BRIDE project aims to reward farmers for biodiversity improvement

Agricultural education and farm advisory services need to realise the environmental issues facing intensive agriculture and the link between quality food production and healthy eco systems.

This was said by Donal Sheehan, project manager with the Farming With Nature BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration In a Dairying Environment) project, at a smart farming seminar recently.

The BRIDE project aims to reward farmers for biodiversity improvement in the River Bride catchment area of east Cork. It is open to livestock, bloodstock and tillage farmers and 57 farmers are currently taking part.

The project provides participating farmers with farm habitat plans that identify the most appropriate and effective wildlife management options for individual farms.

The aim is to have a 10% biodiversity managed area on every farm.

The 10% includes hedgerows; watercourses; wetlands; derelict buildings; historical monuments; scrub areas; waste ground; ponds; tree lines; old grassland; buffer zones; non-commercial woodland; and winter stubble.

Higher payments

Farmers are paid for their conservation work, with higher payments for higher wildlife gains. All habitats are scored and payments made accordingly. “We’re paying farmers to manage the habitats on their farm,” he told the meeting.

The BRIDE project was one of 11 initiatives selected from over 100 applications by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the European Union under the European Innovation Partnership funding programme.

“Two farmers and an ecologist came up with the idea, with various partners. People started to take notice. The project is open to every farmer in the area and every farmer is valued because they are bringing something to the table,” said Donal, a dairy farmer in Castlelyons.

“Biodiversity doesn’t know any boundaries so that was why a landscape-scale plan was developed,” he said.

Targeted measures

There are targeted measures for biodiversity losses; water quality; and carbon reduction in the targeted area, Donal told the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) gathering in Portlaoise.

While farmers might be facing the loss of a bit of land as part of the initiative, they are being rewarded for their efforts and a value is being put on biodiversity, he said.

If consumers aren’t going to eat our food, it doesn’t matter how efficient we are. Children who have grown up with green flag schools are going to be looking at environmental issues when buying food.

Challenges for the project, Donal said, include raising awareness in the intensive farming sector. “Land is the new quota, resulting in further intensification and habitat pressure,” he said.

Farmers need to be encouraged to embrace the green, rather than fearing it, the meeting heard.

Environmental Engagement

With national schemes, it can be difficult to get full engagement but local schemes can focus on targeted measures at local level, Donal said. A fear of inspections can lead to less participation so simplicity is important as is drawing up a plan with the farmer.

The BRIDE project offers expertise for improving biodiversity, with ecologists advising on biodiversity and environmental issues and agronomists advising on food production.

The goals of the project, Donal said, include creating a positive image of farming and getting a premium market for produce.

“The aim is to get farmers more tuned into their surroundings and to reconnect with nature, leading to a more enjoyable working environment. A happy farmer is a productive farmer,” he said.