Article first published in:
Wicklow Mountain Views – The Newsletter of the Wicklow Uplands Council.
Issue No. 28.
Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS) Pilot Project
The Wicklow uplands are renowned as an area of outstanding natural beauty and provide an important landscape for a range of recreational activities. The uplands also provide an important natural resource to produce food and energy as well as providing high quality fresh water supplies to adjacent urban populations. This great natural resource was traditionally managed by upland farmers whose activities kept habitats in good environmental condition. However, over the past two decades changes in legislation and farming activities, have led to a gradual decline in the quality and condition of upland habitats.
For the past number of years Wicklow Uplands Council has researched and highlighted these declining conditions and advocated the need for targeted support for upland farming. In direct response to that body of research, the Uplands Council has recently secured funding for a new pilot project for the Wicklow/Dublin uplands called a Sustainable Uplands Agri-environment Scheme (SUAS).
The SUAS project was developed using a bottom-up approach with the support of local upland farmers and is one of just 12 projects from across Ireland to be awarded funding by the Department of Agriculture under the new European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture Productivity and Sustainability (EIP AGRI) initiative. Two other upland projects based in the MacGillycuddy Reeks and The Blackstairs are also among the 12 projects.
SUAS is a five year pilot project which aims to address the agricultural, environmental and socio-economic issues associated with upland farming in the Wicklow/Dublin uplands. It is an ambitious project and includes a number of key innovations including;
- – The establishment of commonage groups with their own constitutions
- – Integrating the environmental (ecological and water) and farm data into a single commonage management plan
- – Assisting farmers to take responsibility for the development, implementation, and delivery of their own management plan
- – The use of an auction-based payment system to incentivise participants to develop solutions to specific issues they have identified on their farmed area
A lot of work has been done since January to get the project initiated. Following a call for expressions of interest in March, an initial three commonages and one non-commonage farmer have been selected to participate in SUAS. Over the summer period each group will undergo a facilitated process to get established as a formal group and elect a Chairperson.
It is essential that the group works well together as they will implement their management plan co-operatively. A further 2 commonages and another non commonage farmer will be selected later this year.
The next step is an on-site ecological and water quality assessment. The assessments will identify the current status of the site and make recommendations on how to improve its condition. Using that information the farmers will then be assisted in developing their management plan. The plan will also take into account farm data e.g. flock size, grazing period. Farmers will decide themselves what measures they would like to carry out to improve the habitat condition.
Measures may include but are not limited to; vegetation removal through controlled managed burning or mechanical means, increased shepherding activities, cattle grazing, providing livestock holding infrastructure etc. Payments will be made for time spent carrying out the activities in line with the agreed management plan.
An auction-based measure has also been included in the SUAS pilot which will encourage participants to explore further actions and measures that address problems they have identified on their farmed area. Participants can make a proposal to the SUAS team who will provide finance to develop the best idea that is brought forward. Measures considered under the auction system will provide added value to the project.
It is envisaged that such measures may include:
- – Provision of signage, both educational and directional to archaeological sites
- – Heather restoration in Molina dominated areas
- – Protecting rare and endangered species – e.g. temporary fencing, grazing exclusion zones
- – Bracken control
To support SUAS an Operational Group comprised of a team of experts has been assembled with a diverse range of skills. The organisations involved include; Wicklow Uplands Council, Teagasc, NPWS, UCD, LAWCO and IFAC Accountants. A full time project manager will also be employed to guide and support the participating farmers. The vision for SUAS is that it will create a blueprint for future upland agri-environment schemes. There are indications from Europe that the next round of CAP will have a greater focus on bottom-up, locally led schemes and therefore it is crucial that SUAS and the other upland projects work successfully for all involved.
Progress updates for SUAS will be published to our website. Further information on all the EIP projects can be found at www.nationalruralnetwork.ie/innovation
Coordinator, Wicklow Uplands Council