Wicklow Uplands Council officially launched the ‘Sustainable Uplands Agriculture-environment Scheme (SUAS)’ Pilot Project on Monday evening at a special event held at The Glendalough Hotel, Co. Wicklow.
Full details of the €1.95 million project designed to assist both commonage groups and individual farmers across the Wicklow and Dublin uplands, were shared to the large audience who attended. Presentations were given by a number of guests, including Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle and CE of The Heritage Council, Michael Starrett.
The project, the first of its type in Ireland, was successful in securing funding under the first round of European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture, Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) initiative. In two highly competitive Open Calls for proposals, 21 selected projects have been allocated funding over the last 12 months under Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020.
The key objective of the five-year pilot, is to develop practical and innovative solutions that will address the complex agricultural, environmental and socio-economic challenges associated with the land management of commonages and hill farms in the Wicklow/Dublin uplands.
Pat Dunne, the Project Lead for the SUAS Project shared:
“Wicklow Uplands Council are very grateful that the EIP process and for the substantial funding that the project has received. It has created an enormous opportunity to make a positive and lasting change to secure the sustainable future management of the Wicklow and Dublin uplands.”
The enclosed land in the Wicklow Dublin uplands is of high value for biodiversity and is of European conservation importance for habitats and birds. This is recognised by its designation of a substantial area of the uplands region as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).
The project has evolved following several years of extensive study which identified the poor-to-bad conservation status of the habitat found in the Wicklow/ Dublin uplands. The study also found a decline in the use of the uplands for livestock grazing and the need for specific support for upland farmers.
Following the announcement of the project earlier this year, a selection process resulted in three commonage groups and one individual farmer been chosen to participate in the initial roll-out of the project. An announcement for a further expressions of interest is due in 2019.
The project has created a framework that consists of a facilitated process to assist the participating groups to form their own constitution and to establish as a formal structure. It is the commonage group itself that collectively develops and agrees to a management plan with the support of the SUAS operational group.
According to Declan Byrne, Project Manager of the SUAS project:
“The SUAS project has the potential to change the way agri-environmental schemes operate on the commonages across the country and once completed, will offer a framework built around a collective and formalised structure for other groups to adapt.”
“The project appropriately places the farmers at the centre of developing management plans for upland habitats areas, as they will be the ones who will be doing the work on the ground”
Participants will work closely with Faith Wilson, an ecologist who will monitor and advise on the improvement of the ecology and water found on the selected sites over the duration of the project. SUAS will also be organising training courses and necessary support required by participating farmers.
The EIP-AGRI initiative in Ireland is being implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). EIP-AGRI projects are centered around a locally led operational group, which involves the cooperation of farmers, scientists, advisors, NGOs and others, coming together to address a specific issue or to take advantage of a new opportunity.
Wicklow Uplands Council has assembled an Operational Group with a range of expertise and experience to support the SUAS project. Members of the Operational Group include upland farmers along with experts in hill production, agri-environment, ecology, rural development, water quality, conservation, public relations and administration & finance.
Information and regular updates and will also feature on www.wicklowuplands.ie