The Irish countryside has been shaped by farming for thousands of years, resulting in a rich tapestry of fields and hedgerows, archaeology and wildlife, prized by local communities and tourists alike. The unprecedented level of change in farming in recent decades has however distorted the traditional balance between people and their place. This has resulted, for example, in the intensification of farming in fertile lowlands and, inversely, in the reduction in activity. Brendan Dunford has created a new approach to sustaining some of our most iconic and best loved landscapes by placing farmers at the creative center of developing and delivering key conservation actions.
Dunford views farmers as not just producers of quality food but also as a key resource in sustaining the health of our countryside. But these farmers must be afforded the resources, the flexibility and the trust to deliver on this potential. With his Farming for Conservation Programme, farmers lead in the development and the delivery of key conservation actions on their farms and are rewarded for this. This approach has successfully blended the disparate and often contrarian fields of agriculture, conservation, heritage, and tourism to place farmers at the center of land stewardship and create financial incentives for environmentally-sound landscape management. Based on years of research and farmer input, Brendan Dunford and his team have designed a payment system to reward farmers for the delivery of public goods such as biodiversity and clean water, as well as co-funding necessary conservation infrastructure such as stone walls, water supplies, and access tracks.