The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has called on Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue to review what it describes as the “disastrous” decision to replace the Burren Programme with the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) Co-operation approach.

ACRES Co-operation is 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 cooperation project (CP) zones include areas dominated by semi-natural vegetation (both privately owned and in commonage), Natura 2000 lands, and priority water catchments.

General secretary of the ICSA, Eddie Punch said: “The minister is risking undermining the incredible progress made in regenerating the Burren as a world leading example of how nature restoration and livestock farming can exist in harmony.

“It would be an incredible act of self-harm to set back all the progress made in the Burren.

“The Burren is an integral part of how we can showcase Irish cattle farming to international audiences, but it is also incredibly important for the diversity of flora and fauna,” Punch added.

The ICSA said that this has only been possible by ensuring that farmers don’t under graze or overgraze, and that grazing is managed both during summer and winter.

This has required very specific supports for farmers, which have been delivered based on real consultation with farmers and finding solutions based on feedback, according to the association.

Burren Programme founders

This ‘BurrenLIFE project’ (2005–2010) was the first major farming for conservation project in Ireland and one of the very few EU projects which placed farmers at the centre of the conservation agenda.

Working on 20 Burren farms ( approx. 2,500ha) over a number of years, the Burren LIFE project successfully developed a tested, costed blueprint for the Burren and paved the way for the rollout of a new programme to tackle the most pressing issues impacting on the region.

The project kickstarted further successive programmes including the Burren Programme, which started in 2016 with 200 farmers, and has now grown to 328 farmers.

The ICSA is calling on Minister McConalogue to listen to the concerns of Burren Programme co-founders Brendan Dunford and Sharon Parr who have stated that they could not stand over the proposed new scheme.

“The minister must hear their concerns, and he must act on those concerns. They have shown that results-based programmes can work – but this is contingent on a real level of engagement and consultation with the farmers on the ground,” Punch stated.

“I am now calling on Minister McConalogue to stand up for the excellent outcomes achieved so far with the Burren Programme and for him to give a guarantee that this good work can continue.”

The association argues that the best way to do this is to re-establish the Burren Programme or alterntaively, to integrate its key features, including payment options, into ACRES.

The agriculture minister is due to meet farmers from the Burren this afternoon (Tuesday, November 22) to discuss the transition to ACRES.