Sunday 26 May 2019

Pride of the BRIDE Donal short-listed for 'Farming for Nature' biodiversity award

Castlelyons farmer Donal Sheen has been short-listed in the inaugural ‘Farming for Nature’ award for his work on the BRIDE Project
Castlelyons farmer Donal Sheen has been short-listed in the inaugural ‘Farming for Nature’ award for his work on the BRIDE Project

Bill Browne

The Castlelyons dairy farmer behind an innovative project aimed at rewarding farmers in the Bride Valley region for conserving wildlife on their land has been short-listed for a prestigious national biodiversity award.

Donal Sheehan, who helped design and now manages the BRIDE (Biodiversity Regeneration in a Dairying Environment) Project, is one of six finalists  in the inaugural Bord Bia sponsored 'Farming for Nature' Award, an independent initiative aimed at supporting High Nature Value (HNV) farming across Ireland. 

The award is part of a nationwide initiative that sources, shares and celebrates the stories of Irish farmers who are undertaking projects that enhance nature on their land and across their respective communities. 

A five-minute film about the work being done by Mr Sheehan and the other nominees can be viewed at, with the public invited to cast their vote for their favourite one - with the winner set to be unveiled later on this month.

Launched in April of this year the BRIDE project provides local farmers with bespoke habitat plans that identify the most appropriate and effective wildlife management plans for their farms. In turn, they receive a financial payment for the conservation measures they put in place. 

Speaking at the launch, Mr Sheehan said the five-year project was specifically designed to increase and maintain biodiversity on intensively managed farms through "simple, innovative measures."

"The effects on wildlife will be monitored through the project, which aims to create suitable habitats for local important populations of wildlife, including skylarks, yellowhammers, bumble bees and frogs and newts," he said. 

An ecologist will also work with participating farmers, focussing on vital habitats such as hedgerows, bogs, woodlands, pond and derelict buildings.  

Clusters of neighbouring farms are also encouraged to work collectively to enhance biodiversity on a larger scale than would be possible on an individual farm basis. 

"This is important as wild birds and other animals do not respect farm boundaries. Local participation will help forge a strong identity that values local wildlife and the 'farming with nature' concept," said Mr Sheehan. 

One of the more innovative aspects of the project is its 'higher payments for higher wildlife gains', which means the more flowers in a hedgerow or field margin, the higher the payment. 

"The greater reward for a higher quality product is very familiar to farmers, and the BRIDE Project applies this principle to the management of wildlife habitats. This means that farmers will be paid for the ongoing management of selected existing wildlife habitats, which is an important feature of the project," said Mr Sheehan.

Brendan Dunford, organiser of the 'Farming for Nature' award, said it was powerful to witness Mr Sheehan and the other nominees tell their "unique stories". 

"Donal has a keen interest in creating a more sustainable way of farming and believes farmers can make a huge difference in improving biodiversity, lowering their carbon footprint and improving the quality of our water," said Mr Dunford. 

He said that while recognising the damage that can sometimes result from the wrong type of farming, it was also important to celebrate the good stories and highlight role models like Donal Sheehan.

"They show that simple actions on the farm can make a big difference for nature without compromising viability, while making the farm a more enjoyable place to live, work and rear a family," said Mr Dunford.