This year’s Burren Winterage School is an extended and enriched affair, as befits a subject as diverse and fascinating as this year’s theme of ‘Farming for Nature’. In co-operation with Teagasc, and supported by the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the school will take place in a number of locations across the ‘Galway Burren’ over three days in late October (25th – 27th). It forms part of a broader festival of events to celebrate and support pastoral farming and its importance to our rural communities and heritage.
Proceedings begin on Thursday Oct 25th with a series of presentations on locally-led ‘farming for nature’ projects, including the Burren and Hen Harrier Programmes as well as some new ‘European Innovation Partnership’ projects from places such as Cork and the Aran islands. These, and other presentations, will form part of Teagasc’s National Agri environment conference – a major event for Irish agri-environmental advisors – which will be held in Gort on Oct 25th, linking in with and extending this year’s Winterage School.
Later that evening attention will turn to the European perspective with presentations on innovative approaches to farming for nature from ‘High Nature Value’ (HNV) landscapes in Sweden, the UK, Croatia, France and Romania, followed by a workshop exploring how these innovations might be shared more effectively across other HNV farmed landscapes in Europe.
On Friday 26th proceedings take a decidedly practical turn with visits to working farms in the east Burren and in the Slieve Aughty mountains (east of Gort), to see what ‘farming for nature’ looks like at farm level, to meet some of the actors involved and to hear their perspectives. Also on that day, Gort mart will host an evening ‘innovation fair’ where a range of innovative technologies to support farming for nature – such as drones – will be demonstrated, along with discussions on animal breeding and nutrition.
The School then moves to Kinvara on Saturday 27th for a day-long series of presentations including a look at some of the ‘externalities’ which challenge farming for nature, including Brexit, Climate Change and evolving Agricultural policies and market trends. In addition, leading European researchers will discuss topics such as socio-cultural perspectives on farming for nature, building support networks for nature and the role of big data in nature conservation. An interesting interlude will be provided by a session featuring five short films on farming for nature followed by a panel discussion with the farmers involved.
The Winterage school will culminate with a major National Awards event on Saturday evening in Kinvara where five farmers from across Ireland who are champions of farming for nature (as nominated by a panel of ecologists) will be profiled before one on them will be unveiled as the winner – by public vote – of the Origin Green ‘Farmer for Nature’ of the year award 2018.
Conference delegates – which typically include farmers, farm advisors, researchers and public officials from Ireland and across Europe – will be able to wind-down from the School events by joining in the famous Burren Winterage Cattle drove on Sunday 28th, one of many other events – including book readings, a food fayre, vintage farm machinery demonstrations, singing and dancing sessions and much more – which will take place over the weekend in support and celebration of pastoral farming in Ireland and beyond.