The farmer-led Blackstairs Farming Futures project aims i) to develop and implement a results-based payment approach to conserve and enhance habitats on the mountain commonages and its associated High Nature Value (HNV) farmland; ii) to support cooperation within and between commonages and with other stakeholders and ii) to improve the sustainability of the natural and cultural heritage of area for farmers and the broader community.
The project objectives are i) develop and implement a hybrid result based agri-environment payment scheme for the Blackstairs commonage land and its associated HNV hinterland ; ii) develop and trial an effective commonage governance model for commonage shareholders; and iii) engage the wider community in the natural, culture and farming traditions of the mountain.
Location of the schemeone region
The Blackstairs Mountains Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is 5,000 ha of open mountain on the border of counties Carlow and Wexford. It contains 17% of Ireland’s Dry Heath habitat. The Blackstairs Mountains and hinterlands are experiencing socio-economic decline. An aging farmer population and low incomes from existing hill farming outputs are leading to an increased risk of land abandonment. The intervention rationale in the Blackstairs is based on the need to reduce the threats to the achievement of favourable status of semi-natural habitats and associated species of conservation concern.
Duration of the schemeSince: 2018
Objective(s) of the scheme / project
- Cultural heritage
- Erosion control
- Water quality
The project objective is to adopt innovative approaches to add value to the Blackstairs hill farming system whilst simultaneously improving habitat condition.
The Blackstairs Farming Futures (BFF) EIP pilot proposes to develop and trial four innovations:
- A Results Based Agri-Environment Payment Scheme for upland habitats and commonage land.
- An effective commonage governance model for Ireland.
- Habitat management for red grouse and wider upland biodiversity by commonage farmers in the Blackstairs.
- Wider community engagement in the environment, culture and tradition of farming in the Uplands.
Which habitats or species are in the focus of the scheme / project?
- Only birds of BD
The Blackstairs Mountains SAC (site code: 000770) has Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix  and European dry heaths  listed as its features of interest. The range is predominantly dry heath, with patches of wet heath and upland blanket bog. Evidence of red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica). is mostly historical or anecdotal, though suitable habitat exist.
Which indicators are used?
- Habitats (incl FFH and BD)
- Species (incl FFH and BD)
- Physical structures (e.g. dead wood, presence of brushwood, hollow trees, tall grass)
Locally-led agri-environmental schemes facilitate farmers and commonage shareholders to take ownership of the sustainable development of their land. Commonage refers to land held in common ownership on which two or more landowners or farmers have grazing rights or shares. In Ireland, over 11,000 farmers have a shareholding in one or more of the 4,500 commonages. Recently the number of shareholders grazing and managing commonages has declined, accelerating the disappearance of their traditional collective management. Commonage Community Groups (CCG) is an initiative to incentivise the ethos of joint control. The CCG develop an agreement or set of rules to work together and appoint a Chair. The Chair is responsible for the internal and external management and communications relating to their activities.
The BFF project uses a hybrid RBP scheme that includes a payment for the quality of habitat (score) and for complementary measures designed to improve the score. The scoring system links the quality of the habitat to payments. The system uses a scorecard with surrogates or indicators for measuring the habitat quality. Each surrogate or indicator has a scale from good to bad, reflecting its proximity to its target. The higher the score, the greater the payment. The annual score of the commonage provides the CCG with an assessment of the habitat quality. Therefore, the CCG must understand the drivers of the score and use it to inform their management decisions.
Complementary measures or non-productive investments are options available to the CCG to assist them to improve the quality of the habitat in the early stages of the scheme.
The CCG receives a payment based on the commonage score and any investment in complementary measures. The distribution of commonage payments to the CCG members is an internal matter.
Design of scheme / project
- Hybrid result based payment with complementary management based payments
The main project activities are:
1) Results based element – reward good habitat condition of the SAC and adjacent HNV farmland using scoring system for indicators or characteristics.
2) Complementary actions – Managements to improve habitat quality, including grazing management plans, bracken control, targeted grazing aids, scrub control, controlled burning, removal and control of invasive species, possible reintroduction of cattle, implementation of a controlled burning programme, nest protection/predator control, fencing and improvement of access tracks to commonages;
3) Complementary enhancement actions – protect and enhance archaeological sites, repairing of certain traditional granite dry stone walls that support sustainable management.
4) Commonage Governance – The development of Commonage Community Groups that brings together the shareholders to collectively manage the commonage.
4) Training and awareness-raising – available to all participants on an on-going basis.
5) Ongoing project monitoring and evaluation including scoring system and payments, cost of measures, awareness, training, budgets, and benefits to/impact on the wider community.
By which fund(s) is the scheme / project implemented?
- Other measures of Rural Development
EIP operational group
Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 for Operational Groups (in the sense of Art 56 of Reg.1305/2013).
How are the incentives (payment levels) calculated?
Income foregone and costs incurred
Calculations are based on the costs and income foregone of the farming practices which are generally required to achieve the desired result. Labour costs of complemeentary actions.
Is there a top up in case of reaching the goals?
How many hectares are in the scheme (year 2020)?
- 1.001 – 2.000
How many farmers take part in the scheme?
- 50 – 100
How are participating farmers supervised/advised?
- Advisors visits (optional)
- Advice by telephone
- Information documents (pamphlets, reports, etc.)
- Information meetings/workshops (voluntary)
Are there any evaluation results (2020)?
2019 Annual report available
Blackstairs Farming Group
Carlford House, Carrigduff, Bunclody, Co. Wexford
Martin Shannon, Project Implementation Officer: 00 353 (0) 85 749 7314
Owen Carton, Project Manager: 00 353 (0) 87 925 3314
Tom Gorman, Project Ecologist: 00 353 (0) 83 868 3825