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Progress and evolution of Burren Life

Burren Life is a locally targeted conservation programme which invests in Burren farmers, their land and livestock. Burren Life has pioneered a novel ‘hybrid’ approach to farming for conservation which sees farmers paid for both work undertaken and, most importantly, for the delivery of defined environmental objectives. Within Burren Life, farmers are helped to prepare their own simple farm plan (most only 3 pages and very visual) each year by their trained advisor and the Burren Life team. The plan is tailored to suit the needs of the individual farm and outlines the two payment categories: (1) Payment for Actions and (2) Payment for Results:

1. Payment for Actions

The annual farm plan contains a list of actions (jobs) which are nominated by the farmer with the aim of improving the site’s management and conservation condition. Each job is individually costed and co-funded by the farmer, and is carried out within the year by the farmer and/or a local contractor. Payment issues only when jobs are complete and to a satisfactory standard. The farmer can ‘opt-out’ of a planned action if he/she so chooses, ensuring maximum flexibility for the farmer.

Most farms nominate a mixture of jobs to suit the needs of their land e.g. removing encroaching scrub from species-rich grassland, repairing internal walls, improving water supplies or enhancing access. Work completed over the first 5 years of the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP) includes:

  • 214 ha of scrub (mainly hazel and blackthorn) removed across a wide area of the Burren
  • 137 km of (circa 3m wide) stock paths opened through scrub to reconnect areas of grazing
  • 89 km of broken wall (gaps!) repaired and 600 new gates fitted
  • 400 new watering points installed and scores of sensitive springs protected
  • 45 km of vehicle access tracks repaired or created, enabling improved long-term management.

2. Payment for Results

Every eligible field of species-rich Burren grassland and heath is assessed annually with a user-friendly ‘habitat health’ checklist. Each field receives a score between 1 and 10: all fields with a score greater than 3 have received payment but higher scores receive higher payments. This gives farmers the incentive to manage their fields in ways that will improve their scores and their payment as well.

The results-based payment system allows farmers greater freedom to decide how to manage their land (with advice if needed) and also guarantees the taxpayer better value for money - no delivery, no payment! It also generates data (see graph below) which demonstrates the positive environmental impact of Burren Life. This graph shows that, between 2010 and 2014, the area of Burren grassland in very good condition (scoring 8, 9, 10) increased and the area in poorer condition (scoring 3-7) decreased.

Impact of Burren Life

Over the course of the first 5 years (2010-2014), Burren Life has had major environmental and socio-economic impacts in the Burren. €5m has been invested directly in the region, with an average of €6,500 per year going to each farmer, and the added benefit is that much of this money is recycled locally. Farmers themselves have invested an additional €1.3m in the programme through co-funding of farm works, amounting to a total spend of €6.3m. This funding has contributed to a number of spin-offs such as increased work for local contractors, more custom for local shops and manufacturers (e.g. Burren gates) and new farm-based tourism enterprises.

Internationally, Burren Life has received many plaudits for its practical, ‘hybrid’ approach to farming and conservation whereby farmers are helped to use their own knowledge and expertise to solve local issues and are rewarded accordingly if they deliver the required environmental benefits. Building on this success are the new EU-funded pilot projects on ‘Results-based’ Agri-environment schemes in Ireland and elsewhere.

Burren Life has delivered a range of proven environmental benefits on about 14,500 ha of prime Burren habitat. It has cemented strong partnerships between farmers and management agencies, helped to create a very positive attitude towards conservation among farmers, and has generated a far greater appreciation of the role of farmers by the wider community. Through this work, Burren Life has made a very meaningful and lasting contribution to the future of Ireland’s most extraordinary landscape, the Burren.


Burren Life is funded by
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (National Parks and Wildlife Service)

Burren Life Contact Details:

Address: Old Schoolhouse, Carron, Ennis, Co. Clare
Telephone: (353) 065-7089000

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European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
Date: 2020/07/10
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