The Burren Programme, as with the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP), divides its annual farmer payments roughly equally between payments for actions and payments for outputs. Here we look at the cumulative impact of 5 years of funding, through BFCP, for outputs achieved by programme farmers — a total investment of c.€2.2m.
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 5 or more receive payment but higher scores receive higher payments – increased payment rates are available for fields scoring 9s and 10s. 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.
Over the 5 years of the BFCP, a total of €2,177,714 was allocated to farmers under the ‘payments for results’ approach, c.44.9% of the total payments made under the Programme. The amount paid under Measure 1 (M1) was increased from 63% of the maximum available in 2010 to 70.3% of maximum available in 2014, a significantly increased drawdown which attests to farmers’ success in gradually improving site management and thus site condition and M1 payment.
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 below) which clearly demonstrates the positive environmental impact of the Programme. This graph shows that, between 2010 and 2014, the area of Burren grassland in very good condition (scoring 8,9,10) increased and the area in poorer condition decreased (scoring 3–7). This landscape-level (15,000ha) data offers a strong endorsement of the Burren Life hybrid approach, which has also been adopted by the Burren Programme.