Catchment News

Locally Led Agri-environment Schemes: Innovation, partnership, locally adapted and results orientated solutions

Ireland’s Locally Led Agri-environment Scheme (LLAES) proposals in our current Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 have significant potential to bring innovative solutions to bear to ensure sustainable land management. It is specifically targeted at meeting the requirements of EU Birds, Habitats and Water Framework Directives and has a total budget over the programme period of €70 million.

The LLAES measure is included in the RDP to complement the national level Green Low-Carbon Agri-environment Scheme (GLAS) which is a traditional action based approach which pays farmers to undertake particular actions which are linked to cross-cutting objectives of climate change, water quality and biodiversity. The LLAES aims to address particular environmental and biodiversity challenges not addressed at national level by GLAS. It is envisaged that this will include both schemes addressing centrally identified priorities, and also an open competitive call. All priorities will be linked to implementation of the Birds, Habitats and Water Framework Directives. The centrally identified priorities include the continuation of the successful BurrenLIFE programme, priority pearl mussel catchments, and hen harrier areas. LLAES should encourage locally driven solutions and will require submission of proposals by local groups accompanied by detailed estimates of costs. The only current theme identified for the competitive call in the RDP is the conservation/restoration of upland peatlands. At the moment it looks like there will be LLAES developed for the Burren; Freshwater Pearl Mussel Catchments; Hen Harrier Area and Upland Peatlands.

The detail of how the LLAES measure will operate is not yet finalised apart from the Burren scheme. Looking at the Burren together with the overview of the LLAES measures available from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine gives us some pointers on how other locally led schemes might operate.

BurrenLIFE takes a farmer led approach where the farmer nominates and co-funds conservation actions on their farm, giving them the freedom to farm. This is similar to the traditional action based approach of GLAS but what makes the Burren different it that it combines these actions with a results based payment. To ensure that the desired results are achieved payments are made to farmers based on the environmental condition of their farm. Essentially each field gets a quality score and farmers who deliver the best environmental outcomes receive the highest payments.  This innovative programme is held up as an example across the EU of how results based agri-environment schemes can work.

Key to its development and success has been the local partnership approach where farmers, NGOs, state agencies and government departments came together to find locally tailored and practical management solutions. This partnership is solidified in the implementation of the scheme where the farmers tailor the scheme to their farms and are supported by a dedicated project team, steering group and farm advisors.

A partnership approach will be key to the success of other LLAES over the next 5 years. The partnership approach works and is needed to secure stakeholder involvement and bring together the range of expertise to develop and implement the scheme. Through the development of the partnerships dedicated community champions will emerge that will take the initiative and drive innovation. There are currently a number of groups around the country setting up local partnerships and the prospect of a LLAES is a welcome catalyst for the development of such partnerships. The development of these local partnerships can be an opportunity for farmers and the wider community to come together. Supported by government departments and agencies these groups have the potential to achieve the sustainable management of natural resources at local level.

Locally-led Schemes – A suggested 10 step plan

Below is a suggested 10 step plan to develop a LLAES proposal that may be useful to local groups interested in LLAES. As can be seen local partnerships will need considerable support to develop meaningful proposals. Emerging groups should be supported as LLAES have significant potential to develop results orientated and innovative solutions.

1.         What is the environmental/biodiversity goal for your area?Current priorities = Hen Harrier, Pearl Mussel Catchments and Upland Peatlands. Set goals related to yours selected priority
2.         What is the environmental baseline?What is the current state of the target for your area? Use existing information where possible.
3.         What is already paid for in GLAS?LLAES must be additional to GLAS, double payment is not allowed.
4.         Define specific target and locationWhat is your specific target in terms of land type and location? Should be informed by step 2.
5.         Start developing proposalsAt this stage the local group should assess if it has the expertise and resources to develop programme. Identify if there is local support available?
6.         Build understanding of the relationship between farm management and your environmental targetWhat are the qualities of a field/farm that provide the optimum conditions to achieve your environmental goal. Can a set of costed actions be developed that are linked to the achievement of optimum condition?
7.          Development of indicators of successCan a simple set of variables be selected that can be used to measure the delivery of the required result for the environment? Used as a basis for payment for result.
8.         Are landscape-scale measures required?Is there a need for groups of farmers to work together to deliver the required results? If desired this will add additional complexity that needs to be taken into account in scheme design.
9.         Identification of institutional capacity to deliverNeed to ensure sufficient resources (financial and staff) will be available for ongoing implementation, monitoring and evaluation if proposal is successful. Ensure running costs are built into proposal.
10.      Draft proposal developed and ready for call.Includes: Scheme outline for area covering geographical extent; Target species/habitats; Scheme requirements; Detailed costings including resource requirements for ongoing implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Article by James Moran, Sligo IT

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