Duhallow farmers will provide national blueprint for environmental farming

Results from schemes being undertaken in northwest Cork will be incorporated into a Department of Agriculture blueprint to be launched next year. The aim is to make agriculture more environmentally friendly.

The schemes, run by the regional development organisation, IRD Duhallow, help farmers to stem erosion of their land from flooding and to reclaim previously lost land. It involves planting indigenous trees while improving water quality in rivers, which, in turn, protects and enhances wildlife.

It’s a win-win for the environment and for farmers, according to dairy farmer Tony Ahern, who is one of around 100 farmers involved in the Duhallow Blue Dot Project.

His land adjoins the Newmarket road on the northern side of Kanturk. He farms on both sides of the River Dalua, which is one of the highest-quality water sources in the country. The Duhallow Blue Dot Project also preserves and enhances water quality in similar important water sources in Duhallow, such as the rivers Allow, Owenanare, Owenkeal, Glenlara, and Glashawee.

The EU-funded EIP (European Innovation Partnership) scheme is overseen by IRD Duhallow project ecologist, Mick O’Connor.

He said such “results-based projects” reward farmers for the quality of measures implemented, with higher-quality habitats generating a higher payment for the responsible farmer.

“Participating farmers receive results-based payments for measures that benefit water quality,” Mr O’Connor said. “Examples of measures include riparian buffers, which are strips of land adjacent to the river that are allowed to vegetate with trees or other riverbank vegetation, helping the river by stabilising the bank, reducing nutrient run-off, and providing a habitat for wildlife, such as birds and bats.”

“Another example is well-vegetated drains (in-drain buffers), which reduce the amount of silt entering a river through a farm drain, benefitting species such as freshwater pearl mussel, salmon, and water insects that are sensitive to siltation. The results-based approach is becoming increasingly recognised as the fairest way to reward farmers who protect the environment and the most efficient use of taxpayer money for the delivery of ecosystem services,” he said.

Brighid-Ide Walsh, centre, assistant co-ordinator and local trainer in horticulture, with Moira Sheehan and Tim Twomey in the horticultural section at IRD Duhallow. Picture: Eddie O'HareBrighid-Ide Walsh, centre, assistant co-ordinator and local trainer in horticulture, with Moira Sheehan and Tim Twomey in the horticultural section at IRD Duhallow. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

As well as results-based payments, participating farmers also have the option to apply for ‘additional proposed works’, which are capital projects. Examples implemented under the project include farmland biodiversity ponds, multi-chamber sediment ponds, farm roadway upgrades, and alternative drinking sources for livestock, with solar-powered pumps becoming increasingly popular.

Mr Ahern said he was losing up to 10ft of his land per year because of flooding on the Daula. However, he has now fenced off the banks to his cattle and planted willow. This has allowed the banks to become more solid and less likely to erode, therefore reclaiming land.

“Sediment getting into the river can smother salmon eggs and the insects on which the fish feed. Sediment also damages the pearl mussel,” Mr O’Connor said.

To prevent sediment run-off from his farm into the river, Mr Ahern altered the course of an internal farm road, so run-off went into the land rather than directly into the Daula.

“If these things weren’t done, the river would have encroached further into the farm. It stopped the decline (erosion) completely,” the farmer said.

IRD Duhallow has collaborated on the Blue Dot Project with experts from other agencies, including Birdwatch Ireland.

Mr O’Connor said the project extends its reach from farmers to the wider community.

“For example, every September the project team visits national and secondary schools in the catchment to deliver freshwater ecology workshops. Several BT Young Scientist projects have also been conducted under the supervision of the project team,” Mr O’Connor said.

Owentaraglin River project

Meanwhile, last year, IRD Duhallow successfully applied for a second EIP project, the Owentaraglin River EIP, to conduct a one-year agri-environmental project on another high-quality Duhallow river, the Owentaraglin (known locally as the Araglen/Airglin river).

The project commenced in January 2022. At present, it has 22 participating farmers working to protect water quality on this important tributary of the upper Munster Blackwater.

While both projects will have huge benefits for the project rivers, the team are ambitious and aim to have a national impact through promotion of measures and communication of lessons learned.

Last year, the project team presented at the European Symposium for Freshwater Sciences and regularly present the project at national conferences, or to other organisations across the country.

Mr O’Connor said the environment has been one of IRD Duhallow’s main focuses since it as founded. Indeed, one of the first LEADER projects funded by IRD Duhallow was a baseline study of the Upper Munster Blackwater in the early 1990s.

In the past few years, the company has co-ordinated several LEADER projects with an environmental focus.

Last year, the Duhallow Water Biodiversity Training Project saw community groups formed and trained in water biodiversity from eight Duhallow sub-catchments; many of these groups have gone on to implement water biodiversity projects in their locality, with one group, The Friends of the Dripsey River, receiving a commendation at Cork Environment Forum’s 2021 award ceremony.

Planting for biodiversity

A community planting-for-biodiversity project, to enable community groups, such as Tidy Towns, to maximise nature in their towns and public spaces, has been ongoing for the past couple of years.

Mr O’Connor said that communities in the region are preparing to plant thousands of trees, shrubs, and bulbs later this year.

IRD Duhallow has also promoted habitats for birds and raised awareness of the importance of the Duhallow landscape for many threatened bird species.

Six swift towers were recently installed in Duhallow towns through LEADER funding to help swifts, a migratory bird that has suffered as a result of loss of suitable nesting sites.

In partnership with Birdwatch Ireland, IRD Duhallow has monitored barn owls every breeding season in the past decade, tagged chicks, and raised awareness of the birds of prey through publications and community events.

Hen harriers are monitored throughout the breeding and nesting season, as well as during winter.

Eileen Linehan, assistant manager at IRD Duhallow. Picture: Eddie O'HareEileen Linehan, assistant manager at IRD Duhallow. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

IRD Duhallow strives to create best-practice examples of how companies, community groups, and businesses can work with nature.

This year, building on the momentum of many recent community biodiversity projects, an IRD Duhallow Conservation Volunteer Network has been set up with the help of a LEADER grant.

Mr O’Connor said that an application made by IRD Duhallow, in collaboration with North Cork Creameries, on behalf of this group to the LAWPRO Community Water Development Fund, saw the group win LAWPRO’s 2022 Blue Dot Award. “This has provided the group with funding to plant thousands of trees on riverbanks of high-status Duhallow rivers. The group’s next event will be a barn owl nest-building workshop in collaboration with Birdwatch Ireland and Kanturk Men’s Shed,” Mr O’Connor said.

IRD Duhallow has also recently set up a paint-recycling centre. It collects used paint deposited at civic-amenity sites in Millstreet and Kanturk and re-energises it. The paint is being sold for just €15 per five-litre can and is sold at the IRD shop at IRD Duhallow’s headquarters at the James O’Keeffe centre in Newmarket.

It is proving so popular that on several occasions stock has been sold out.

IRD Duhallow hopes to expand the scheme and collect paint from civic-amenity sites in Mallow and Macroom. The company also hopes to expand the workforce on this project, which will provide more employment in northwest Cork, which is a disadvantaged area in terms of jobs.

Originally Appeared Here