Burren Learning landscape focus of Portuguese visit to boost innovation for sustainable agriculture

A group of 20 farmers, researchers and Ministry of Agriculture officials from Portugal visited the Burren to experience the lessons learnt and recent innovations in sustainable agriculture in the region. The two day visit took place during the learning landscape weekend in August 2018.  The visit focused on innovations in building community partnerships with Burrenbeo Trust, farmer centered approaches of the Burren Programme to the design and implementation of the results based agri-environment schemes. Together with a focus on rural enterprise in the Burren that capitalizes on the unique landscape, the visitors got a real impression of the possibilities and opportunities for sustainable development in the region.

The visit is part of a wider EU Horizon 2020 [1] Research and Innovation funded project HNV LINK, which stands for High Nature Value Farming: Learning, Innovation and Knowledge. The work of the project focuses on developing and sharing innovations that support farming systems of exceptional nature value across Europe. Throughout Europe these High Nature Value farmland areas [2] are threatened with land abandonment, degradation, economic and social marginalization. In recent years, the Burren has shown that these challenges can be overcome. As a result, the area is receiving considerable attention from across the EU.

James Moran (GMIT) who facilitated the trip highlighted that “sharing knowledge across Europe with visits such as this enables innovative networks of people to work in partnership to develop locally adapted and results orientated solutions for their areas”.

Brendan Dunford (Burrenbeo trust and Burren Programme) emphasized the potential of the Burren as a learning landscape: ‘The rich heritage of the Burren makes it an amazing place to experience nature, landscape and history. But we also have a great story to tell here – about local people looking after their own place – and great people to tell it, in particular our local farmers. We really enjoyed hosting our Portugese colleagues here this week: sharing ideas, having fun and contributing to the local economy. Already for this years’ Burren Winterage weekend we have six delegations coming from across Europe to learn from our experiences in the Burren – this augurs well for the future of the Burren and for its importance as a learning destination.

Maria Isabel Ferraz de Oliveira from the University of Evora who coordinated the Portuguese visit, noted that for the visiting team the “agricultural production and environmental conservation activity carried out in real partnerships between farmers, scientists and public administration was very inspiring for the whole Portuguese group. The Burren has shown that the threats posed by ecosystem degradation caused by either land abandonment or farm intensification can be overcome using farmer centered agri- environmental results based approaches. Our Montado ecosystem has similar challenges and therefore the potential transferability of the Burren experience is enormous. The main take home message from the Burren experience is twofold:

-the environmental services we are expecting from farming can be produced when the farmer has room for an adaptive management supported in flexible policy tools’

– the success of continuous partnership approach across the whole process: design, implementation and evaluation of the results based approach”

For further information please contact:

Dr James Moran, Department of Natural Sciences, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology


Dr. Brendan Dunford, BurrenLIFE Programme brendan@burrenlife.com


[1] H2020-ISIB-2015-1. “Closing the research and innovation divide: the crucial role of  innovation support services and knowledge exchanges”. Despite the continued generation of knowledge through scientific projects, research results are often insufficiently exploited and taken up in practice, and innovative ideas from practice are not captured and spread. Cooperation between researchers, advisory services, farmers and other stakeholders in the supply chain is crucial for innovation-driven research. Therefore, mechanisms and networks, which stimulate this interaction and knowledge exchange, should be developed in view of optimising resource use and enhancing the transition to innovation-driven research.

Projects should involve actors from science and agricultural practice and facilitate the exchange on existing knowledge on innovative approaches in agriculture, the supply chain, and rural areas. They should help to put existing research into practice and capture creative ideas from the grassroots-level. Methods for generation of innovation-driven research should be promoted taking into account the diversity of European regions, farming and agro-food systems.

[2] High Nature Value farmland in  Ireland.

High Nature Value farmland encompasses areas in Europe where agricultural activities support, or are associated with, exceptionally high biodiversity. These farmlands are also important for cultural heritage, quality products and rural employment and are priority sites in European agriculture conservation.

Long-standing threats to these nature friendly farming systems include abandonment, degradation, economic and social marginalization. The challenge is to increase the socio-economic viability while maintaining their natural values, including ecosystem services they provide to the society.

In Ireland, High Nature Value farmland mainly occurs in the extensively farmed pasturelands of the west and north-west and in upland areas throughout the country. Recent estimates by Teagasc and IT Sligo have highlighted that these areas cover approximately 30% of the agricultural areas of the country. The fate of these areas is inextricably linked to that of farming

[3] Partners:

Centre International de Hautes Etudes Agronomiques Mediterranéennes – Institut Agronomique Mediterrannéen de Montêllier CIHEAM-IAMM, France – Coordinator

European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism EFNCP, United Kingdom