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

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


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