Burren Programme has pioneered a novel ‘hybrid’ approach to farming and conservation which sees farmers paid for both work undertaken and, most importantly, for the delivery of defined environmental objectives. The following principles are central to how Burren Programme goes about meeting its objectives of conserving the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren.
- Burren Programme is farmer-led. Farmers nominate and co-fund conservation actions on their own farms and are generally free to manage the land as they see fit (within the law). We minimise the bureaucratic burden (e.g. via a simple farm plan and support for securing permissions) so that farmers can concentrate on what they do best — farming!
- Burren Programme is results-based. Simply put, we reward those farmers who deliver the highest environmental benefits. Conservation becomes as much a product for the farmer as the livestock produced.
- Burren Programme is flexible and adaptable. Farmers are given the freedom to deliver the required outputs using their own skills, experiences and resources, as best fits their own farms and circumstances. This flexibility means that Burren Programme is capable of responding to the different needs and situations which invariably arise, from farm to farm, and from year to year.
- Burren Programme is local and practical, focusing on works which address real needs in the Burren and which will yield real agricultural and environmental benefits.
Within Burren Programme, farmers are helped to prepare their own simple farm plan (most only 3 pages and very visual) each year by their trained advisor and the Burren team. The plan is tailored to suit the needs of the individual farm and outlines the two payment categories:
1. Payment for Actions
The annual farm plan contains a list of actions (jobs) which are nominated by the farmer with the aim of improving the site’s management and conservation condition. Each job is individually costed and co-funded by the farmer, and is carried out within the year by the farmer or a local contractor. Payment issues only when jobs are complete and to a satisfactory standard. The farmer can ‘opt-out’ of a planned action if he/she so chooses, ensuring maximum flexibility for the farmer.
Most farms nominate a mixture of jobs to suit the needs of their land e.g. removing encroaching scrub from species-rich grassland, repairing internal walls, improving water supplies or enhancing access. Work undertaken often includes scrub control, wall repair, water provision, access provision, the purchase and installation of gates and feeding equipment and the restoration of damaged habitats.
2. Payment for Results
Every eligible field of species-rich Burren grassland and heath is assessed annually with a user-friendly ‘habitat health’ checklist. Each field receives a score between 1 and 10: all fields with a score greater than 3 have received payment but higher scores receive higher payments. This gives farmers the incentive to manage their fields in ways that will improve their scores and their payment as well.
The results-based payment system allows farmers greater freedom to decide how to manage their land (with advice if needed) and also guarantees the taxpayer better value for money – no delivery, no payment! It also generates data which demonstrates the positive environmental impact of Burren Programme.