Burren Agriculture Farming Futures
The full implications of evolving European Policy and international markets for the future of Burren agriculture are enormous, but as of yet, largely conjectural. For instance, the Fischler CAP reforms could spell environmental disaster for the Burren as stocking levels are drastically reduced, as some experts predict may happen.
Nonetheless, some important trends in the development of Irish agriculture are already apparent. There is a steady decline in agricultural employment, and an emergent two-strand farming society, with commercial full-time 'farmers' in the south and east, and a majority of part-timers in the west and north. There is an increasing reliance on direct payments and off-farm employment as income sources. In terms of farm management there is an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability, food safety and quality.
It is increasingly likely, particularly in places such as the Burren, that there will be a steady withdrawal of farming activity. Such 'marginal', relatively inaccessible landscapes are typically the first to be abandoned as farmers are forced to improve efficiency and productivity. The increasingly likely scenario facing conservationists is one where trying to persuade farmers to farm in an environmentally friendly manner will become secondary to the need to ensure that there are enough farmers available to farm the Burren in the first place!
Farming alone will not maintain rural populations, and the most critical issue in relation to rural development is the extent to which employment growth in other sectors of the rural economy offsets the attrition in the farm labour force. As the boundary between urban and rural societies blurs and farmers adopt new skills and aptitudes, it seems that sectors such as tourism will play an ever more important role, as will concepts such as 'farming for conservation'.
According to a recent survey of farmers in the Burren, the major changes envisaged for the area will include a continued amalgamation of existing farms to form larger farm units, increasing levels of off-farm activity, and increasing environmental responsibilities.
Such changes will have a huge impact on how the landscape of the Burren evolves. We must be prepared to react to these changes and provide a sustainable blueprint for the management of the Burren.
Relative to other European countries we are relatively fortunate in that we retain a body of management expertise and ability in the Burren, in the form of the farming community. We must protect this management resource and help support farmers to ensure a sustainable future for them and thus their precious heritage. For the Burren is a land of the people, past, present and, we sincerely hope, future.
The BurrenLIFE project - Farming for Conservation in the Burren
The overall objective of the Project is to develop a new model for sustainable
agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve the habitats designated under the
European Habitats Directive. To achieve this an ambitious programme, with a range
of Project Actions, has been developed, including:
- Implementing best-known management practices on 2,000ha of the Burren,including new feeding systems, redeployment of existing livestock and targeted scrub removal.
- Increasing understanding of the relationship between land management practices and the natural heritage of the Burren.
- Developing new support mechanisms for the sustainable management of the Burren habitats.
- Enhancing awareness and skills relating to the heritage of the Burren and its management through a range of practical initiatives aimed at empowering local communities.
- Disseminating information relating to the agricultural management of areas of high nature and cultural conservation value through literature and the media.
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