The transition from the Burren Programme to the new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) is “deja vu” for farmers in the region, Michael Davoren of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) in the Burren has said.

It is now back to where farmers in the Burren were in the 1990s, Davoren told Agriland, as the scheme as it has been known is over, and the average farmer in the Burren will be losing around between €7,000 and €8,000 under ACRES.

Manager of the Burren Programme, Dr. Brendan Dunford, confirmed that himself and Sharon Parr will be standing down from the ACRES Burren Aran co-operation project (CP).

Farmers participating in the programme were informed about the decision at training events recently. In a statement provided to Agriland, Dunford said:

“Our time has come, I guess, and we are confident in the ability and determination of our colleagues to deliver the best they can for the Burren’s farmers and their landscape under the new ACRES CP.

“While there are some very positive elements to ACRES, there are particular issues of concern for some Burren farms and farmers which we feel we couldn’t, in good faith, stand over, and so we decided to step down.”

ACRES Co-operation will be open to around 20,000 farmers in areas of the country which were deemed by a cross-government working group as being high-priority areas.

These CP zones include areas dominated by semi-natural vegetation (both privately owned and in commonage), Natura 2000 lands, and priority water catchments.

Burren Programme

Around 25 years ago Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) were put in place in the more vulnerable environment in the west of Ireland, in particular, and the Burren was in the centre of that, Davoren said.

The Burren Programme included a “unique” scoring system based on the number of plants in a randomly thrown quadrangle, under which farmers were paid per hectare, with the average being 32 plants, according to Davoren.

For example, he explained, at a score of six, farmers would receive payments in the region of €70/ha which will rise to €200/ha with a score of 10.

Davoren added that the Burren Programme has won five international awards including a diploma from the EU Council, which is the only diploma award Ireland has ever received for environmental farming.

In a recent Dáil debate, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said farmers in the Burren should not suffer a reduction in income from ACRES, and that he will take up the matter with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.

“We need more of those schemes [Burren Programme], and farmers need to be compensated and to have income streams that encourage and incentivise restoration and protection of biodiversity,” the Taoiseach said.

Following the Dáil debate, Davoren said the Burren IFA is looking to sit down with the minister and negotiate a scheme, however it is still awaiting the minister’s response.