The Burren Programme, divides its annual farmer payments roughly equally between payments for actions (I-2) and payments for outputs (I-1). Here we look at the impact of funding, for outputs achieved by programme farmers. The average I-1 payment per farmer in 2019 was €2,576.
This payment is available on fields of species rich limestone grasslands. Usually these fields are used for winter grazing, though ‘lowland grasslands’ which may be lightly summer grazed are also included if they are species-rich. Every eligible field is assessed annually (usually from May to September) by the farm advisor using a user-friendly ‘habitat health’ checklist. Farmers are made aware of their scores, indeed they are encouraged to score their own fields, and they may appeal a score if they feel it is inaccurate. All scores are reviewed for accuracy and consistency by the Burren team and many also are checked by Dept. of Agriculture inspectors.
The field score, which ranges from 0 to 10, is calculated using nine distinct, weighted criteria which, taken together, give a very accurate picture of the ‘health’ of the grazed habitats in that management unit. These criteria are:
- Grazing level;
- Amount of litter (dead vegetation);
- Extent of feed site damage;
- Extent of damage at natural water sources;
- Level of bare soil and erosion;
- Level of encroaching scrub;
- Amount of bracken and purple moor grass;
- Extent of weeds and agriculturally-favoured species; and
- Ecological integrity.
Once the field score is calculated, it is multiplied by the available payment rate per hectare and by the size (ha) of the field, to calculate the ‘output payment’ for that field. Under the Burren Programme, all fields with a score of 6 or more receive payment but higher scores receive higher payments – increased payment rates are available for fields scoring 9s and 10s. Fields with a score of 5, only receive payment in the first two years. Payments per ha can range from €8/ha to €180/ha depending on field score and farm size (payments are ‘banded’ to reward smaller holdings). This gives farmers the incentive to manage their fields in ways that will improve their scores and their payment as well.
A subset of 147 farms, which have participated in both BFCP and BP, demonstrates the positive output that the programme has on the habitat health of the Burren. The average score from the subset of 147 farms, from 2010 to 2019, shows an increase from 6.61 in 2010 to 7.43 in 2019. This increase can be seen in the shift in I-1 scores away from scores 3-7 and towards scores of 8-10, as shown in the bar chart below.
Advantages of the results-based payment system
The results-based payment system has three main advantages. Firstly, it allows farmers greater freedom to decide how to manage their land while encouraging and supporting them to use their skill and experience to improve their environmental and agricultural performance. Secondly, this system guarantees the taxpayer better value for money — no delivery, no payment! — unlike other programmes who pay the same rate regardless of environmental output. Thirdly, the field scoring system acts as a monitoring system which generates data (see graph above) which clearly demonstrates the positive environmental impact of the Programme.