However, although many solutions had been created to improve farming conditions in the region, Dunford and his team noticed that there were still farms where management practices didn’t change. When asked for the reason, the farmers confessed that there wasn’t enough incentive for them to let their cattle graze on the hills during wintertime.
“It was much easier for the farmer to build a house for the animals and keep them inside for the winter.”
To address this lack of interest, the Burren Programme embraced a result-based approach. The fields of the participating farms are annually assessed using ten criteria, such as level of grazing, amount of dead plant material, condition of natural water sources and condition of feeding sites. The better the score, and thus the environmental health of the land, the more ‘pay for performance’ public funding the farmer gets. Participation in the programme is voluntary.
“We allow the farmers total freedom to farm. We give them advice and support and help them in every way we can, but it’s entirely up to them as to how to manage the land and they are rewarded accordingly,” Dunford explains.
In addition to getting paid for the results, farmers can request funding from the Programme to improve the environmental infrastructure on their lands. Matched funding is available to improve water provision, repair walls, improve access to sites and remove encroaching species, for example.