The Burren Winterage School, now in its seventh year, will run from October 21 to 25, with online presentations, discussions, the farming for nature awards and farm walks among the events.

The annual gathering of farmers; researchers; students; farm advisors; public officials; and policymakers shares knowledge, experience and ideas around sustainable farming, particularly on ‘high nature value’ farmland in Ireland and Europe.

Brendan Dunford, school director and manager of the Burren programme, said that this year’s Burren Winterage School will be mostly virtual, featuring speakers from this country as well as: the UK; Austria; Slovenia; Colombia; Japan; South Africa; Greece; Finland; and the US.

They will contribute to a series of on-line presentations and discussions on themes relating to ‘farming for nature’ and how farming can make a more positive contribution to addressing our global climate and biodiversity crises.

Ireland has many lessons to offer in this regard and is considered to be a European leader both in ‘result-based’ environmental payments for farmers and in locally-targeted, farmer-led, agri-environmental schemes, many of which have built on decades of learning from working with farmers here in the Burren through the Burren programme and the Burrenbeo Trust.

James Rebanks, a farmer based in the Lake District in northern England and best-selling author of ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ and the newly published ‘English Pastoral – an inheritance’, will talk about his sustainable and life-enhancing approach to farming, read excerpts from his books and answer questions on the first evening of the Burren Winterage School on Wednesday, October 21.

Earlier that day, the focus will be on European innovation partnership projects from all over the country.

Paying farmers for ‘ecosystem services’

Thursday, October 22, will see a focus on the innovative model of paying farmers for ‘ecosystem services’ and will include Professor Allan Buckwell, senior research fellow at the Institute of European Environmental Affairs (IEEP), looking at ‘balancing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as a policy for food and agricultural security’.

That evening, Rob Burton, one of the authors of ‘The Good Farmer: Culture and Identity in Food and Agriculture’, will share some of the fascinating insights from his work.

The keynote speaker on Friday, October 23, will be Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust in the UK, who will outline some of his thoughts as a farmer and campaigner.

Events on Saturday 24 will focus on the farmer perspective, with ‘real-life’ walks hosted by a number of Burren farmers who will impart their insights and knowledge into farming for conservation in the Burren. Places are strictly limited on these walks in line with the current Covid-19 restrictions and are booking up quickly.

A celebration of the inspiring work being done on a daily basis by farmers across Ireland to support nature on their land will take place virtually on Saturday evening in the form of the annual farming for nature ambassador awards presented by journalist and broadcaster Ella McSweeney.

Festival fun

The seventh Burren Winterage School is part of the broader Burren Winterage Weekend festival which includes additional online events such as the launch of a new winterage-themed children’s book, a Burren animal-themed art workshop and a Burren farming family quiz.

The annual cattle drive whereby a Burren farm family bring their herd to the hills as part of an ancient farming tradition, will be a closed event this year, but will be broadcast virtually on Sunday, October 25.

Programme details and registration links for all the events of the seventh Burren Winterage School and Burren Winterage Weekend are available on the Burren Winterage website.

The Burren Winterage School is coordinated by the Burrenbeo Trust, an independent landscape charity, and made possible with the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.