The eight co-operation project teams that will manage and assist farmers with the implementation of this aspect of the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) have been selected.
Many of the teams are established groups managing current European Innovation Partnership (EIP) agri projects.
The Department of Agriculture has said on numerous occasions that the learnings from EIP projects will feed in to the co-operation approach of ACRES.
The eight high-priority geographical areas will see a suite of results-based measures introduced along with bespoke farm and landscape options.
Uplands EIP learnings
The information booklet compiled for the recent Teagasc national sheep open day included a section on the EIP-agri projects relevant to uplands areas where hill sheep farming is the dominant practice.
A paper written by Declan Byrne, project manager with the Sustainable Uplands Agri-Environment Scheme (SUAS) in Dublin/Wicklow focused on the learnings to date.
The project, which will runs from 2018 to 2022, was designed to get farmers back grazing and managing the upland areas in a sustainable manner that improves habitat quality, biodiversity value and agricultural productivity.
Declan split the learnings into two groupings – general comments on the learnings and more specific learnings on commonage groupings. His general comments are summarised first.
There is a need for research and a targeted advisory service for farmers to include advice on how to actually manage habitats to improve their condition and also optimum management of livestock in different habitats.
A significant barrier in the past to achieving progress in a particular commonage area has been a lack of cohesion between shareholders. This is often triggered due to shareholders falling out with one another.
Declan Byrne says that the SUAS project trialled the formation of commonage groups to bring shareholders together to implement measures to good effect.
He says that the success of commonage groups depends on allowing adequate time and support for group formation.
While the ACRES co-operation projects will not be confined to commonage, it will require farmers involved to work together on specific objectives.
It is viewed that participation at the outset between farmers and relevant stakeholders such as ecologists, hydrologists, ornithologists, environmental scientists, field officers and farm advisers in the initial and ongoing assessment of the upland habitats and biodiversity is crucial.
Furthermore, Declan outlines that training programmes, including site visits, are essential to building the capacities of farmers and shareholders to manage the upland challenges.
A learning and understanding of the objectives for each specific habitat and the measures required to deliver this goal is paramount and training should be completed before plans are developed and agreed upon. An important aspect includes compensating farmers and shareholders for time invested in training.