NI college farm shows how to balance agri production and the environment

The Greenmount Hill Farm is situated at Glenwherry in Co. Antrim. Partially located within the Antrim Hills Special Protection Area (SPA) for hen harrier and merlin, it covers almost 1,000ha.

The farm is owned by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and has traditionally been managed as an upland beef and sheep farm.

This changed in 2009; it became a more diverse centre of agriculture – covering aspects of farming, education and even wildlife regeneration.

The Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Partnership Project is a programme which was launched that year in an effort, among other goals, to create a sustainable red grouse moor and managing habitat for merlin, hen harrier and breeding waders – all while simultaneously maintaining a viable upland farming enterprise.

A project board was formed from members of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Irish Grouse and Conservation Trust (IGCT) – with additional support provided by other state bodies.

DAERA says that the Greenmount Hill Farm plays an important role as a teaching aid for CAFRE’s education, training and ‘Knowledge Technology Transfer’ to farmers. It is used to show sustainable and profitable livestock production, while also attempting to improve habitat condition.

Upon reviewing the first phase of the project, several targets have reportedly been met and bettered. The objective of increasing the red grouse population from nine pairs in 2009 to 15 pairs in 2014 has been exceeded – through a combination of a legal predator control strategy (targeting crows and foxes) and habitat improvement.

Simultaneously, the goal of managing 550ha of foraging habitat for hen harriers has been successfully achieved on the farm. Over the first phase, some of the “most productive” hen harrier and merlin pairs were recorded.

In addition, through a “careful, integrated approach” to managing the breeding wader, there are now 11 pairs of breeding waders present, including snipe and curlew.

Also Read: ‘Sustainable agriculture is dependent upon a healthy environment’

Grazing management is also a key element in achieving many of the project goals. This, says DAERA, has been modified to deliver on environmental outcomes, without having a major adverse impact on farm productivity.

Another essential aspect of the project is predator control, with gamekeepers vital to the current success of the programme. To provide the necessary gamekeepers, a course ‘Principles of Live Quarry Shooting’ was provided by the partnership organisations. This was met with good uptake, according to DAERA.

DAERA also claims that the knowledge transfer element has been useful.

Several large-scale Knowledge and Technology Transfer (KTT) events have taken place since the project was established. Examples include a Suckler Beef Event, Sustainable Hill Farming Event, Sheep Production Event and Rush, Bracken and Heather Management events.

Following the “success” of phase one of the Glenwherry project, phase two is underway. There are reviewed targets, regarding the wild birds and suckler cow and sheep enterprise performance. Also, attempts will be made to introduce bee hives and barn owls to the area – along with the planned re-introduction of the grey partridge.

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