanctuary, providing a habitat for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly, as well as numerous other insects and birds.
Mature hedgerows, woodland and nature corridors throughout the land provide habitat for the healthy populations of birds on the farm, as well as badgers, hares, pine martens and foxes.
Bruce runs a dairy farm in Co Laois. He is an eighth-generation farmer.
The farm, which was traditionally a mixed farm, is now a commercial dairy farm with a herd of 320 cows.
Bruce operates a grass-based, high-efficiency production system. In 2020, Bruce started a Nuffield scholarship and from this he developed a passion for dung beetles.
On his own farm, he has a particular interest in reducing animal remedies through prevention, with a focus on animal wormers.
He has made dramatic reductions in his wormer usage by making use of his farm microscope for diagnosis and pioneering new grazing strategies.
Other actions carried out for nature include managing hedgerows for biodiversity, planting new hedgerows and incorporating multispecies swards into his grassland to help reduce inputs.
David is a commercial dairy farmer from Co Laois. He milks 150 cross-bred cows, following the old farming mantra of one cow to the acre. He also keeps a small flock of Dorset Horn sheep on the farm.
Some 20% of the land has been reseeded with multispecies swards and clover and this has helped reduce the amount of artificial nitrogen spread on the land.
There are 3ac of woodland on the farm, mainly oak, which was planted by David’s late father, George. To honour the passing of George in 2021, David devoted an area of land to a 1.5ac wildlife pond on the farm. He has since dug numerous other ponds on the farm.
David has left approximately 12% of his farm as non-commercially productive land and he values this land for its biodiversity and wildlife value.
Diana Pickersgill runs a mixed organic farm with her daughters Penn and Nadia, near Mullingar, Co Westmeath. There are 40ac of permanent pasture/multispecies sward and about 8ha of mixed broadleaf woodland on the farm which is operated under a continuous cover forestry system.
An advocate for the importance of maintaining diversity on farms, Diana keeps a variety of stock on the land but maintains low stocking numbers. She keeps Dexter cattle, sheep, sows, donkeys and chickens.
There is also a kitchen garden on the farm and oats are grown to supplement winter feed and provide straw for bedding. Habitats on the farm include woodlands, hedgerows, wetland areas with two ponds, an orchard, meadows and wildflower areas.
James is a seventh-generation farmer, who farms alongside his father in Co Leitrim. James runs a mixed organic farm. He keeps a suckler herd and a small herd of Dexters, as well as a small flock of sheep.
He keeps bees and chickens too, producing honey and eggs for local customers.
As a farmer, James doesn’t want to push the land beyond its natural capability, thus low stocking density, low external inputs and extensive management of the land are crucial elements of his farming system.
Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Farm Plan Scheme, James is just one of a few farmers currently trialling NoFence cattle collars to deliver targeted grazing in an upland setting. He has installed PV panels on the shed roof.
There is a small pond on the farm and James enjoys planting trees and hedges on the farm every year.
The Gavins run Drumanilra Organic Farm on the shores of Lough Key, Co Roscommon. They manage a 300ac mixed livestock and horticulture farm.
They farm a herd of pedigree Irish Dexter cattle, a flock of Jacob sheep and a flock of laying hens. The organic animal produce is processed locally and sold direct to their customers via their farm shops/restaurants.
The market garden produces organic salads and vegetables which also supply their restaurant business. A holistic planned grazing system is practised on the farm and multispecies herbal leys have been sown to help regenerate soil and provide nutritionally dense food for the animals. Habitats on the farm include pockets of mature broadleaf woodland, wetlands along the lake shore and mature hedgerows running throughout the farm.
Lisa Gifford grew up in the US, but her Irish roots brought her back to the land in 2016 and she bought a small farm in Co Leitrim which she manages with her daughter Gypsy Gifford and daughter-in-law Richelle South.
There is a range of stock on the farm, including goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. The main commercial aspect of the farm is milking goats and producing farmhouse goat’s cheese that is sold at local farmers’ markets.
An old farm building has recently been retrofitted and converted into an on-farm micro-dairy.
There are mature hedgerows around the farm and the family are planting trees on the land and in field corners to provide shelter and improve soil structure, as well as creating additional habitats for wildlife.
Marianne Klay runs a stud farm in Swordlestown Little, Co Kildare, where she breeds thoroughbred horses for the horse-racing industry. The farming system is extensive, and no chemicals are used on the land.
Marianne ensures the stocking density is never too high and the land is aerated every year to minimise soil compaction.
A nature lover her entire life, Marianne places biodiversity and wildlife at the centre of every decision relating to the land.
Thick and mature hedgerows line every field and corridor on the farm. A pond was dug on the land a few years ago and it has become a central point on the farm, attracting an abundance of insects and birds.
There is a stream on the land which provides further water habitat and there is an area of wetland on the farm as well. There are pockets of mature woodland throughout the farm which provide habitats for the diverse array of wildlife that live on the farm.
Michael Keegan is the farm manager of Luggala Estate in Co Wicklow. The 5,000ac estate is a mix of upland blanket bog, dry heath, acid grassland, meadows, mixed woodlands some of which are native and some conifer plantations.
There are also two large lakes and two rivers running through the land.
Michael is now implementing an extensive environmental management plan throughout the entire estate.
Actions to date include heather cutting, treatment of the invasive Rhododendron plants in the woodland, bruising and treatment of bracken, repair and restoration of the traditional drystone walls, management of the deer population, tagging and recording of raptors, gathering seeds from native trees and shrubs on the estate for propagation, woodland restoration and gully planting with native trees and shrubs.
There is a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle on the estate that play an important role in conservation grazing and managing the extensive upland vegetation.
Tom Tierney runs a 200ac regenerative tillage farm in Co Kildare. He has been running a direct-drilling system since 2015 and has observed the benefits of this lower soil disturbance method for life both above and below the soil surface.
He has reduced the amount of synthetic inputs required on the farm and there has been no insecticide used on the land in six years. He has two wormeries on the farm and he makes his own bio-stimulants from ‘vermi-juice’, seaweed, molasses and silica which further build the soil biology.
There are about 30ac of mixed forestry on the farm, 60% hardwood and 40% softwood and Tom operates a continuous cover forestry system.
There are about 12ac of conservation areas on the farm. There is an acre of wetland with naturally regenerating woodland. There are 7ac of wildflowers on the farm and 4ac of permanent clover.