Taxpayers willing to pay farmers to maintain landscape of Burren

TAXPAYERS are willing to pay farmers to maintain the landscape and biodiversity values of their farms in the Burren region of Co Clare, according to a new survey.

A research team based at NUI Galway, which was commissioned by BurrenLIFE Project (BLP) to conduct the study, presented the findings at a seminar in Gort yesterday.

Lead researcher Dr Tom van Rensburg said Burren farmers produce quality food and maintain a heritage that attracts large numbers of tourists. They also produce a range of ecosystem services such as clean water, landscape and biodiversity.

“Using internationally recognised researched methods, we have been able to show that the Irish taxpayer is willing to pay farmers to continue to deliver these services.

“This is a really interesting finding at a time when the national Rural Environment Protection Scheme has been closed to new entrants,” he said.

The Burren has one of the most important and best-known landscapes in Europe due to the wealth and diversity of its natural and cultural heritage.

Much of the region is designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the EU Habitats Directive.

BLP, the first major farming for conservation project in Ireland, has built a strong partnership between the Irish Farmers’ Association in the Burren, Teagasc and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Dr Brendan Dunford, manager, said the five-year research programme offered a compelling argument for continued public support.

“We can show that the BurrenLIFE model of farming can help increase biodiversity on our farms while maintaining animal health, water quality and farmer income.

“What’s more we know the costs involved in this and we now know that society is willing to meet these costs as they generate significant public benefits,” he said.

In July this year, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith allocated €1 million a year for the next three years to Burren farmers to roll-out conservation farming.

BLP hopes additional funding will be secured in 2010 from the Department of the Environment and other relevant agencies to support an operational budget for project management, farm planning, administration, research and monitoring.

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