Burren Winterage WeekendThe annual Burren Winterage Weekend festival will take place this year from October 27th – 30th. This unique celebration of pastoral farming and its rich legacy of natural and cultural heritage will feature the winterage cattle drove, food fayre, herdsman’s walks, farm demonstration events and much more.

Central to the festival will be the Burren Winterage School on sustainable farming, a unique event which brings together a truly diverse range of stakeholders – farmers, scientists, public servants – to break down ‘silos’ and share perspectives and ideas on sustainable pastoral land management. All of this will take place in a unique community setting in the beautiful Burren.

This year’s Burren Winterage School will focus on the theme of ‘Working with nature – a farmer-centred approach’

The Burren, like many of Europe’s Natura 2000 and other High Nature Value (HNV) farmed landscapes, is a challenging place to farm, but conversely is extremely rich in values around heritage, culture and landscape. The importance of sustaining what are often bespoke farming systems – adapted the unique geography of these areas – in order to sustain endangered farmland habitats and species, designated or otherwise, is now widely recognised. Farmers in such areas, if adequately motivated and supported, represent a huge potential conservation resource, holding the key to sustaining or improving the conservation status of these sites, while reducing costs and conflicts. It is also fair to say that farmers may come to depend more and more on capitalising on the natural and cultural values of these landscapes in order to improve declining farm incomes and to sustain dwindling rural communities.

Thus far however, such farming systems and the natural and cultural values that depend on them have been poorly served by traditional Agri Environmental Schemes (AES) or designation-led approaches. In many cases these have inadvertently served to widen the gap between farming and conservation interests. How do we even begin to bridge this gap and design effective support structures that can deliver for both farming and conservation in such challenging and diverse circumstances? For example, how can we positively re-engage farmers in active conservation? Are there certain fundamental design principles that can inform effective AES’s for farmed N2000 land and, if so, what might they be? How can we build support networks for ‘conservation farming’ in such areas through which farmers, scientists and policymakers can collaborate and effective ‘knowledge transfer’ take place?

This unique ‘School’, now in its fourth year, will feature a number of ‘stories from the land’ – case studies from farmers sharing the story of their farm and their place – as well as a range of speakers from across Europe with wide experience on themes relating to conservation and farming on Natura 2000 and other HNV farmland. The School will also offer a unique insight into the innovative approach to conservation farming taking place in the Burren (www.burrenprogramme.com) including field trips to Burren farms and presentations from the scientists, authorities and NGOs involved. Delegates to the Winterage School will also partake in a very special feast organised by the local community, as well as the prestigious annual ‘Origin Green Farming for Conservation Awards 2016’.

The Burren Winterage School 2016 will begin on the evening of Thursday October 27th in the Community Hall of the picturesque village of Kilfenora on the edge of the Burren and conclude with site visits to Burren farms on Saturday October 29th. Friday 28th will be a day-long series of presentations and workshops in the village, including a dedicated workshop on the formation of an Irish HNV Network.
Pat Nagle

Booking for the Burren Winterage School is essential and places are limited. A delegate fee of €50 will apply to cover costs for this non-profit event. For more information on how to book, please visit www.burrenwinterage.com  The Burren Winterage Festival is co-ordinated by the Burrenbeo Trust (www.burrenbeo.com) on behalf of the Burren community.