Identifying the issues
The first seeds of the programme were sown in the late 1990s when local farmers, in conjunction with Teagasc, University College Dublin and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, came together to agree on a research project into The Impact of Agricultural Practices on the Natural Heritage of the Burren. This PhD research project was later published by Teagasc in book form as Farming and the Burren (Dunford, 2001). It highlighted the important role that farming plays in supporting the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Burren, and also the worrying breakdown in traditional farming systems and the habitats dependent on them.
The original partners — NPWS, Teagasc and Burren IFA — came together again in 2004 to secure funding from the EU LIFE fund to try to address some of the problems identified in the initial research project, and to develop ‘A blueprint for the sustainable agricultural management of the Burren’. This ‘BurrenLIFE project’ (2005–2010) was the first major farming for conservation project in Ireland and one of the very few EU projects which placed farmers at the centre of the conservation agenda. Working on 20 Burren farms (c.2,500ha) over a number of years, the Burren LIFE project successfully developed a tested, costed blueprint for the Burren and paved the way for the roll-out of a new programme to tackle the most pressing issues impacting on the region.