Project Manager at Farming for Nature: Brigid Barry
In this week’s Women in Ag segment, That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane speaks to Brigid Barry, Co Cork. She discusses her farming roots, working in rainforests in South America and Africa and her current part-time remote position as project manager for Farming for Nature.
“I grew up on a sheep, beef-suckler and tillage farm near Bandon in Co. Cork. My parents moved back from the UK and bought it in 1981; my brother has recently inherited it.
We were always involved on the farm as it was a busy environment. My parents farmed nearly 500-acres, split between Bandon and Kinsale areas.
My earliest memories are helping (very unsuccessfully) to stake bales, but I was more likely to be making dens in the straw shed or sitting in the mart, memorized by what was happening.
During the winter, there was always the inevitable weaker twin or triplet lamb that needed warmth beside our cooker and feeding in the night with a milk bottle.
My husband and I have just 2-acres and are growing vegetables for ourselves. But mostly, we are managing it for biodiversity by planting trees, digging ponds etc.
I think when you grow up on the land and work with animals, it stays with you forever, and you have a strong affinity for it.
I studied anthropology and primatology! Moreover, I always wanted to work with people, and it really interested me their relationship with their environments and landscapes. I suppose that is exactly what I am doing now.
I worked throughout my 20s in rainforests in South America and Africa, studying/researching behavioural ecology and the bushmeat trade.
Then, I lived in Cambridge for five years and worked with a charity there that was based in the zoology dept that trained African biologists and conservationists.
Then, I moved back to Ireland to become the biodiversity officer for Clare Co. Council, but shortly after I joined, the first landscape charity had set up – The Burrenbeo Trust.
I managed this for nine years; this is the educational charity arm of the award-winning Burren Programme that supports farmers in managing one of the finest ecological landscapes in Europe, the Burren.
Land and animals
Then for the last five years, I have been managing the Farming for Nature project; this still comes under the Burrenbeo umbrella.
As mentioned, I have always had an affinity with the land and animals. I saw the need to advocate for this from a very young age.
I was aware of the intensification that my parents went through with their own farm and how much it changed over the years. There were fewer hedgerows, fewer butterflies, and fewer bees around.
I did not think I would necessarily end up back in agriculture in Ireland, as I was passionate about travelling and getting to know other cultures and their challenges with conservation. However, when I look back at my own path, it makes sense.
For the twenty years before my current job, I worked with people and explored how both the landscape impacted their decisions of lifestyle, jobs, and culture but also how their decisions can massively impact their landscapes, so it all feeds into this work.
Project manager Farming for Nature
I set up and have managed the Farming for Nature initiative since its inception in 2018.
I work part-time as its project manager in the mornings. My ‘office’ is a computer in my sitting room. My office day involves answering queries, developing resources for farmers, and organising events, and the day-to-day logistics of running a project (funding, admin, etc.)
Overall, my position is so varied; no two days are the same. One minute I have to be creative, and the next, doing budgets.
We set up Farming for Nature to encourage and support farmers across Ireland who are farming or wish to farm more for nature.
We felt at the time, there was widespread awareness of the environmental damage that can be caused by the wrong type of farming, making farmers feel apart from nature as opposed to a part of it.
However, there is not much discussion of those that are doing a great job farming for nature about the positive stories. The farming community do not have many good role models.
Plus, farmers are in the coalface of the biodiversity crisis; they must be supported. They have many nature-based solutions to the crisis at their fingertips, but this is not shared as much as it should be.
Encouraging farmers to feel that they are part of the solution, not just the problem, is the first step in a long journey which will require a lot of financial and technical support, new partnerships, and new visions. This is the reason for Farming for Nature.
As I only work four hours a day to fit in my family life, it is extremely busy, and I never seem to have enough time, but I love that too as I will never get bored in this job!
We do not have core funding, so each year, we never know if we have another year going forward.
But it keeps us on our toes to make sure that if this is the last year that, at least we gave it our best shot.
As I have been here since the beginning, I have been lucky enough to develop and guide the initiative, looking at where the gaps are and finding ways to fill them.
Farming For Nature is an inclusive organisation with an open door for any farmer to explore what small or larger changes they can make on their farms for nature.
We know farmers are at the frontline of the biodiversity and climate crises, but we feel that there are many nature-based solutions to these and that farmers should be supported to do these for it to be beneficial for all of us.
Apart from the general disruptions like everyone experienced, such as those to childcare etc, Covid was positive for me.
Pre-Covid, I would have to attend meetings in Dublin or Galway. This would take me away from an extremely busy workload.
However, days it takes just an hour or two on Zoom as opposed to six or more travelling. Also, the Zoom culture has allowed us to develop a whole new suite of resources for our farmers like online Q&As etc.
I have been very lucky with the varied past I have had and the people I have met along the way.
Whether it was the tribe I lived with in Amazon, the hunters I worked with Equatorial Guinea or the farmers I have met in the Burren and across Ireland, I feel privileged that each of these people have shared their life and their environments with me.
There is a lot that needs to be done in conservation in farming. That the two should not be separate but that you can have productive farms but also support nature on these.
We are getting more and more queries and stories from farmers on the changes they are making. We hope this is a positive reflection of farming in general, but we are realistic there is a long way to go.”
To share your story like this project manager, email – [email protected]
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