Lessons to be learned for our com­mu­ni­ties

In his monthly col­umn, SRUC’s Prof Davy McCracken of­fers an in­sight into work at the col­lege’s hill and moun­tain re­search cen­tre

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - FARMING -

I am just back from the west coast of Ire­land, where I was speak­ing at a con­fer­ence fo­cused on in­no­va­tion and part­ner­ship or­gan­ised by the Ir­ish Up­lands Fo­rum.

These meet­ings are great for two-way ex­changes of in­for­ma­tion and this one was no ex­cep­tion.

In­deed I came away from the con­fer­ence think­ing long and hard about what lessons Scot­land might learn from the Ir­ish Govern­ment and its ap­proach to sup­port­ing up­land com­mu­ni­ties to man­age moun­tain en­vi­ron­ments sus­tain­ably.

It has been recog­nised in Ire­land not only that val­ued up­land land­scapes are de­pen­dent on man­age­ment but also that govern­ment agen­cies lack ca­pac­ity to un­der­stand the wider needs of the up­lands.

This has led to a voice for the up­lands of­ten be­ing miss­ing in dis­cus­sions over lo­cal and na­tional poli­cies.

To counter this, the govern­ment funded Her­itage Coun­cil has sup­ported the set­ting up of an Up­lands Part­ner­ship Net­work, which has 25 lo­cal groups up and run­ning.

Their vi­sion is to main­tain up­land com­mu­ni­ties and Ire­land’s moun­tains as at­trac­tive, vi­brant and wel­com­ing places.

The net­work is an all-Ire­land ini­tia­tive com­pris­ing na­tional and lo­cal govern­ment, mem­bers of the up­land com­mu­nity, hill farm­ers, recre­ational users and eco­log­i­cal and ru­ral non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The fo­cus is on agri­cul­ture, tourism, so­cial her­itage and na­ture con­ser­va­tion.

The Ir­ish Govern­ment has also been very suc­cess­ful in mo­bil­is­ing Euro­pean fund­ing to help es­tab­lish and fa­cil­i­tate lo­cally led groups to tackle agri­cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges on farm­land in in­no­va­tive ways.

A to­tal of 14 of these op­er­a­tional groups are be­ing sup­ported us­ing Euro­pean In­no­va­tion Part­ner­ship and Ir­ish Govern­ment fund­ing.

They cover a wide range of top­ics such as im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity, de­vel­op­ing more sus­tain­able crop­ping sys­tems and man­ag­ing par­tic­u­lar habi­tats and species more ap­pro­pri­ately.

Im­por­tantly, three of these op­er­a­tional groups have an up­land fo­cus.

These groups are lo­cated in the MacGil­ly­cuddy Reeks in the south-west, the Black­stairs moun­tains in the south-east and the Wick­low moun­tains south of Dublin.

All three groups have a fo­cus on re-es­tab­lish­ing graz­ing in a sus­tain­able man­ner to help im­prove habi­tat qual­ity, bio­di­ver­sity value and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity.

And with a com­bined bud­get of around 4.5 mil­lion eu­ros ( just over £4m) they should be in a po­si­tion to achieve a lot over the next five years.

There has been talk in re­cent years of the need to de­velop an up­land vi­sion for Scot­land.

With­out also en­sur­ing greater govern­ment and agency sup­port for es­tab­lish­ing lo­cally led part­ner­ships it might prove dif­fi­cult to achieve this vi­sion in prac­tice.

“The vi­sion is to main­tain up­land com­mu­ni­ties as vi­brant places”

LOOK­ING AHEAD: Tack­ling agri­cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges on farm­land in in­no­va­tive ways is vi­tal

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