Wicklow Uplands Council launched the SUAS Pilot Project in 2018 to address some of the complex challenges associated with the land management of commonages and hill farms in the Wicklow/Dublin uplands.
Following several years of extensive study of upland vegetation management, the decline in farming activities and the impact it was having on these environmentally significant habitats, the ‘Sustainable Uplands Agriculture-environment Scheme (SUAS)’ pilot project officially launched in November 2018, aims to use innovative means to address these issues.
Developed by Wicklow Uplands Council, the project is designed to assist both commonage groups and individual hill farmers across the Wicklow and Dublin uplands and will ensure the sustainable management of the unique, natural habitats the area is renowned for.
The project, the first of its type in Ireland, was successful in securing a funding allocation of €1.95 million under the first round of European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture, Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) initiative.
One of only 21 projects selected to proceed to the implementation stage following two open calls for proposals. The project is allocated funding over under Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020.
ABOUT THE SUAS PILOT PROJECT:
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.
The projects’ goals are quite extensive and it is anticipated that it will result in an increase in the number of sheep on the hills and an extension to the grazing period over the coming years. This will be achieved through increasing the ecological and productive value of these habitats. Improvement of the biodiversity, the protection of water quality and maintaining recreational access are also key components and will be developed by integrating environmental and farming activities into a single management plan.
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).
Following the announcement of the project in early 2018, a selection process resulted in three commonage groups and one non-commonage hill farmer been chosen to participate in the initial rollout of the project.
A second round of the project was opened in the Spring of 2019 and following the same selection process, a further three commonage groups and two non-commonage hill farmers joined the project bringing the total number of sites to nine.
The project has created a framework that consists of a facilitated process to assist the participating commonage 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.
Current participants are working closely with Faith Wilson, a well-respected ecologist who is monitoring and advising on the improvement of the ecology and water found on each of the nine selected sites over the entire duration of the project.
As part of the project’s design, SUAS continues to organise training courses and provide any necessary support required by participating farmers. An example of this includes the on-site training and practical demonstration on the best best practices related to controlled burning which took place in February 2019.
SUAS Project Funding:
The SUAS Project is a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine (DAFM) under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
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.
Stakeholders in the project include, Wicklow Uplands Council, Teagasc, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, The Waters and Communities Office and UCD.
SUAS Pilot Project.