Ministers O’Brien and Noonan congratulates LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature for winning major European award for agri-environment pilot with farmers in the northwest

Date Released: Thursday, May 30, 2024

LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature (WAN), led by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and funded by the EU LIFE programme, has won the 2024 Natura 2000 Award in the category ‘Working together for nature’.

The Natura 2000 Award highlights projects that demonstrate excellence in nature conservation and sustainable land use. Wild Atlantic Nature is the first Irish project to win such an award.

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, congratulated Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE IP and said “this is an incredible achievement and speaks volumes to the huge progress being made in our engagement with nature in Ireland. My congratulations to the NPWS, Derek McLoughlin and his team and to all the farmers and landowners involved in a win that is a truly a great reflection on partnership in nature”

Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, said:

“I warmly congratulate the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE IP team for their impressive win. This award not only recognises the team’s hard work and dedication, but also celebrates the role of farmers in tirelessly managing and protecting Ireland’s Natura 2000 network. Nearly 100 projects vied for five awards and having the European judging panel validate the commitment and results of the Wild Atlantic Nature LIFE project is very special.”

The Wild Atlantic Nature results-based agri-environmental payment scheme (RBPS) was a pilot initiative from National Parks and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, implemented in 2021-2022. The project aimed to develop capacity among farmers, farm advisors, policy-makers and scientists to deliver improved ecosystem services – including water quality, biodiversity and climate regulation – in a way that works for both landowners and the environment. The RBPS directly links farmers’ agri-environment payments to the ecological condition of their land through a scorecard-based approach that assesses different habitat types, and captures the level of environmental services provided. In this way, good environmental management is rewarded and improvement on lower-scoring lands is incentivised.

Speaking at the awards in Brussels, project manager Dr Derek McLoughlin said:

We are delighted to receive this award on behalf of everyone involved in the project. We have built on the success of other agri-environment projects such as the Burren Programme, and Hen Harrier and Pearl Mussel Project EIPs, and brought their learnings to new areas. None of this would be possible without the support and engagement of farmers. Our experiences working with farmers have been extremely positive, and shows that if the right structures are in place, farmers can and will deliver for nature.

In all, over 820 farmers across 63,000 hectares of Natura 2000 and neighbouring land participated in the Wild Atlantic Nature RBPS, with more than €3m in direct payments to farmers. The learnings informed the development of the Department of Agriculture’s results-based Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme Cooperation Project (ACRES CP). There are now almost 20,000 farmers participating in the ACRES CP programme (2023-2027), covering an area of 1,160,000 ha, including over 85% of Ireland’s blanket bog SACs, with a total budget of €750million.

Niall Ó Donnchú, Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service commented:

The NPWS recognises the primary role of landowners to manage the land in a sustainable way and to deliver the ecosystem goods and services that the public want and need. LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature is building on landowners’ knowledge and experience and using the success of the results-based payment scheme pilot to deliver related projects focusing on financing and restoration of peatlands, a home retrofitting pilot, training and education activities, and the Natura Communities initiative. The success here tonight is down the farmer and landowner participation and to the team involved, led by Derek McLoughlin. I would like to congratulate all involved. This is a fantastic testament to the power of partnership, collaboration and engagement

Working Together to Protect NatureTraining Demonstration

Further Information

LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature Project

LIFE IP Wild Atlantic Nature project is coordinated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There are nine other associated beneficiaries involved in the project including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM); Teagasc; Bord na Móna; Coillte; RTÉ; Fáilte Ireland; The Heritage Council; Northern and Western Regional Assembly; Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.

The project aims to improve the conservation status in the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) network of blanket bogs, a priority habitat under the EU Habitats Directive. The primary focus is on 35 Natura 2000 sites in the northwest of Ireland, where the project works with farmers, landowners, policy-makers and others to deliver solutions that benefit local communities and the environment.

For more information, please visit: 

Natura 2000

Stretching across 27 EU countries, Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected sites globally, covering over 18% of land area within the EU and more than 8% of marine territory. These protected areas represent Europe’s most valuable habitats, protected in their own right, as well as sites important for threatened species. The purpose of the network is to ensure long-term survival of Europe’s 230 rare and threatened habitats and 2,000 species as outlined in the EU Habitats and Birds Directive. Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) are collectively referred to as the Natura 2000 Network.