On November 23, 2021, Ireland‘s Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, announced the approval by the European Commission of a new EU LIFE project, LIFE On Machair, worth over €5.7 million in EU funding.
With a total budget of €7.4 million ($8.4 million USD)—of which €5.7m million is EU LIFE Programme funding—the project seeks to restore Ireland’s machair habitats and ecological conditions for the species it supports by working in a way that helps economically revitalize local farming communities.
Machair is a coastal habitat characterized by a plain of lime-rich, wind-blown sand that is unique to the north and west of Ireland and Scotland. The typical flower-rich vegetation of machair is traditionally maintained through low-intensity livestock grazing, but is susceptible to pressures from recreational activities and over grazing.
Machair ecosystems provide an important refuge for pollinators and threatened breeding wader bird species, such as Dunlin, Lapwing and Redshank. Post-Brexit, the entire EU land cover of the habitat occurs in Ireland, meaning the conservation of machair in Ireland is of significance on a European scale.
Farming and farmers are central to the project in the role that they can play in protecting and restoring machair systems.
Minister Noonan said, “The award of this funding is a very positive development in addressing the urgent need for conservation and restoration of biodiversity in our coastal areas. I am hopeful that this project will help conserve Ireland’s unique machair systems whilst also supporting coastal rural communities, providing employment opportunities and an important financial injection.”
Working with project partners the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Teagasc and Fáilte Ireland, the LIFE On Machair project will seek to build on the successes of locally adapted programs, including European Innovation Partnerships (EIP), in assisting farmers and other stakeholders to create resilience within rural communities in the light of our biodiversity and climate crises.
It will focus on nine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and 4 Special Protection Areas in counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway.
A voluntary Results Based Payment Scheme (RBPS) will be linked to the quality of the habitat, putting the landowner, their skills, expertise and knowledge of their land central to the development of this project.
Photo of machair ecosystem in Scotland courtesy of Nature Scot.