Guest speaker Michael Davoren from the Burren, Co Clare addressed the well-attended meeting. Michael, farmer and environmentalist, is passionate about his native Burren and has been a key figure in the Burren programmes which have supported sustainable farming in the area over the past decade.
In a very informative presentation, Michael highlighted that most of the Burren is recognised as being of major conservation interest, with designations such as ASI (Area of Scientific Interest), NHA (Natural Heritage Area) and SAC (Special Area of Conservation). Michael briefly explained that specialist farming schemes in the Burren to date, including the Burren Life programme and Farming for Conservation Scheme, resulted in the development of the current Burren programme. This programme is a pioneering agri-environmental programme, aiming to conserve and support the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren. To date the programme has included 200 local farmers and this year an additional 200 farmers will be accepted into the programme which is funded under pillar II of the Rural Development Programme.
Michael described how the latest programme works in The Burren and noted that there are synergies with upland areas which the Wicklow uplands farmers could adopt. In the Burren, farmers apply to participate in the scheme and if accepted are assigned a qualified advisor who have completed an intense 6 week training course on the fragile Burren ecosystem. The advisors are in place to help the farmers as opposed to the ‘inspector’ type advisor heretofore. He stated that “It’s a partnership culminating in positive benefits for both the Burren as an area and the farmers who live and work there”.
Once the plan has been agreed, a baseline score is set and work can begin. The farmers are funded up front and at the end of the first year the advisor allocates a score. The scheme is flexible to encourage participation. Michael noted that one of the failings of existing national agri-environment schemes is that there can be very little evidence that the monies have been used to produce the desired environmental benefits. In the Burren programme on the other hand, each participant is assessed on an annual basis and scored accordingly. The reward for an improved score is an increase in the payment per hectare that the farmer is paid. Scores are allocated for areas such as improved conditions for biodiversity, ecosystems, addressing pollution, dealing with invasive species and overall access and fencing etc.
The presentation by Michael Davoren was very appropriate given Wicklow Uplands Council’s application for a sustainable uplands agri-environment scheme for the Wicklow/Dublin uplands this year under the new European Innovations Partnership (EIP) initiative. The Uplands Council have progressed to the second stage of the process and will be developing an in depth project proposal over the summer months.
WUC Co-ordinator, Brian Dunne, gave an update on the current projects and activities of the Uplands Council including the application for an uplands scheme for Wicklow which aims to support upland farming, the PURE Project and new village information panels.
The meeting concluded with the election of a new Board for 2017 and a discussion on current live issues faced by those who live, work and recreate in the uplands area.