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Lessons for Irish commonages from England and Scotland?

Visit Ireland to England and Scotland

On common grazings, one person has right to pasture animals on land owned by someone else, much of it is managed collectively by a number of individuals (shareholders). It is estimated to cover over 1.6 million hectares in Britain and Ireland, 440,000 ha in Ireland alone. These areas have natural/other constraints which limit agricultural production.

Visit Ireland to England and Scotland

However, they are of high environmental quality delivering significant benefits not only for livestock farmers but to society in general in terms of provision of services such as cultural landscapes, water quality and availability, climate stability, resilience to flooding. These areas face significant challenges (economic viability; rural depopulation; ageing population and a general reduction in activity) and some opportunities (availability of rural development schemes; recognition of value of services provided to society).

Visit Ireland to England and Scotland

In recognition of these issues IT Sligo in partnership with EFNCP has just completed a week long training programme in Scotland and Northern England. The aim was to raise the capacity in common land policy and management of professionals involved in knowledge transfer and rural development. The 22 participants included staff from Teagasc and Rural development Companies from across Ireland.

Visit Ireland to England and Scotland

The programme was funded by the EU's Leonardo Da Vinci VETPRO Programme administered through Leargas for DG Education and Culture. LEONARDO DA VINCI VETPRO is part of the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme, aimed specifically at raising the professional capacity of persons responsible for knowledge transfer through vocational training by means of transnational training programmes.

Visit Ireland to England and Scotland

Gwyn Jones (EFNCP) highlighted that "Irish commonage have many similarities with common land in the rest of these islands - a common Gaelic tradition with Scotland and an inheritance of English legal concepts. Similar issues face common graziers under both the English and Scottish legal systems, and the response has been distinctly different in the two cases. Both sets of experiences have potential lessons for Ireland - both good and bad. We know that farmers with commonage will face many challenges in the current CAP reform - we need to learn from each other. ". James Moran (IT Sligo) added that "the valuable services provided to society by farmers in commonage areas and the difficulties faced by these areas much be taken into account in the ongoing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Commonage land needs targeted rural development measures to sustain this valuable resource and these need to be drawn up in consultation with all stakeholders. We hope that this programme can play some small part in enabling participants to stimulate debate, encourage grassroots collaboration and promote innovative approaches."

Lessons learnt for capacity building on Irish Commonages

In discussions on the lessons learnt for capacity building for Irish Commonage the following points were raised:

  1. Common grazings:
    • Governance of commons (how to have working commonage with active farmers supported by inactive: collective shareholders group);
    • Need for collective buy in by commonage shareholders and the necessity for a robust internal agreement between them.
  2. Sustainable management:
    • Different livestock types in ewe equivalents facilitated;
    • Have system devised by NPWS for proposed overall stocking levels;
    • Need monitoring of existing stocking levels and relationship to favourable condition;
    • Need adaptive management structure;
    • The timing of the grazing is also important, as the sheep will graze different vegetation during the winter (more heather as there is very little else available) than during the summer (more grassy areas);
    • The control of heather & scrub through burning/swiping is also a necessity on a lot of commonages especially where under grazing has been an issue in the past;
    • Bracken control is an issue not necessarily solved by changing the stock numbers;
    • There may need to be lead-in periods for changing stocking levels. This is not something that can be changed overnight, especially if stock are to be grazed at different times of the year and also if they have to be increased;
    • The whole farming system on farms may need to be looked at. This may involve a change in the breeding and systems of sheep production (e.g. away from spring lamb production and towards producing light hill lamb or breeding replacements for lowland flocks). This will develop long-term farming systems that utilize commonages rather than have farmers chasing short-term market trends;
    • The impacts of recreational users, also has an effect on the sustainable management of some of these commonages.
  3. Agri-environment:
    • Phrased as payment for positive management;
    • Collective approach;
    • Top up for commonage for increased transaction costs;
    • Scheme that targets commonage.
  4. Need for overall rural development actions for commonage areas:
    • Additional income opportunities;
    • Sustainable communities (balance between society, environment and economy).
  5. Capacity building:
    • Leadership and organisational skills required e.g. training on how to develop a committee for commonage shareholders;
    • Mentorship programme for commonage areas - Teagasc discussion groups may be an appropriate model;
    • Would need to include technology adoption programme (both agriculture production and environment technology);
    • Financing of a capacity building programme may be possible through RDP but needs investigation;
    • As well as building capacity among farmers also need to build capacity among advisors;
    • A pilot capacity building programme with clear objectives was suggested;
    • There is a real need for ongoing monitoring and research to inform the development of sustainable practical management programmes for commonage areas in Ireland.

Next Steps

In order to build on the momentum of this mobility experience the following next steps were suggested for wider commonage management in Ireland and for this:

  1. Wider commonage management in Ireland
    • Need to engage with Government Departments in any future development.
    • Suggested that a formal submission of joint report be made to relevant Departments before the next stage of the CFPs.
    • Pilot capacity building programme for farmers need to be developed and implemented on commonage areas.
    • Pilot needs to include/develop mechanism on how sustainable commonage management is to be achieved.
    • Pilot should be developed in liaison with farmers on trial LPIS parcels across the country.
    • Successful pilots should become flagships for knowledge transfer and best practice.
    • The next two years are a crucial period in the development of the CAP. Time is needed to investigate approaches for the management of common land; the benefits to farmers and to their commonages; along with the changes in payment systems that new approaches may bring. Time is needed by government departments to evaluate how a scheme, potentially involving several thousand commonages could be set up, financed and administered. It is important that this time is used effectively if progress is to be made. In this regard pilot projects in developing governance structures could play a key role for all stakeholders.
  2. Group
    • It is important that the current group of participants maintain communications and they could potentially act as a country wider commonage management support /advisory group.

More Information

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European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism
Date: 2023/09/30
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