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Minister launches Burren LIFE - Farming for Conservation Programme

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith, TD, today launched details of  the Burren LIFE - Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP).  This is a three-year agri-environmental programme aimed at supporting high environmental value farming in the Burren, continuing and mainstreaming the pilot scheme known as the Burren LIFE Project. This Scheme is a voluntary one and is open to all farmers, who farm in the Burren region in north Clare and south Galway.

Minister Smith stated "€1 million will be spent each year for three years to support high environmental value farming in the Burren which is one of Ireland's outstanding landscapes and is known worldwide. This funding comes from unused Single Payment funds and will provide an important boost to the traditional farming methods employed in the unique karst landscape of the Burren".

This is the third and final Scheme, which the Minister has introduced with €25 million of unused SPS funds. The following two Schemes have already been implemented;

Dairy Efficiency Programme, which will involve the payment of €6 million per annum over the next three years to eligible dairy farmers who actively participate in dairying Discussion Groups;

- Grassland Sheep Scheme involving the payment of €18 million per annum to sheep farmers in the period 2010 to 2012.

Background to the Burren LIFE Programme.

The Minister noted that over the past five years under the Burren LIFE Project a range of sustainable agricultural practices had been put in place on a number of farms in the Burren area. A detailed Research and Monitoring programme was put in place and provided confirmation that these practices have had a positive impact on the priority habitats on these farms. As the Minister noted: "The culmination of this research has been the development of a blueprint for sustainable agriculture in the Burren, which is the framework for the proposed new Scheme. It has become clear that "grazing by livestock" is the primary component for the conservation of the biodiversity and landscape of the Burren. This was the key to the original Burren LIFE Pilot Project and now the expanded Scheme."

The Scheme for the Burren, which stretches through north Clare and southeast Galway, is fundamentally an environmental programme, which targets the delivery of a range of environmental benefits, in particular the production of species-rich limestone grasslands and the improvement of water quality. The grasslands are a very important and endangered aspect of the Burren's rich heritage.

Minister Smith indicated that payments will be made in respect of the implementation of three general measures, all of which are likely to be applicable to farmers participating in the programme. These measures are as follows:

  • Production of species-rich limestone grassland;
  • Capital Enhancement Works (including scrub removal);
  • Protection of designated land and other areas of Annex I habitat.

The Minister confirmed that participants in the Burren Scheme will not be excluded from participating in the newly launched Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS). However, if farmers receive aid on any of the above-mentioned measures under AEOS or REPS or any other agri-environment scheme, they will not receive aid further aid for that measure under the Burren  Scheme.

Minister Smith concluded by stating "The landscape and flora of the Burren are the result of thousands of years of farming and human activity where man has lived and worked in close partnership with nature. This has resulted in a unique landscape with a rich flora and fauna and a remarkable archaeological heritage. I am very pleased to be associated with this Programme and to have made funds available, which, I am confident, will assist this region in maintaining these unique features".

The closing date for receipt of completed applications is 17th May 2010.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Details of proposed Scheme.

Payments will be made under the following three general measures, all of which are likely to be applicable to farmers participating in the programme. The maximum amount payable per annum is €15,000. These measures are as follows:

(i) Production of species-rich limestone grasslands

This is the most important measure under the Scheme. Species-rich limestone grasslands are one of the rarest and most endangered habitats remaining in Europe. They are also one of the most important habitats in the Burren, as they are home to most of the region's flowers and insects. In most cases, these grasslands require careful management through low-input winter (and in some cases late summer) grazing. In the case of meadows, late-summer cutting for hay with no chemical fertiliser or slurry applications is advocated. Without this type of management these grasslands are very susceptible to species-loss and in some cases scrub encroachment.

This measure is designed to reward those who have managed their land well in the past, but also to incentivise those who may not have done so, in order that they will strive in future to improve habitat quality and with resulting environmental benefits. Under this measure, all areas of eligible limestone grassland on the farm will be mapped and assessed by a qualified "farming for conservation" advisor. The conservation status of the grassland habitat in each management unit (referred to henceforth as a 'field') will then be assessed on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is very poor and 10 is exemplary. Only fields with a 'pass' score of 4 or more will be eligible for payments under this Measure. The payment rates are as follows for land that receives a maximum score of 10;

0 - 40 hectares - €100 per hectare

40 - 80 hectares - €50 per hectare

80 - 120 hectares - €25 per hectare

(ii) Capital Enhancement Works

This Measure supports a range of works, which will provide the necessary infrastructure to farm for conservation in an efficient and effective manner. These works, which were piloted and costed under the Burren LIFE Project, are targeted at improving the management of areas of Annex I habitat and thereby enhancing the output from these areas - i.e. improving the conservation status of these habitats:

  • Stone Wall Restoration and insertion of gates;
  • Provision of watering facilities (pipes, pumps, tanks, rainwater harvesters);
  • Provision of feeding facilities (feed bins, troughs);
  • Scrub removal;
  • Scrub re-treatment;
  • Installation or upgrading of vehicle access tracks;
  • Habitat restoration.

Rates of Aid

  • In the case of scrub work, stonewall work, and habitat restoration will be 75% funded by the Scheme.
  • Capital durable goods (troughs, feed bins, pumps, tanks, gates etc) will be 50% funded.
  • Access provision will be 25% funded up to a maximum of €3,000.

(iii) Protection of Designated land and other areas of Annex 1 Habitat

An area-based payment will be made for all designated areas and other areas of Annex I habitat on the farm. This includes all 'designated' habitats (mainly Special Areas of Conservation) as well as any other Annex I habitats, on the applicant's holding. The proposed rates of aid in respect of this measure are as follows;

0 - 40ha - €42 per hectare

40 - 80ha - €24 per hectare

80 - 120ha - €18 per hectare

2. Limitation in the numbers, who can participate in the Scheme

This Scheme is a voluntary one and is open to all farmers, who farm in the Burren region in north Clare and south Galway. As already stated, annual payments will be made to participants under the Scheme for a range of farming for conservation measures. The level of funding is, however, limited to €1 million per annum. Therefore, it will be necessary to prioritise entry to the Scheme in order to deliver the maximum environmental benefit from the available scarce resources by limiting the numbers to 100 to 110 participants

Date Released: 26 April 2010