Today, in Ballycroy, Co Mayo, I officially launched the €20.6m LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project.
I was really delighted to be in the beautiful village of Ballycroy, close to some of the finest examples of intact blanket bog in western Europe. On the drive down you could really appreciate the vastness and beauty, and I know from my many conversations with NPWS staff in the area that there is a strong and deep connection between local people and the land.
The LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project - a €20.6m blanket bog restoration project - puts farmers and communities, and the ecological health of the landscapes they live and work in, at the heart of its efforts.
I believe that collaborative approaches like this one are the best way to deliver real impact for nature. This is especially true when programmes and activities are aligned with core priorities that people already care about, and we could see from the turnout in Ballycroy today that there is huge appetite to protect and improve our environment and ensure that we continue to strengthen the social fabric of our rural communities.
A few months ago, I visited the Delphi area and met with people involved in locally-led rhododendron control under the umbrella of the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE project. It’s a great example of the successes already underway.
The protection of our blanket bog habitats is vitally important as we work to address our biodiversity and climate crises, and I’m confident that this project will deliver many benefits to the area – social, environmental, and economic. Through the creation of small-scale pilot projects, together we can demonstrate possibilities for change and build support for scaling up good ideas.
Of course, nature conservation is a multifaceted, complex issue. It requires significant investment, not just of money, but also of people’s time, energy, knowledge and goodwill. We have local school children learning about the bog, local farmers who have an in-depth knowledge of the land and how to best manage it, scientists working across different disciplines, community development workers, NGOs, and others, all with different skillsets, but all equally important when it comes to protecting our environment and supporting our local communities.
Communication is vital for making things work. We need to engage with and listen to each other in a constructive dialogue so that we can see and appreciate each other’s perspectives and viewpoints. We need to look for opportunities to network, partner, and connect on the issues that are important to us. We need to share stories and ideas, celebrate successes and learn from our failures. We need to find the right language that can generate support and make a good idea grow. We need to enable participation as a means of learning, engaging and connecting with others, because actions are what drive emotions. If we give people the opportunity to act we can build capacity in the local population and ensure that local people are equipped with the skills required for long-term conservation. This is key to dealing with complex environmental issues, and is a cornerstone of the approach taken by Wild Atlantic Nature.
Overall, this project will develop locally based skills and expertise in long-term management of blanket bogs and provide additional income and employment opportunities within local communities. The project builds on the success of previous and ongoing projects in the target areas, and leverages existing structures such as local community groups, project partners and other state agencies. This helps to build synergies with existing work and forge new relationships. This cooperative approach is one of the primary reasons why this project will be a success.
I’d like to commend the project team, in particular Derek McLoughlin, and the NPWS LIFE team, the local community, and everyone who has played a part in making this project happen.
. . . LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature is a wide reaching project primarily aimed at the delivery of environmental and social benefits through the conservation and restoration of blanket bog habitat in northwest Ireland. It works with the local community including farmers and landowners to achieve the programme’s goals, with the project’s work underway in Co Mayo for the past year on a pilot basis and expansion to counties Donegal and Sligo planned for 2022. Nine other associated beneficiaries are involved in the project, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, Bord na Móna, Coillte, RTÉ, Fáilte Ireland, The Heritage Council, Northern & Western Regional Assembly, and Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.
Already, LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature has successfully launched a pilot Results-Based agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBPS), which directly links farmer payments to the environmental quality of the farm. This approach incentivises and rewards restoration and conservation of high-quality habitats and puts farmers and their skills, expertise and knowledge of their land central to the development of the initiative. More than 150 farmers in Co. Mayo took part in the initiative in 2021 and have received total payments in excess of €500,000. The results of this pilot will inform future results-based actions to be incorporated into Common Agricultural Policy Agri-Environment, Climate Measures (AECMs).
Another successful initiative in the first year of LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature is an invasive species control project to stop the spread of rhododendron ponticum in the Delphi area. This project, conceived by local landowners, will develop and demonstrate a community-led Rhododendron control programme at the catchment level and will produce an action plan including best practice guidelines for communities and local authorities. The project will work with a range of stakeholders to develop and test best-practice methods for treating Rhododendron at different densities and maturity and provide recommendations for upscaling in other Rhododendron infestation sites.
In addition to practical conservation work, LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature will also implement a number of actions aimed at enhancing wider community engagement including
- establishing local support groups in the project sites,
- developing and implementing community knowledge exchange programmes,
- administering community outreach activities,
- developing a schools education programme,
- promotion of the Natura 2000 network,
- supporting communities to develop and manage tourism and recreational activities and develop appropriate infrastructure.
Other actions will include site surveys, ecological assessments, training for nature conservation, control of invasive species, fire prevention and water management. These activities aim to deliver environmental and social benefits for local areas and inform broader policy and practice across Ireland and the EU.