Top score for field protection

The recent splendid spell of weather prompted some readers to inquire if we had yet heard the cuckoo.

Top score for field protection

The recent splendid spell of weather prompted some readers to inquire if we had yet heard the cuckoo. The answer is no, though this early harbinger of summer should soon be making its presence known.

It arrives in Ireland around now and its distinctive call can be heard until late June. It would not be a surprise, however, if the repetitive ‘cuck-coo’ sound is already echoing through the Burren, Co Clare, and Connemara, Co Galway, which are among the best places for the cuckoo in terms of numbers.

In many ways, the Burren leads the way when it comes to nature conservation, where a number of state agencies work with 330 farm families to protect habitats, including that of the cuckoo, in a 22,000-hectare area.

Dr Brendan Dunford, who has worked in the Burren Programme (BP) for many years, has described some Burren farmers as pioneers in managing their land for nature through the programme.

Further recognition came recently when Pat and Oliver Nagle were among the winners of Together for Biodiversity Awards run by the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT).

The BP adopts a farmer-centred approach, supporting farmers to improve their environment. Farmers are rewarded for their performance using a simple, field-based scoring system which reflects the environmental health of each, species-rich field. Payments are based on the score, thereby encouraging farmers to continuously raise performance. For fields with low scores, land-owners can avail of an allowance to improve matters.

Since 2010, the Nagles have dedicated themselves to improving the environmental and agricultural condition of the farm. They have, for instance, removed invasive scrub and restored dilapidated field walls.

They have also walled off springs to protect them from livestock damage and these watering points have become habitats for a range of species such as frogs, newts and water beetles.

Such has been the Nagles’ performance that their farm is the only one in the entire programme where all their fields now score 10 out of 10; the average score is 7.4.

And the results are there for all to see. The well-grazed, rough grasslands are colourful and species-rich, hosting an array of bees, butterflies and birds. Skylarks and cuckoos abound, as do moths and butterflies.

In summertime, the place is alive with colour and sound. Wild flowers, including a range of orchid species, are abundant.

With nature declining at a startling rate, Kieran Flood, of the IWT, says urgent action is needed at all levels of society. “This awards scheme highlighted the actions being carried out right now by community groups, schools, farmers, businesses and individuals.”

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