Michael Keegan (Luggala Estate)
Michael Keegan is farm manager of Luggala Estate in county Wicklow. The 5000-acre estate was purchased by Luggala Estate Ltd. in 2019 and currently three full-time staff are undertaking a large restoration project on the land – "This is likely the largest privately owned restoration project in the country." Luggala estate is a mix of upland blanket bog, dry heath, acid grassland, meadows, mixed woodlands some of which are native and some conifer plantations. There are also two large lakes and two rivers running through the land. A baseline study of habitat condition has informed decisions on the management of the estate. Michael is now implementing an extensive environmental management plan throughout the entire estate. Actions to date include heather cutting to benefit red grouse and other species, treatment of the invasive Rhododendron plants in the woodland, bruising and treatment of bracken, repair and restoration of the traditional drystone walls on the estate, management of deer population including the culling of unhealthy animals, tagging and recording of raptors in conjunction with the NPWS, gathering seeds from native trees and shrubs on the estate for propagation and woodland restoration and gully planting with native trees and shrubs – "In terms of reforestation, we are targeting areas of the estate where there would have been woodland previously and we are replanting in those areas. The idea being to join the areas of woodland creating wildlife corridors throughout the estate." Future plans include the incorporation of cattle to the land as a means of conservation grazing, re-wetting of blanket bog areas, additional planting of native trees and conversion of plantations to broadleaves.
Michael is actively involved in the local farming community, and he is very keen to share the story and development of Luggala Estate as an example for upland restoration, nature conservation and delivering various ecosystem services.
Michael Keegan as Farm Manager, is part of a committed team actively striving to improve habitat condition on Luggala Estate in the Wicklow Mountains. Mountaineering Ireland is nominating Michael and the team at Luggala to highlight how upland habitats can be brought into better condition, and because we believe the learning from Luggala could inform upland management in other areas. The 5,000 acre Luggala Estate is made up of wet heath, dry heath, blanket bog, lakes, rivers, meadows and woodland (both native and conifer plantations). The estate includes the mountain of Luggala with its striking granite cliffs, and the neighbouring summit of Knocknacloghoge, as well as the very popular walk from Pier Gates to Lough Dan. This landscape has attracted walkers, climbers and sightseers for many decades, with the iconic view over Lough Tay being one of the most photographed locations in Ireland. Since the current owners acquired Luggala Estate just over two years ago a transformation has been instigated. A baseline study of habitat condition has informed decisions on the management of the estate. Actions to date include: Treatment of the invasive Rhododendron ponticum in woodland; Bruising and treatment of bracken; Tagging and recording of raptors in conjunction with NPWS; Repair and restoration of traditional drystone walls, benefitting nature and cultural heritage; Management of the deer population including the removal of unhealthy animals; Heather cutting to benefit red grouse and other species; Gathering seeds from native trees and shrubs on the estate for propagation and woodland restoration; Gully planting with native trees and shrubs . Future actions to enhance Luggala’s natural environment will include Re-wetting of blanket bog areas; Introduction of cattle to assist with conservation grazing (e.g. breaking down bracken); sheep have already been removed from the estate; Further planting of native trees and conversion of plantations to broadleaves. Michael’s involvement in all of the above will contribute to the protection of nature and enhance the capacity for the landscape of Luggala to deliver a host of ecosystem services. These services, the products of sustainable management of an upland landscape, include carbon sequestration and storage, slope stabilisation and flood mitigation, improved water quality, and increased biodiversity. Other actions which benefit Luggala’s provision of cultural ecosystem services include: Managed access for responsible recreation, with a liaison team in place at weekends to welcome people and to gently encourage compliance with the estate’s code of conduct; Heritage study of archaeological sites on the estate; Facilitating school tours with the aim of getting the message to the next generation; Hosting Mountaineering Ireland and many other community and voluntary organisations that have a connection with the estate. Michael and the team are transforming Luggala, but Michael’s own attitudes to upland farming have also been transformed over the past two years, resulting in changes to Michael’s farming practices on his home farm as well as at Luggala. It is our belief that Michael has the affability, conviction, and communication skills to be a powerful ambassador for upland habitat restoration. Michael is a young farmer, and an active IFA member, he is currently Chair of the Enniskerry IFA branch and a past vice-Chair of Wicklow IFA. These connections place Michael in a position to influence the wider farming community. Along with his colleagues, Michael is facilitating responsible and sustainable recreation in tandem with his upland management work. He has shown that he can be instrumental in building understanding of upland management amongst recreational users, school groups and the wider community. Michael is a Board member of the Wicklow Uplands Council and is also contributing to that organisation’s work to benefit people, places and nature.
Nominator: Helen Lawless, Access and Conservation Officer, Mountaineering Ireland