Hill farmers need to get paid for the multiple benefits their lands deliver in terms of carbon storage, biodiversity and habitat protection.

If this is not done, the lights are at risk of going out in the hills, those attending an uplands conference in Westport were told on Thursday.

The joint Teagasc-CAFRE symposium discussed future management strategies for Ireland’s hill lands under the headings of carbon emissions, biodiversity, water management and livestock farming.

Along with demands for farmers to be paid for delivery of public goods on the hills, the symposium also heard calls for the establishment by Teagasc of a dedicated hill research farm and for an overarching policy for the country’s uplands.


There was agreement across the various panels that farmers had to be rewarded for delivering public goods and services.

Connemara farmer Brendan Joyce said it was essential that this was agreed and that the delivery of such goods and services was classified as agricultural activity.

“I must be paid if I am delivering a public good as part of my agricultural activity,” Joyce maintained.

“That message needs to go back to all the lobby groups that are making a case for environmental measures,” he said.

“It you are talking to farmers about the management of land, you need to understand that he or she needs to make a living from that piece of ground.

“And if, for example, you are asking them to reduce stock or do something that might compromise his agricultural area or agricultural activity, then that’s an area where the farmer’s income must be absolutely protected,” he insisted.


This position was supported by Professor Phil Jordan of the University of Ulster, who told the symposium that improvements in water conservation and quality were services to the public and were therefore “transactions”.

Meanwhile, Florence Renou-Wilson of UCD pointed out that close to €100m in Government funding was targeted at transitioning 80,000ha of Bord na Móna lands away from industrial peat harvesting.

She said hill farmers in the west of Ireland should “demand as much money” to retain their lands in a good environmental condition so as to prevent degradation and carbon losses.

The symposium also heard calls from farmers and Donegal vet Ger Roarty for a dedicated hill research farm to be established by Teagasc. This would enable Teagasc to fill what Roarty described as “the gaps in technical knowledge” that currently exist around hill farming.

Roarty said the excellent research being carried out in the North and Britain was in stark contrast to that being undertaken in the Republic.

In an evocative contribution to the discussions, Barry O’Donoghue of the National Parks and Wildlife Service bemoaned the fact that his daughters were likely to grow up without hearing the call of the curlew or the sight of the hen harrier.

He also warned that a whole part of Ireland’s cultural history was being lost due to the abandonment of the hills and the replacement of hill communities by blanket sitka spruce plantations.

“We need to have a conversation about conservation – and people need to be at the heart of that conversation. They need to be part of the conversation, not apart from it,” O’Donoghue maintained.

Summing up 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”.

“It 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 Teagasc’s director of knowledge transfer Stan Lalor.

“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.