A NORTH-Clare-led agri-environment scheme has generated €23 million for the local economy, according to new figures provided for the Burren Programme Steering Group. Payments totalling €9.4 million has been remitted to 328 Burren farmers for environmental farming since 2010, with an average direct results-based payment of €2,613 in 2019.
With a focus turning to sustainable environmentally farming, the Burren Programme can point to a number of relavant and topical achievements. It has helped to deliver a range of environmental, social and economic benefits for farmers, the local community and wider society. It has ensured the continued use and viability of Burren farms by funding land access improvements, water infrastructure and scrub clearance.
At least €33 million worth of landscape and biodiversity improvements have been completed in the Burren since 2010 thanks to the scheme. More than 23,000 hectares of scrub has been removed from 328 farms, providing space for rare flowers, such as orchids and gentians to flourish.
Significant water improvements have also been achieved by reducing point-source pollution from participating farms. The programme supports an average of 20 local jobs annually for Burren businesses, contractors and crafts people, making roadways, rebuilding walls and making gates. In total, more than 130,000 metres of fallen dry stone walls have been repaired, while 199 traditional Burren Gates have been installed.
Arising from the success of the BurrenLIFE project, the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP) was launched in 2010 by its funders, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the NPWS of the Dept. of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The BFCP ran from 2010 to 2015. It worked with 160 farmers on 15,000 hectares of prime Burren habitat, built directly on the lessons learned during BurrenLIFE and worked in a very creative way to support and incentivise farmers to maintain and enhance the habitats of the Burren.
The programme effectively tackled many of the issues identified in the original research project over a decade previously.
Having won a diploma award from the Council of Europe in 2014, the state signed up to an agreement to keep the Burren in pristine condition.
The Burren Programme, started in 2016 with 200 farmers, and has now grown to 328 farmers, is a natural progression of the BFCP and will continue to work closely with farmers, advisors and the EU, DAFM and NPWS to implement solutions to help manage and protect the Burren.
Burren farmer, Michael Davoren stressed if the Burren Programme ceased, it would arguably make farming unviable in many cases.
Mr Davoren recalled a study completed by Dr Brendan Dunford as part of his PhD on the impact of farming on the Burren flora showed if farming ceased, the Burren could effectively disappear through a proliferation of rank grass and scrub over a 20-year period.
Armed with this extensive research, a local committee looked for funding to devise solutions to the issues raised by this study, which resulted in approval of €2.3 million.
For the first time ever, a group of Burren farmers worked as equal partners with two government departments – National Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Agriculture, which is still operating effectively today.
Parts of the Burren were being overtaken and overgrazed so individual plans were drawn up and approved by Burren Life for farmers to operate environmental farming that has actually protected and fostered the unique flora and fauna.
Rebuilding old walls and providing agricultural roads up the side of mountains, farmers were able to keep cattle in the remote upland areas of farms.
The more fields were properly grazed, the more flora and flowers grew, which was a double victory for the farmer and the environment.
For the first time ever, an environmental scheme could be scored on its delivery on what farmers achieved over a five-year period, which has formed the blueprint for other environmental schemes in Ireland and Europe.
The Carron farmer explained rank grass blocks the light for any of the rare Burren flowers if it is not grazed off properly.
If a hazel nut gets blown into the rank grass it makes an ideal bed for a hazel tree, which will stop all the light, fostering moss growth.
Satellite imaging has shown scrub increases by about 7% in the Burren every year. However, the work of Burrren farmers clearing scrub ensures the overall amount remains static.
In addition to a ban on all artificial fertiliser on the mountain, the Burren Programme funds the protection of springs by fencing off particular areas or providing a borehole or putting in a solar pump to supply the water to where it is needed.
When cattle are fed a special Burren ration it creates a craving in their rumen to consume roughage and fulfil this desire by grazing the rank grass.
Up to 70 contractors and self-employed people get regular employment cutting scrub and rebuilding stone walls.
Some tradesmen such as Padraig Howley in Kilfenora make Burren gates – an old fashioned renowned gate created by blacksmiths. These gates are funded by the Burren Programme to keep this old tradition alive.
By Dan Danaher