Calvey Family

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’.

Having worked previously as High Nature Value Farming Officer Ireland for the EFNCP I had the pleasure of working closely for some of my time with the Calvey Family from Achill Island and I would like to nominate Martin and Calvey’s Achill Mountain Lamb for this award for the following reasons:
I believe they have contributed to the protection and enhancement of nature on Achill Island in a manner that is originally rooted in their commitment to the Mayo Blackface Mountain sheep breed. The Calvey’s can trace their original flock strain to 1856. This breed is perfectly adapted to grazing the mosaic of protected habitats that exist on the mountains of Achill and in correct densities they can help to restore and maintain the special areas of conservation. The tradition of seasonally moving sheep between the mountain and the machair also contributes to the protection of this habitat, which is largely limited to the west coast of Ireland and Scotland. Chough and Whooper swan, both Annex I listed species on the Birds and Habitats Directive use the machair as a major foraging source and it is the sheep grazing of the machair at appropriate levels that ensure this foraging source remains stable. Grazing by this light weight breed also ensures that the soft surface structure of the machair remains intact and provides the correct environment for the very rare mosses that grow here.

Despite the changes to policy and the trend to sometimes put heavier lowland breeds on the upland areas the Calveys have remained consistent in their traditional way of farming while being progressive, innovative and responsive to a changing market. They now are the only abattoir on Achill Island with family members running the local business and butchering the lamb themselves. They have, on average, paid €1 above the factory prices for lambs brought to their abattoir. This not only incentivises local farmers to sell their lambs locally but it also greatly reduces the transport costs and carbon emissions on travelling to the nearest mart as sometimes sheep are even walked to the abattoir. They insist on high standards and bonuses are offered for clean trailers and clean sheep and sometimes farmers are asked to return their sheep to the mountain for a longer period as the butcher is a local farmer and knows exactly how long it will take to produce a perfect carcass. In a time when small scale abattoirs are disappearing this family run business has remained agriculturally, economically and socially relevant and progressive by concentrating on how to work best in their own local landscape and producing an excellent food product.

A look at their website will show their passion has not gone unnoticed by chefs, food writers and conservationists alike. I would encourage you to look at the video ( ) the EFNCP produced in 2015 to illustrate how innovative, environmentally sustainable methods of food production can help protect not only our protected habitats but our cultural and natural resources as well.

(Nominator: Colin Gallagher, Ecologist)

Martin Calvey farms Black-faced Mountain Sheep on Achill Island, Co. Mayo. Martin's also a master butcher, and he and his family run the only abattoir on the island. From the family butchers, he sells his trade-marked 'Achill Mountain Lamb' as a high-quality food product, that has won numerous awards and is the choice of many top-chefs through the west of Ireland including Ashford Castle, Mount Falcon Hotel and many other restaurants.

In creating a premium market for his lamb, along with his familys' 'Calvey's butchers', Martin has also provided a market for other farmers on Achill Island, which encourages and incentivizes this traditional farming practice on the Island. Importantly, he has highlighted the importance of a sustainable environment and landscape of the rare machair and peatland habitats on which his sheep graze, providing perfect conditions for some of the only examples of some species of moss in Ireland.

He is a champion of good environmental management and extensively speaks of the importance of species diversity on his blanket bog hills and machair, and the link between habitat management, local food production and the added ecosystem and financial value that it brings.

I include two links, the first being a video made by the EFNCP on the process in which Martin is a key figure (although he doesn't actually appear in the video himself) and a link to the family butchers web-site, where there is a video that feature Martin himself.

(Nominator: Derek McLoughlin, RBAPS Coordinator)

They were the overall winners of the Farming for Nature Award 2018 through public vote. 

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