Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Ireland is a farmed landscape, meaning that species—and tourism—have evolved around managed land. Ireland has faced rising levels of depopulation and abandonment in rural areas, which is both a community and ecological challenge. Marginal landscapes, the lands “at the edge of things” such as mountainous areas, typically cannot be industrialized and have high rates of depopulation—for example, the number of farmers in the Burren have halved in the last thirty years. However, these lands are havens of biodiversity and culture. Depopulation and land abandonment has tremendous implications for the environment in Ireland. Communities are seen as a threat to heritage and conservation, when in reality human presence is integral to land management. Traditional management schemes are inflexible, top down and do not incentivize proactive decision-making. Farmers learn to game the system.
In a larger sense, there is little space for various sectors—agriculture, tourism, and environmentalism--to collaborate, or work together for mutual benefit. Farmers and conservationists have been historically at odds. Farmers, accustomed to top-down management schemes and micro-managed “calendar farming,” resist environmental regulations, while environmentalists vilify farmers and decry the highly efficient farming that tends to destroy biodiversity. The farmed landscape of the Burren is a large draw for tourists, yet communities are dying—post offices closing, schools becoming empty, and tourism contributes little to agriculture. For example, two emblems of the Burren landscape are cattle and wildflowers, yet farmers in the Burren lose €50 on average per head of cattle, and view flowers in a field as a sign of poor grazing practice. These marginal land farmers can raise thirty cattle per 100 hectares. As such, they cannot compete with those in more productive regions who can raise 300 in the same area, yet they serve a valuable role. Farmers are central to conservation and tourism, but remain members of a scorned profession. This issue is relevant to marginal landscapes around the world, including such areas that have already lost a large percentage of their biodiversity such as Holland and the UK.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Brendan is placing small-scale farmers as balancers between heritage and biodiversity. With his Farming for Conservation Programme, he is positioning farmers as caretakers of biodiversity and keepers of local knowledge. His approach blends the disparate and often contrarian fields and departments of agriculture, environmental conservation, heritage, and tourism to place farmers at the center of land stewardship and create financial incentives for environmentally sound landscape management. Based on years of research and farmer input, Brendan has designed a payment scheme that pays farmers for output in terms of measures they help design that preserve landscape, sound environmental practices, and conservation such as stone wall repair, scrub encroachment, and water quality, and positions farmers as expert custodians. His work, piloted in the Burren area of County Clare, is bringing biodiversity to market, and has implications for landscapes around the world. His approach works in marginal areas because minimally productive land allows a large benefit from minimal spending per farmer.