The DAFM has awarded the Teagasc Comeragh Hill Sheep Discussion Group €118,720 for a one-year project.
The group consists of 14 farmers whose sheep graze over 4,000ha of the Comeragh mountains across six commonages and four upland farms.
The DAFM made the award using the European Innovation Partnership model.
The award focused on promoting biodiversity through collaboration amongst farming groups and community and local action groups who engage with the broader population.
Teagasc Comeragh Hill Sheep Discussion Group
Liam Beresford, an upland sheep farmer on the Comeragh mountains, who chairs the project team, said:
“Our project is based on learning how to manage the uplands we graze to improve and maintain the quality of the habitats.”
“There are no training courses available for upland farmers to help them manage some of the important Irish habitats protected by European legislation.”
Liam Beresford is hoping this approach to training will provide a basis that other Irish upland farmers can use.
The farmers walked their upland areas with an ecologist in August and September of this year.
They gained an understanding of what a habitat is and the habitat types on their uplands for the first time.
The ecologist and farmers also collected plants for chemical analysis by Trinity College’s Centre for Natural Products Research – NatPro.
There is anecdotal and documented evidence that several Comeragh Mountain plants have various preventative and therapeutic uses in traditional medicines.
Tom Power, farmer and the project’s financial controller, said:
“The next steps are to combine the ecologists’ recommended actions with improving or maintaining the habitats with our plans for sheep production.”
“The process will go on over the coming months on the six commonages and the four upland farms”.
Paddy Cooney, chair of the Teagasc Comeragh Hill Sheep Discussion Group, said:
“We want to improve the links between ourselves and Comeragh upland community to explore opportunities for an integrated locally-led strategy.”
Community talks and primary schools
The project’s engagement activities with the broader Comeragh mountain communities will begin this month.
It will involve a series of talks by experts and locals on the mountain’s cultural heritage.
There will also be engagement with the six local primary schools to enhance their ongoing initiatives to create a “sense of place” among students.
Both activities will help build a better sense of place within the Comeragh Upland Community.
Social, economic and well-being
Teagasc advisor Catriona Foley, who facilitates the discussion group, said:
“The value of the natural habitats and cultural heritage is a local resource and should be shared by the community.”
Padraig Dempsey, PR manager, suggested that the project will explore the options for a locally-led initiative to secure a sustainable future for the Comeraghs.
“The strategy will contribute to the future social, economic and well-being of the Comeragh upland communities.”
Dr Catherine Keena, Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist, said: “Natural and cultural heritage-led social innovation has multiple benefits.”
These include strengthening identity, fostering participation, improving well-being, creating jobs, and maintaining landscape values.
“The strategy will provide a road map on how some of these benefits can be achieved on the Comeraghs.”
The discussion group members look forward to working with the local communities to deliver a “successful” project outcome.