The positive environmental impact made under the Burren Life Scheme is slowly being eroded by the transfer of hundreds of farmers to the BurrenAran ACRES scheme, according to IFA Presidential candidate Francie Gorman.

Gorman said the move has resulted in almost 330 farmers ultimately being encouraged to “deliver less for less money.”

Following meetings with farmers in the Burren, Gorman said there is real anger amongst farmers about how the positive work carried out in North Clare over a 13-year period due to the incentives provided to restore and protect the biodiversity of the region was being “discarded and undermined with the transfer of farmers into an inferior scheme that is not fit for purpose.”

“The Burren Life Scheme saw Burren farmers deliver millions of euros worth of conservation measures, leading to a contribution of more than €23 million to the local economy” he explained. “The programme received international acclaim, as evidenced by it being awarded the prestigious EU LIFE Nature award in Brussels in 2017. Yet, the Department of Agriculture saw fit to implement a one-size-fits-all approach by lumping the Burren Life participants in with ACRES. This move has proven disastrous for farming and for the environment in the Burren.”

Gorman continued, “People like Burren Programme founder Dr. Brendan Dunford and the IFA’s Michael Davoren made Burren Life a success because they truly believed in the value of the programme. The BurrenAran ACRES scheme, introduced in 2022 for farmers in a region stretching from The Aran Islands to east Galway, has fallen far short of the ambition of its predecessor and has left farmers short regarding incentives to manage their land sustainably, while it also introduced a punitive cap on what they can earn. The same negative impact can be applied to the experience of farmers who operated under the Hen Harrier Project in places like Slieve Aughty.”

“From an environmental perspective, it is now painfully clear that the ending of the scheme is having a damaging impact with ongoing monitoring of the 100 farms or 23,000ha of farmland that formed the original Burren Programme in 2010 showing a worryingly negative impact on biodiversity with the average score on farms falling by 3 percent over the past year,” added Gorman.

“This government proclaims to be a green government and continually calls for farmers to adopt a more environmentally friendly approach to their business,” he said. “Yet, this government, following minimal consultation with farmers, decided to change the funding and operational structure of what was arguably the most successful agri-environmental schemes ever developed in this country. The BurrenAran ACRES scheme has not delivered to date and, therefore, serious consideration needs to be given to its restoration for the benefit of the sector and the environment.”