Article first published in:
Wicklow Mountain Views – The Newsletter of the Wicklow Uplands Council.
Issue No. 30 – Summer 2019
SUAS Project Building Relationships Across The EU
In April, the team behind the SUAS Project were invited to host a field trip for a visiting delegation consisting of 60 participants from 22 of the EU’s member states.
The delegation were in Ireland to attend a three day conference organised by the Standing Committee on Agriculture Research (SCAR) and their Strategic Working Group, Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Systems (SWP-AKIS). The group which is made up of European Commission staff and representatives from across all Member States, focuses on improvements to knowledge and innovation systems in the EU’s Bioeconomy.
The Dublin based conference was organised by the semi-state organisation Teagasc, who are members of the Strategic Working Group and have also played a key role in developing the SUAS Pilot Project with Wicklow Uplands Council.
Travelling by coach, the principle reason for the field trip was to discover more information on the SUAS Project and to observe first-hand, the setting of the Wicklow and Dublin uplands where the project is being implemented and its impact is going to be most felt.
Their visit to Co. Wicklow included a reception and presentation at the Brockagh Resource Centre in Laragh, where SUAS Project Manager, Declan Byrne and Operational Lead, Pat Dunne, shared the objectives of the project and the considerable progress to date.
As most of the group were involved directly with one of the over 1,000 European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI) Projects currently operating across the EU, there was strong interest in learning how the SUAS Project and its Operational Group (OG) were formed.
As one of only 23 EIP-AGRI projects in operation in Ireland, the SUAS Pilot Project received a funding allocation of €1.95 million in 2018 to implement a 5 year project designed to address the decline in the biodiversity and hill farming activities in the Wicklow and Dublin uplands.
Members of Wicklow Uplands Council (WUC), who developed the project over quite a number of years, were also involved with the hosting of the event with Brian Dunne, Coordinator of WUC, delivering an informative presentation on the origins and need for a project of this type to the region.
Following light refreshments and lots of interesting conversations afterwards, the group made a brief stop at the 6th century monastic settlement of Glendalough to enjoy one of the region’s most popular tourist locations before returning to Dublin.
At the conference setting in the Teagasc Ashtown Food Research Centre in north Dublin, the delegates were given an extensive overview of the current Irish Operational Groups from Dr. Maura Farrell of the National Rural Network and Margaret Murray from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Presentations were also given by Ireland’s two large-scale EIP-AGRI Projects, The Hen Harrier Project and the Pearl Mussel Project
The visit was a wonderful opportunity for the SUAS Operational Group to highlight the complex workings of the project and to discover through conversation with the delegates, just how diverse many of the European projects are, which range from enhancing rural development to soil, plant and animal health, sustainable farming and forestry practices and a host of socio-economic considerations.
Shortly after the successful event, Declan Byrne was invited to attend and participate in the Agri-Innovation Summit 2019 held at the end of June. With over 400 invited delegates travelling from across the EU to the Normandy town of Lisieux, the three day event offered a number of opportunities for Declan and his colleagues from Teagasc, to continue to build relationships across Europe and to discover the innovative practices that exist within other locally-led projects.
Organised by the French Ministry of Agriculture, the Normandy Region, the European Commission and the EIP-AGRI network, the theme for this year’s summit was the Transition to Agroecology – the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. Participants included representatives from quite a number of the EIP- AGRI projects across Europe, experts and local actors such as farmers, researchers and decision makers.
The busy conference schedule featured a number of events, with a host of workshops and a choice of field trips exploring a broad collection of issues such as sustainable agricultural practices, socio-economic challenges, farming and forestry innovations and biodiversity awareness.
A key component of the conference was discussion and knowledge sharing using a round table format. It was in this setting, that Declan delivered a scheduled presentation on the significant role that extensive research played in the development of the solutions found in the SUAS Project.
During the presentation, he explained how a key component of SUAS, is the ongoing recording of ecological data on the eight locations participating in the 5 year project. Declan outlined how the project works with the farmers to make decisions and adopt the farming practices required for the sustainable management of each site. He also outlined how the project aims to share its experiences with other EIP projects, hill farmers and interested groups to maximise the lessons that can be learned during the course of the project. Collectively, the project’s reports are also creating a framework that will inform future projects and schemes focussed on hill farming.
With over 1,000 EIP operational group projects currently established across the EU, it is anticipated that the number may reach 3,000 by 2021 to coincide with the end of the current CAP period. For the SUAS Project to observe and contribute to the wider discussion at this early stage, marks a very welcome development and offers a significant opportunity to build awareness of the project’s importance to Ireland’s uplands.
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