Fixing Farms In Ireland

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Michael Davoren with his cattle in the Burren, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward/Burrenbeo Trust

Thanks to Ella McSweeney for this story about a young academic’s hands on, entrepreneurial approach to solving problems caused by Ireland’s farmers, who had followed incentives to their economically logical but environmentally disastrous conclusions:

‘Life attracts life’: the Irish farmers filling their fields with bees and butterflies

Rewarding positive environmental impact has revitalised an area of west Ireland. Is this a solution to the country’s ‘acute’ nature crisis?

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In late spring, the Burren is transformed into an explosion of colour. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Michael Davoren shudders when he thinks of the 1990s. He’d been in charge of his 80-hectare farm in the Burren, Co Clare, since the 1970s, and the place was in his blood. The Davorens had worked these hills for 400 years.

But growing intensification fuelled by European subsidies meant that most farmers in this part of Ireland were having to decide between getting big or getting out. Hundreds were choosing the latter.

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Hundreds of farmers have signed up to a scheme that pays them to create healthier fields and clean waterways. Photograph: Burrenbeo Trust

Davoren followed the advice to specialise and chase the beef markets. “The more animals I kept, the more money I got,” he says. “I put more cattle out, bought fertiliser, made silage. Slurry run-off was killing fish. But if I kept fewer animals I’d be penalised 10% of my subsidy.”

The austere appearance of the Burren landscape belies its rich diversity. The thick rocks were laid down 300 million years ago when warm tropical seas covered the area, and the bodies of billions of marine creatures cascaded to the sea floor to form the Burren limestone.

These limestone cracks are usually jammed with life. In late spring, the grey slabs are transformed into an explosion of colour as lipstick-red orchids and deep blue gentians bloom. Hovering above them, ready to feed, should be an abundance of insects.

But by the 1990s the rocky uplands, which had been farmed for 6,000 years, had been abandoned in favour of lowland fields which were now glossy with nitrogen fertiliser. The farms were clean and green, but where had the species-rich habitats gone? “Everyone thought the best thing for the Burren was to close the gates, get rid of the farmers and let nature look after itself,” says Davoren.

A landscape transformed

“It was economically successful for farmers. They were grant-aided to turn ‘bad’ land into ‘good’,” says Dunford. “They were trying to make a living. It was a big moment for me – I figured that unless I came back with a better financial proposition, with the conviction that this is the right thing to do, then I was at nothing.”…

Read the whole story here.

 

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