One of the founders of the Burren Programme has said he “can’t stand over” its successor scheme, BurrenACRES, and as a result has stepped away from the scheme.

Brendan Dunford, who has worked with farmers in the Burren since the late 1990s, told the Irish Farmers Journal that he and his colleague Sharon Parr decided to remove themselves once more detail about the new Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) became clear.

His company HNV Services had won the tender to run the BurrenACRES scheme and put together a plan as to how the scheme would work.

“Then when the details of ACRES became clear, particularly the payment structure, we thought ‘this is going to cause a huge problem for the Burren potentially’.

Stand down

"So we talked to the Department about it and we were kind of frustrated by the response, so we said in good faith that we had to stand down.

“We can’t run this because we basically can’t stand over a reversal of the environmental gains accumulated over the years.

"That’s just how we felt and respectfully to the Department, they have a difficult job as well, but we decided that we had to withdraw.

“We decided as a team it would be irresponsible for us to walk away because it might jeopardise farmer payments and it might further jeopardise the environmental gains, so we went back in to run it.

"But myself and Sharon decided at that point to step back from it, because we couldn’t stand over it in front of our farmers,” he said.

Dunford and Parr’s colleagues, plus some new recruits, will run the scheme.

“We want to support them in making ACRES for the Burren as good as it possibly can be within its limitations.

"We’re trying to make sure our colleagues are given the best possible opportunity to make the most of ACRES for the Burren and its farmers,” he said.


When asked if farmers in the Burren had expressed any reservations to the BurrenACRES scheme, he said some have.

“The current publicity around ACRES and the Burren has only come to light because we had farmer training sessions in late October. We told farmers that we were finishing up under the Burren Programme, ACRES is the new programme and myself and Sharon will be stepping back.

“Farmers were really shocked about it and we’ve had an awful lot of farmers expressing huge gratitude, but also frustration that a lot of their hard work will be undone.

“Farmers really bought into this programme and some of them did amazing work and I think they’re a bit upset that a lot of those gains will be lost,” Dunford said.

Meeting with ministers

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Pippa Hackett are to meet with Dunford and representatives from the Burren Programme next week.

Minister Hackett has said that the Burren Programme has been “a fantastic example” of what well-designed locally-led agri-environmental schemes can deliver.

“Under CAP 2023-2027, we are upscaling our environmental ambition by bringing more farmers and more land into locally-led, results-based schemes," she said.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Burren reps next week with [Minister McConalogue] to discuss the transition from Burren Programme to ACRES Burren CP.

"In ACRES Burren CP, we will bring in 1,000 more farmers, with an extra 29,000ha being scored under a results-based model.”

The Farming for Nature group has called on Government to address the issue immediately.