The €20.6 million LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project, aimed at restoring blanket bogs was officially launched today (Friday, May 13) in Ballycroy, Co. Mayo.

Minister of State for heritage and electoral reform, Malcolm Noonan and Minister of State for land use and biodiversity, Pippa Hackett officially launched the project. 

LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature is a wide reaching project primarily aimed at the delivery of environmental and social benefits through the conservation and restoration of blanket bogs in northwest Ireland, working closely with the local community. 

The project has 35 sites covering a total of more than 250,000ha along the western seaboard from south Galway to north Donegal. 

The project is coordinated by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Nine other associated beneficiaries are involved in the project, including:

  • Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM);
  • Teagasc;
  • Bord na Móna;
  • Coillte;
  • RTÉ;
  • Fáilte Ireland;
  • The Heritage Council;
  • Northern and Western Regional Assembly;
  • Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.

Speaking at the launch, Minister Noonan stated: “I can think of no better way to kick off National Biodiversity Week than with a major €20 million blanket bog restoration project working with farmers and communities in the northwest of Ireland.

“This innovative project puts people, and the ecological health of the landscapes they live and work in, at the heart of its efforts.

“I believe that collaborative approaches like this one are the best ways to deliver real impact for nature.

“The protection of our blanket bog habitats is vitally important as we work to address our biodiversity and climate crises, and I’m confident that this project will deliver many benefits to the area – social, environmental and economic,” Minister Noonan added.

Expanding the project beyond blanket bogs

LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature has launched a pilot Results-Based agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBPS) in the Owenduff/Nephin Complex SAC for 2021, and will expand to Donegal, Sligo and other parts of Mayo in 2022.

The RBPS directly links farmer payments to the environmental quality of the farm.

This approach incentivises and rewards restoration and conservation of high-quality habitats and puts farmers and their skills, expertise and knowledge of their land central to the development of the initiative.

The results of this pilot are expected to inform future results-based actions to be incorporated into Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Agri-Environment, Climate Measures (AECMs) from 2023.

More than 150 farmers in Co. Mayo took part in the pilot agri-environment initiative in 2021 and have received total payments in excess of €500,000.

The pilot will be expanded to other project areas in 2022, with more than 800 farmers expected to benefit from the scheme.   

Minister Hackett highlighted the importance of the work already done by LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature in the development of agri-environment measures: “LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature is a fantastic project driven by the local community and delivering results for nature and biodiversity.

“The results based element is very important because it supports farmers to really engage and deliver for their local ecosystem.”

A key element of the project activities is the integration of various policies with practical land use. Project manager, Dr. Derek McLoughlin, views this coherence as a crucial driver of ecological restoration.

“This project aims to implement government policies related to nature, agriculture and climate in a way that works for the local community,” he said.

“Ultimately we depend on landowners to manage the land to deliver the goods and services that the public want and need.

“We depend on existing knowledge and experience that landowners and land managers have. Therefore, we need to ensure coherent messages on the use of land and have the appropriate policy to deliver good environmental outcomes in a way that can support farmers’ livelihoods.”