KerryLIFE takes a turn for the better as nature flourishes

The Owenroe tributary of the Caragh River catchments

AN important socio-economic evaluation of KerryLIFE, an agri-environmental initiative that operated between 2014 and 2020, has been formally launched by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan.

The project covered two river systems – the Blackwater and Caragh River catchments in the Iveragh Peninsula – which are home to almost half of Ireland’s population of freshwater pearl mussels

The very rare aquatic species is an excellent indicator of pristine water quality and Minister Noonan said its survival in Iveragh is testament to the local people, particularly the farming community, who have worked hard to protect their important local ecosystem.

KerryLIFE invested in on-farm works to enhance and protect water quality in the two catchments with farmers fencing off river courses, installed drinking troughs and allowing nature to flourish.

Minister Malcolm Noonan: Paid tribute to the local communities

For many, it was counter-intuitive but working with the KerryLIFE team and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, they blocked drains in order to prevent sediment washing into the rivers. Techniques to restructure forests were also trialed across 220ha of public and private land in the catchments.

Minister Noonan paid tribute to the local communities who came on board with the project and thanked the farmers and foresters who got involved.

“They have made genuinely significant and impactful changes that will inform our work to conserve the precious pearl mussel in the future,” he said.

“Over the years and decades, land use policies relating to farming and forestry have varied considerably.

“Many of those policies were born out of social and economic needs as we saw them at the time and based on our understanding of our environment at that time,” he said.

“Today though, perspectives have changed, laws have been strengthened, our knowledge has improved and of course there is a much greater interest in nature,” Minister Noonan added.

The Blackwater and Caragh River catchments in the Iveragh Peninsula are home to almost half of Ireland’s population of freshwater pearl mussels

The independent external evaluation of KerryLIFE involved consultations with all participating farmers, interviews with members of the project steering committee and other agencies, an in-depth review of project documentation and detailed mapping of the two catchments.

The evaluation report highlights the importance of upland areas as refuges for biodiversity and as strongholds of indigenous farming practices and place-based traditional knowledge.

It notes the importance of including everybody in the local community – farming and non-farming – in supporting agri-environmental initiatives and the report calls for proper investment in upland communities and services, including nature conservation, and it points out that urban and lowland communities depend on the wide range of ecosystem services that Kerry’s uplands provide.

The authors recommend paying farmers adequately for ecosystem-service provision and developing comprehensive markets for their produce through creating a model of farming built on a foundation of sustaining nature and farming households in high nature value areas.

The evaluation was commissioned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and it was undertaken by an independent team of three researchers, Caroline Crowley, Karen Keaveney and Breandán Ó Caoimh.

KerryLIFE was co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE Programme, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, Coillte, Teagasc, and the South Kerry Development Partnership.