The average payment for farmers taking part in the Pearl Mussel Project (PMP) was €3,500 this year.

The five-year scheme, which has a €10 million budget, was established in 2018 under the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) scheme.

EIP projects look at pressures in the environment emanating from farming and consider how to improve environmental conditions in partnership with farmers.

Pearl mussel

The freshwater pearl mussel is an exceptionally long-lived and slow-growing species that only lives in extremely clean water.

Dr. Patrick Crushell, PMP manager, said that the record for the longest living pearl mussel is around 140 years, but it is common for the species to live for well over a century.

“If you think about it, there’s mussels out there living in different rivers that were there prior to Easter 1916.”

The results-based project is focused on eight rivers and the surrounding 40,000ha of farmland in Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Donegal.

In the first year of PMP, 340 farmers were taking part, that has now grown to 475 or around 80% of farmers in the catchment areas.

“The thing with a results-based scheme is that you might have no action at all to do. It might be to continue managing your farm just as it is and it may well be performing the results we’re looking for,” said Dr. Crushell.

“It is all about flexibility and letting the farmer farm. It’s about bringing the farmer along with you and getting them to fully understand what it is that we are looking for.

“I think that is something that was missing in previous agricultural schemes where farmers got a plan on their desk and it might not make a lot of sense to them,” Dr. Crushell said.


Over the summer months, PMP advisors visit participating farms and give them a rating based on a scorecard developed by the project; those with the highest rating get the maximum available payment.

Advisors consider the quality of water courses and the habitat condition of peatlands and grasslands on the holdings.

To improve their scores, farmers carry out works, i.e. fencing water courses and using buffer zones to prevent animals from entering the water; funding is provided under the project for certain works.

The average payment to farmers in the scheme this year was €3,500.

“We’d have a handful of farmers who might be getting more than €10,000, but at the other end we’ve a handful of farmers on less than €1,000,” Dr. Crushell said.

He said a couple of farmers are very close to achieving the maximum payment for their holding.

Pearl mussel project

The lifecycle of the pearl mussel means it will take at least five years for juveniles to appear on river beds.

“I think it possible to quantify the effect of the project using other environmental metrics other than pearl mussel itself. If we get an improvement in water quality, you can assume conditions are better for the pearl mussel,” Dr. Crushell remarked.

The PMP is now heading into its fourth year and the team is continuing its focus on engagement with farmers, community outreach and some larger landscape projects.

Covid-19 has led to the development of online sessions, but the pandemic has made face-to-face contact with participating farmers difficult.

The PMP is due to run until the end of next year, with a possibility that it may be extended into 2023.

Under the Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plan, Dr. Crushell said there are plans for cooperation projects similar to the PMP but on a larger scale.

He said the team would hope to be included in such projects in the future.