Declan Quinlan is a lifelong farmer from County Offaly. The 100-acre farm is split between 2 sites. 20 acres of the land is in the Rapemills SAC, and this land contains two esker ridges and has been classified as species-rich calcareous grassland containing a tremendous variety of unique plant species. “As a young boy, I noticed all of the unique flowers growing on the land but it wasn't until I got older and started to do some research that I really realised the value and importance of these flowers.” The land is of mixed quality with some better grassland and some HNV land, but the farm never lent itself to intensive production and Declan always respected this. Over 20 years ago Declan was a dairy farmer, he then farmed a small number of deer, then he planted 40 acres with mixed broadleaf forestry, he bred and brought on sport horses and now he keeps a small number of horses on the land as well as boarding kennels. Haylage is cut off the better grassland for the horses. The farm is very extensively managed and Declan takes deep consideration of the unique habitats and wildlife on the land with every decision he makes regarding the farm. A neighbours sheep graze the esker in a very targeted and selective grazing regime. Scrub encroachment became an issue at the site 10-15 years ago. Declan realised that this was resulting in a loss of species-rich grassland and took it upon himself to painstakingly manually remove blackthorn and gorse over a number of years.
Declan has facilitated numerous research groups on the land over the years led by Dr John Feehan. He is now part of the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme where he continues to manage his land for biodiversity.
Declan is a very friendly farmer who has a great interest in biodiversity and in managing his land for nature conservation. He is currently in the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme which he entered in 2021 and which incentivises farmers to manage their land for biodiversity. The land Declan entered into the scheme contains the Ridge Road, SW of Rapemills SAC which consists of two esker ridges and is designated for species-rich calcareous grassland. The land has been in his family for three generations and was tradtionally grazed by cattle. Declan farmed deer at the site in the 1990's and then horses in more recent times. In latter years Declan did not own livestock himself but allows a neighbour to graze sheep at the site. However, Declan controls when grazing is to be removed or restored throughout the year and is very cognisant of not allowing the site to be overgrazed or undergrazed. Scrub encroachment became an issue at the site 10-15 years ago. Declan realised that this was resulting in a loss of species-rich grassland and took it upon himself to painstakingly manually remove blackthorn and gorse over a number of years. He retained whitethorn trees where they occured which has resulted in a beautiful mosaic of grassland and whitethorns dotted throughout the site. He has found the sheep grazing beneficial in controlling scrub regrowth and has maintained this management since. As part of the Farm Plan Scheme, grazing is now primarily focussed during the winter period to promote the grassland habitat with late summer grazing allowed if necessary. The site was already managed very well for grassland conservation before the farm plan and very little changes in terms of management were needed. The site has extensive areas of Annex I Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (* important orchid sites)  and is also an important site for the rare green-winged orchid and Declan takes great pride in the fact that there is such a great diversity of plant species at the site. He has faciliated numerous field trips of third level students to visit the site with John Feehan in the past. Declan would be a brilliant ambassador as he has a great understanding of the low intensity farming practices which are essential in maintaining species-rich grassland and he prides himself on managing his land for nature. Declan is also keen to learn about nature conservation and has been open to management changes as a participant in the Farm Plan Scheme.
Nominator: James Owen, Consultant farm planner, Oran Ecology