Michael runs a 100-acre organic farm in New Inn, Co.Tipperary where he manages half the farm for tillage and the rest for his herd of 40 Aberdeen Angus and horses. The farm has a variety of habitats including seasonally flooded grasslands, fen areas, pastures and meadows. Michael manages his field boundaries as habitats and is a good example of someone who has spent the time looking to see what management practices best suits each habitat to give the most for biodiversity. “I have given 30% of my farm over to habitats”
Andrew Bergin farms 320 acres of tillage in Co.Kildare. He has been practising no-till cereals for a good number of years, while managing the soil in a way to promote high levels of biological benefits. Andrew sows cover crops, and is constantly trailing on farm what species work best for his soil and rotation. This is an integral part that has allowed Andrew prosper in this system that benefit both the environment and the farmer. His approach is to improve the soil structure and the microflora and insect populations in the soil.
Trevor Harris runs two farms in Co.Kildare, there is the home farm, 140-acres, which is cattle and sheep both organic and biodynamic certified. He grazes the two together, selling his beef directly and the lamb is through ICM. It is a mixed enterprise with 12 acres in forestry and 40acres in cereal – he sells his oats to Flavahans and his barley to make a biodynamic whiskey. The second farm is horticultural land, 14 acres outdoors and 1500sqm indoors, where he is growing vegetables for 6 restaurants in Dublin, a box scheme and retail.
Thomas and Claire manage a 25-acre mixed organic farm in Gleann na Gealt, Camp, Co. Kerry. They produce vegetables, salads, wheatgrass, meat, poultry and eggs which they sell locally in their shop in Tralee (Manna Organic Store). They have 15-acres of native Irish woodland and 4-acres of permaculture including fruit trees. They are a great example of diverse food production and biodiversity production all on very marginal land, of proving what is possible. “Climate change is caused by the disconnection with the land and we need to produce farming systems that are less energy intensive”
Paul Moore runs a tillage and beef farm near Middleton county Cork. The mixed 140-acre farm is comprised of 95 acres of tillage and the remaining 45 acres is mature grassland and is used to produce 35 beef cattle. A wildlife and bird enthusiast all his life, Paul is passionate about nature conservation and managing habitats on his farm. Over the years he has planted trees on the land, managed hedgerows for birds, incorporated wildflower margins around field boundaries and increased the nature corridors where possible on the farm.
Gerard Deegan is a lifelong farmer from Co. Westmeath. Originally a dairy farmer, Gerard transitioned to a mixed beef and forestry enterprise back in 2012. There is now 100 acres of forestry on the land – 50% hardwood and 50% softwood. An advocate for diverse forestry systems, Gerard has planted approximately 60 different species of trees on the farm. He also runs a small suckler herd producing organic beef. Gerard is involved in Social Farming and a member of Leitrim Organic Farmers Coop since 1990.
FARMING FOR NATURE AMBASSADOR 2018
Pat is a sixth-generation hill sheep farmer in Glenmalure valley, County Wicklow. He farms with his two sons, together keeping 1,100 ewes on 1,250 acres of commonage. The farm is 90% mountain grazing, mostly dry heath and upland grassland which is all designated SAC and NHA. The area is rich in wildlife, including grouse.
Pat takes his role as the current “keeper” of the family’s long tradition of work on the uplands seriously and is anxious to hand-over the Wicklow hills in the best possible condition to the next generation of upland farmers. He feels that over the last 40 years there has been a slow but progressive decline in hill sheep farming, with the quality of the grazing declining along with the associated biodiversity, as bracken and Molinia start to take over. Pat was determined to work out a solution to this issue and was instrumental in establishing the new Sustainable Upland Agri-Environmental Scheme (SUAS) so that farmers can work together to the better of the uplands. The project will explore key management issues including vegetation management through targeted grazing, feeding and burning. Pat feels that it is important to keep these places ‘as living landscapes, not just wilderness’.
Though he recognises the challenges, Pat loves farming and ‘doesn’t know a better way of life’. He was one of the first Wicklow farmers to establish an “Agreed Access Route” on his lands. He is very involved in the local community, also in the Wicklow Uplands Council and at a National level on the IFA’s Hill committee.
The Shackleton family farm 320-acres in Co.Cavan and have been providing organic grass-fed beef and lamb to their customer since 1996. Grazing traditional breeds Aberdeen Angus and Belted Galloway occurs on 60ha of the farm. The farm also has 5ha of semi-natural habitats including bogs, wetland (Mullagh Lake), woodland, hedgerows, hay meadows and stonewalls, all of which are managed by owners who have qualifications in ecology, landscape design and environmental management.
Padraig and his wife Bernadette, along with their four children, have a cattle and sheep enterprise on their holding in Mount Plunkett, near Lough Ree, Co. Roscommon. Padraic manages a 54-acre section of an old estate – which he and his family run as a Nature Reserve – composed of diverse range of tillage, grassland, woodland and wetland. He has restored woodland, planted new hedgerows, dug ponds, installed bat and bird boxes and restored wetland areas for breeding waders of conservation importance by clearing encroaching scrub. He has established plots for wild birds and used seed mixes that are optimum for biodiversity. Padraig is very knowledgeable and keen to advocate for getting the best for biodiversity from his landscape. A modest man, he claims “We don’t do anything special, just care for what’s there. Farming is about being sensitive and compassionate to the environment that we are working in’. Padraig is very passionate about sharing his story with others: he has hosted numerous guided walks, courses and other events and has featured on RTE’s Eco Eye and Ear to the Ground.
Sean Condon is an organic dairy farmer from Crecora County Limerick. He farms about 140 acres of good grassland and runs an extensive dairy farming system, milking 50 cows once a day. External inputs on the farm are extremely low and Sean takes pride in managing a low-input, low intensity productive farm. Some of the milk produced is sold under Sean’s own brand of organic raw milk – Templeroe milk. The remainder is sold to the Little Milk Company. Sean is passionate about maintaining traditional farming systems whereby production and nature work in harmony – “For me, farming for nature may be more about what I’m not doing rather than what I am doing”. Permanent pasture, mature hedgerows, pockets of woodland and a pond all provide important habitats for the healthy population of birds and other wildlife on the land. Some years ago, a reed-bed system was installed to clean run-off water from the farmyard. Sean leaves wild plants grow around the farm and recognises their importance in farmland ecosystems – “if you don’t have some weeds on the land then you don’t have insects, and without insects there is not much food source for young birds”.
Cathal Mooney of Heather Hill Farm is a regenerative farmer located in Donegal. He takes a holistic approach to farming, focusing on ecological, social and economic goals. Heather Hill Farm produce pasture raised turkey, pasture raised chicken, pasture raised eggs, wildflower honey and grass-fed lamb. Cathal runs a Holistic Planned Grazing System for the stock and has implemented a silvopasture system on the land where fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes have been planted throughout the grassland.
Tommy manages his 100-acre organic Aberdeen Angus suckler farm on the shores of Lough Allen, Co. Roscommon. He has been farming organically on the site since 1996 with a clear focus on nature and habitat conservation. His farm has high natural value with a variety of habitats such as intact raised bog, mature native woodland, species rich acidic grassland, wildflower meadows, lakeshore and river. Tommy’s active role in local conservation has inspired others to follow his example in promoting nature on their own lands. “We have lost of a sense of connectiveness under our feet and once we get that reestablished we will be on our way to a healthier planet”
Clive raises 100% grass-fed organic beef on his 130-acre farm in Ballymote, Co.Sligo. He has built his ‘Rare Ruminare’ brand based on his mix of traditional breeds such as Hereford, Shorthorn and Angus which are well suited to maintaining the farm’s species-rich grasslands. He sells his beef directly to the consumer. He uses mob grazing to ensure that grasslands are given time to recover between grazing periods and to improve the diversity of his grasslands through a more even grazing pressure and suitable stocking rate. He is a good example of how working with the right stocking rates and the environnment at hand you have you don’t have to supplement the diet of the animals or put them inside but just work with nature. “With this method of [mob] grazing you have put on enough condition on the cattle with a 100% grass fed diet.”
Kate runs a 9-acre chemical free farm dedicated to biodiversity and permaculture in Ballymore, Co. Westmeath. The farm is a good example of which can be achieved in a short amount of time, both in terms of habitat building and yield production. Kate is currently on hiatus from vegetable production as she explores some new growing methods and agritourism opportunities. Normally Kate’s products include vegetables, fruits, and eggs are sold at a local market, helping to reduce food miles and support the local economy. She is a building up a farm that is climate resilient and incorporates wildlife into all parts of the farm. “the farms first priority is offering a sanctuary, providing an oasis for wildlife, investing on the ecosystem services this can provide over time”. While the farm is on a break from commercial food production, workshops, camping and community events are available.
John McHugh has a 230-acre organic dairy farm in Co.Laois. He moved away from being an intensive dairy farmer in 2015 when he realised that he needed to create a sustainable and resilient lifestyle that his children could carry on. He is a farmer that has adapted from a commodity and profit driven production system of dairy farming to one that is focused on family succession, long term environmental goals, nature based farming and connecting his community to nature.
Mark Gillanders runs a mixed organic farm in County Monaghan. About 75 acres of cereals are grown on the farm and the remainder of the land is permanent pasture and clover/multispecies pasture. Mark runs a suckler herd of about 20 cattle and the stock are very extensively managed. Red clover silage produces winter feeding for the cattle who are indoors for just a few weeks over the winter months. Organic oats are grown and supplied to Flahavans. Organic wheat is grown on the farm and is locally milled into strong Irish flour and sold in the Irish consumer market. Mark has incorporated rotational combi crops into the farming system, mainly wheat and beans growing together, which are separated leaving the wheat for flour and the beans for animal protein, thus reducing the amount of imported protein. There is about 5 acres of uncultivated wetland on the farm which is left for biodiversity and wildlife. Thick hedgerows are managed for biodiversity and along with pockets of woodland they make up nature corridors running throughout the farm. Since converting to organic in 2009, Mark has observed a significant increase biodiversity on the land – “The farm has improved tremendously in terms of biodiversity on the land, as well as climate and economic resilience.” Mark achieved a Master of Science in Organic Farming from Scotland’s Rural College in 2019. He is proud to run a farm that produces high quality food for human consumption as well as providing for local wildlife and biodiversity.
Gerard is a part-time farmer who runs a 85-acres farm near Moycullen, Co. Galway. Its scrub, woodland, and species rich grassland. He manages that farm with the help of pedigree Belted Galloway cattle and is a enthusiastic believer and promoter of High Nature Value farming and farms with wildlife primarily in mind. He is a good example of how marginal land can be farmed ecologically through correct stocking rates and represents the growing amount of part-time farmers. “Farming needs to be supported toward ecological production not yield production”
Sinéad Moran & Michael McGrath own a micro-dairy with a herd of traditional breed cows on 40-acres of high nature value farmland in Co. Mayo where they sell raw organic milk direct to customer. They are passionate about conserving the species-rich grass, mature trees and both retaining and enhancing biodiversity that is found on their farm.
Boyd and his wife Bride run a 350-acre farm on Inch Island, Co. Donegal. The farm is a mix of arable areas, sheep pastures and woodland, all of which is managed sensitively for nature. Boyd farms his land for nature and manages all aspects of the farm with nature in mind, including his shorelines, wetlands, woodlands, field boundaries and non-farmed areas. He is a good example of someone who has spent a lifetime improving his farm for nature. “Leave your hedges… a hedge without berries or blossom isn’t a hedge but a bundle of sticks”
Kim and his wife Mireille manage a 214-acre mixed livestock stock farm in Calverstown, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. They keep a herd of 75 pedigree suckler cows and their followers, a flock of c.80 sheep, as well as a few pigs in the summertime. The farm boasts a wide range of habitats – wetlands, woodlands, wet and dry grasslands, old buildings and walls – which, for the McCalls, makes a walk around the farm ‘a very pleasurable experience, even when things might not be going too well otherwise’.
Kim acknowledges that farming sustainably isn’t easy, particularly trying to remain profitable, but feels that if you manage the land within its capacity, it’s very doable – ‘farming for nature, not against it’ as he says. No artificial fertilizers are purchased, no pesticides are used and hedgerows and grasslands are rarely topped – ‘tidiness is a state of mind’ according to Kim – with the preferred approach being a careful and balanced management which has resulted in an ideal situation for nature – birds, butterflies, bees – to thrive. The McCalls work in this regard has been recognised by several National awards and several appearances on TV. The McCalls work closely with the National Biodiversity Data Centre, providing valuable data.
Kim is concerned about changes in the rural landscape, in particular the loss of wetlands to forestry, as we try to increase carbon sequestration, a potentially worrying trade-off in his opinion. He offers the following advice on farming for nature: ‘Stand back and look – observation is the basis for intelligence’.
Here is a leaflet that Kim and his wife Mirielle put together on their farm. View here: Calverstown Farm
Jim Cronin has a 16-acres organic market garden farm in Co.Clare where he has been adopting biological agriculture principles for the last 30 years without loosing many of the traditional methods of farming. Jim’s entire farming ethos is seamlessly entwined with nature conservation. Not only does he create a habitat for pollinators and wildlife but also for all the unseen worms and micro-organisms which are fundamental to growing crops and sustaining life above ground.
Mervyn manages a 500-acre mixed cattle and tillage farm with his father along the shore of Lough Ree, Co.Roscommon. The farm uses a low disturbance strip till system to protect soil structure, increase earthworms, reduce leaching and prevent soil erosion. They use cover crops which are then mulched on top of the soil as a green manure. Additionally, slurry has been spread using a low-emission system for the last 10 years in intensively farmed areas of their land. Mervyn’s is a good example of a farm that is making the transition from intensive methods of spraying to working with nature whilst not effecting the yield. “The earthworm has gone up four times since I stopped ploughing”.
Sean manages a 60-acre certified organic Cloncannon farm on the western slopes of the Devil’s bit Mountains, near Moneygall in North Tipperary. Sean has been farming since he took over from his father 15 years ago and now keeps a 20 cow suckler herd, as well as pigs, poultry and goats.
A University graduate with a Master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation, Sean is a heritage enthusiast, continuously planting native trees, putting in ponds for wildlife and pollinator strips for his beehives and birdlife. He does this to encourage biodiversity but also for his personal fulfilment and satisfaction ‘for when he has aged 30 or 40 years from now’. He says that this is part of ‘my 5 year plan, my 50 year plan, my 500 year plan’ and feels that farmers should think long-term like the native Americans, ‘seven generations from now’
Sean feels he is on a journey of learning and he is particularly passionate about the importance of soil and making sure it is properly nurtured to ensure good crop health – ‘the microbes and the fungi – so minute yet so powerful, they drive the whole system’. Sean runs numerous education programmes for primary and secondary schools, hosts events for Biodiversity and Heritage Week and opens the farm as an eco-tourist visitor site.
Oliver and his family farm 121 acres of winterage, meadow and pasture at Slieve Carran, Co. Clare. He has been involved in the Burren Programme since it began and manages his land in a way that exemplifies farming for nature. Oliver has done a variety of conservation actions on the farm, including restoring old field systems and protecting natural springs. He is passionate about nature and shares his knowledge freely with the next generation through farm walks with Botany students from NUIG. In doing this, he is spreading a real understanding of what it means to farm for nature among the next generation. Oliver recently won the national ‘Farming Together with Biodiversity’ award in recognition for his efforts in conservation farming.
Anthony Mooney from county Kildare runs a 200-acre beef farm with the help of his wife Mary Rose and son Conor. He runs a herd of between 100-120 cross-bred continental cattle. Anthony is passionate about biodiversity and nature conservation and this is reflected in his low-input farming system. Ponds, meadows, woodland and hedgerows are all important habitats on the farm.
Martin lives in Keel, Co Mayo with his wife Angela. They have 8 daughters and two sons and have farmed on Achill Island for seven generations. Martin farms a herd of 150 Black-faced Mountain Sheep on his shareholding of an extensive (20,000 acre) commonage, as well as on an area of machair (a rare seaside habitat). These ‘Mayo blackhead ewes’ have been kept on this farm for many generations and are perfectly adapted to grazing the mosaic of protected habitats – from mountain to seashore – where they play a key role in maintaining local biodiversity. Martin is also a master butcher and he and his family have, since 1962, run the only abattoir on Achill island. The Calveys sell their trade-marked ‘Achill Mountain Lamb’ from their local shop as a high-quality food product, one which has won numerous awards and is the choice of many top-chefs through the west of Ireland, including Ashford Castle. Martin is a champion of good environmental management – a member of the local ‘custodians of the commonage’ group who helps ensure the land is properly cared for, as well as a great advocate for the link between habitat management, local food production and the added ecosystem and financial value that can result. As his daughter Martina says ‘We respect nature, we work with it and it rewards us very well’. They were the overall winners of the Farming for Nature Award 2018 through public vote.
James Ham farms along his wife Martina in Mooyvore Co. Westmeath. Their 52ha farm is 50% under woodland/forestry and the other 50% is mature multispecies pasture including approximately 4ha of spring barley which is used for feed and straw. James has worked hard at greatly reducing the number of chemical inputs on the farm over the years. No insecticides have ever been used on the farm, and over the last 10 years the level of fungicide used on the crop has been reduced to the point that none was applied last year. Chemical fertiliser inputs have also been cut back and replaced with farmyard manure. They run a small suckler herd of about 20 Aubrac cows. There is over 4000 metres of hedgerow on the farm, equivalent to approx. 1.5ha of linear woodland, which is left mostly left untrimmed. Regular hedge maintenance is by traditional hedge laying. These thick and mature hedges provide not only a crucial habitat for birds and insects, but also shelter for the livestock. The continuous cover forestry system contains a wide range of hardwood and softwood trees. Tree species include hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, crab apple, oak, elm, holly, sycamore, alder, beech, birch, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Larch, Scots Pine and more. James maximised the amount of open spaces within the forestry plantations to help create wildflower reservoirs for insects and the wet areas and drains are ideal for dragonflies. “The afforested half of the farm, despite being relatively young, has greatly improved the amount of wildlife on the farm. Pine martin are now present, and the Jays are obviously doing their job, as we see little oak and hazel seedlings all over the site.”
Noel Kiernan farms 250 acres of mixed land and habitat – there is forestry, marsh, bogland, pasture and hay meadows. A naturalist his entire life, Noel is passionate about conservation in all forms – from native flora and fauna, to native Irish livestock breeds. Noel is a forester as well as a farmer and he is passionate about combining forestry and farming, as he believes these practices can be mutually beneficial when managed sustainably. There is 100 acres of native broadleaf forestry on the land.
Thomas Keane farms in the Dawros catchment in Connemara, Co.Galway. He farms 160 mountain ewes on a mosaic of high nature value peatlands and wet grasslands and is a participant of the Pearl Mussel Project EIP. The Pearl Mussel Project rewards farmers for the ecological quality of their land, which in turn contributes to the pristine water quality needed by the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. Tom’s system of farming has maintained and enhanced large areas of active Atlantic blanket bog, achieving a score of 10/10 on the Pearl mussel peatland score card for much of it. This is an excellent example of perfectly intact peatland which is farmed in a manner to benefit both the stock and the land.
Brigid O’Connor is a lifelong farmer from Camp County Kerry where she runs an organic sheep farming system. Brigid breeds 120 scotch ewes on 54 hectares. The farm is made up of 3 different land types – permanent pasture, heath and commonage. The farm is very extensively managed with minimal external inputs. The family have farmed the land for generations and Brigid is proud to carry on traditional methods of farming handed down to her from her parents and grandparents – “Growing up on a farm, you learn from your parents and your grandparents. I remember my grandfather teaching me things about sheep and it is knowledge that I still use today”. Brigid acknowledges and respects the high nature value of the land she farms, and its importance from a wildlife and biodiversity perspective. The land has never been reseeded and is managed is the most natural and low-impact manner possible. The bog contains a wonderful array of wildflowers including the rare Kerry Violet. There is a healthy population of pheasant nesting on the farm and the Hen Harrier is frequently seen overhead. Brigid diversified by the farm by running farm tours where she explains the history of the land and the importance of the farmland habitats. She was also recently involved the launch of the book “The beauty of the bogs of Kerry”. Brigid has a deep love for the land she cares for and sees herself as a custodian of the land.
Joe and Eileen farm 50-acres of enclosed farmland along with 1000 acres of commonage in the Knockmealdown Mountains, Co. Tipperary. They keep a herd of Belted Galloways and Galloways which are 100% grass fed and organic. They chose these cattle as they are well suited to the uplands, can be outside all year and can have a positive impact on their environment by controlling invasive species. They sell direct to customer. They are a good example of farmers that manage commonage ecologically and have their cattle outside 12 months of the year. “We don’t feel hard done by working with this land, we can see its benefits and how to capitalise on that is to work in sync with nature than trying to manipulate nature to give you something that isn’t naturally there.”
Donal, along with his wife Ita and two children, farms a 70-cow dairy herd on ‘Blossom Farm’ near Castlelyons, in the Bride valley, Co. Cork. While Donal runs what would at first be considered a ‘typical’ intensive farm, he has a keen interest in farming in a more nature-friendly way. As he puts it ‘we try to push the boat out all the time trying to make farming around here more sustainable’. He dedicates a proportion of his farm to biodiversity including ponds, pollinator strips and wild bird cover for overwintering birds. He keeps bees and farms with these in mind minimising herbicide use. He doesn’t cut hedges and has energy saving devices on his milking machines. Donal believes farmers can make a huge difference in improving biodiversity, lowering their carbon footprint and improving the quality of our water. Such is his conviction and vision, that he is one of the main drivers of an innovative new pilot project called The BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration In a Dairying Environment) Project which rewards farmers for delivering measurable improvements in biodiversity over a 5 year period. Donal is a very eloquent advocate for – and exponent of – farming for nature.
Norman Dunne along with his father Michael Dunne, run a 400-acre tillage farm outside Maynooth, Co. Kildare. After moving away from an intensive tillage system a few years ago, these farmers have been focusing on regenerating soil biology and reducing external inputs where possible on the farm. They now operate min-till system, using multi-species cover crops, crop rotations and biodynamic seed preparations. Since the reintroduction of regenerative farming methods on the land, there has been a significant increase in biodiversity and a return of numerous bird species to the farm.
Mark and Alison Hurst run the 70-acre Featherfield farm with their farm manager, Julian Laitenberger in Lullymore, Co.Kildare. The farm is very diverse with enterprises such as beef production with Dexter cattle, a small sheep enterprise, a poultry layer and as well as a collection of rare breed poultry. There is also a small vegetable and fruit growing as well as a beekeeping enterprise. They sell direct to customer and have an education centre as they are keen to encourage others to grow and produce food in a sustainable manner. “We are just visitors on this land, and strive to leave it better than we found it for nature…whilst making an income”
Stephen Morrison and his young family live on the 300-acre family farm near Kill, Co Kildare. They are the 3rd generation of the family to farm there. Stephen is a full time farmer with an 80 cow suckler herd, taking all progeny to finish. He is not organic but is transitioning away from inputs. He also has a tillage and forestry enterprise in place. Whilst the farm is busy and productive, Stephen has ensured that he farms in a balanced way and that he has a low impact on the wildlife that live and breed on these lands.
You can find more information on the work that Stephen and Heidi do on their farm through their website https://soearthprojects.com/
Mark Harold-Barry runs a mixed organic farm outside Tipperary Town. The 170-acre farm has been certified organic for almost 20 years. Mark grows organic oats for Flahavans and for winter feeding for his stock, he also grows seed oats for Gold Crop. There is about 90 acres of grassland on the farm, which is a mixture of permanent pasture and multispecies swards. Mark keeps a suckler herd of about 25 Aberdeen Angus/Hereford cattle and all of the animals are finished on the farm. He also keeps about 20 hives of honeybees, and the honey is sold locally in Tipperary. The family manage a kitchen garden on the farm and are relatively self-sufficient during the summer months. The farm is extensively managed and external inputs are minimal. There is about 40acres of woodland on the farm – a mix of hardwood and softwood trees, some very mature and some much younger. Mark follows in this father’s footsteps and continuously plants trees on the land – “My father is a great man and he has a policy of planting about half an acre of trees on the farm every year since he came here.” The woodland provides a wonderful habitat for wildlife. There is a river running through the farm and a pond on the land which attract birds such as the kingfisher, ducks and snipe. Ditches, hedgerows and field margins provide thick nature corridors throughout the land. Mark is proud to run a productive farm, all the while leaving plenty of space for wildlife and biodiversity to thrive.