National Biodiversity Week has begun in Ireland with the launch of a €20.6 million project aimed at restoring blanket bog habitat in the northwest of the country.
The LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project, coordinated by the Department of Heritage and funded under the EU LIFE programme, hopes to deliver environmental and social benefits by working closely with the local community.
Ireland contains eight per cent of the world’s blanket bogs - which store huge amounts of carbon, provide habitats for biodiversity and a home for many endangered and vulnerable species - but much is in poor condition.
The nine-year conservation project has 35 sites covering a total of more than 250,000 hectares along the western seaboard from south Galway to north Donegal.
It was officially launched today in Ballycroy, Co Mayo by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan and Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity Pippa Hackett.
“I can think of no better way to kick off National Biodiversity Week than with a major €20m blanket bog restoration project working with farmers and communities in the northwest of Ireland,” Mr Noonan said.
“This innovative project puts people, and the ecological health of the landscapes they live and work in, at the heart of its efforts. I believe that collaborative approaches like this one are the best ways to deliver real impact for nature.”
Farmer payment pilot
The project has already launched a pilot payment scheme set to expand this year that directly links farmer payments with the environmental quality of their farm.
More than 150 farmers in Co Mayo took part in the pilot agri-environment initiative in 2021 and have received total payments in excess of €500,000.
The pilot is set to be expanded to other project areas in 2022, with more than 800 farmers expected to benefit from the scheme aiming to incentivise and reward restoration and conservation of high-quality habitats.
“The results-based element is very important because it supports farmers to really engage and deliver for their local ecosystem,” Ms Hackett said.
“I was delighted to be in my home county of Mayo today with my colleague Minister Noonan at the start of Biodiversity Week to see real community effort on biodiversity first hand.”
In addition to practical conservation work, the project will encourage wider community engagement with local support groups at project sites, knowledge exchange programmes and a schools' education programme.
Local people have really engaged with the project and have been extremely willing to get involved
Project manager, Dr Derek McLoughlin, said it “aims to implement Government policies related to nature, agriculture and climate in a way that works for the local community.”
“Ultimately we depend on landowners to manage the land to deliver the goods and services that the public want and need. We depend on existing knowledge and experience that landowners and land managers have.
“Therefore, we need to ensure coherent messages on the use of land and have the appropriate policy to deliver good environmental outcomes in a way that can support farmers’ livelihoods.”
Dr Gary Goggins of LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature said it had been “blown away” by the level of support received from farmers and local communities in the first year of the project.
“We were working in difficult circumstances with the Covid pandemic, but despite this, local people have really engaged with the project and have been extremely willing to get involved and put forward novel ideas for blanket bog conservation in their local areas.”