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Wicklow hill farmer Pat Dunne says that although farming can be challenging, there is no better way of life.

Brendan Dunford, director of the Burren Programme, an agri-environment scheme that rewards farmers for improving the natural environment on their farms, says the purpose of the Farming for Nature awards is to reshape the narrative between farmers and nature.

“There has been a big division between farmers and nature and that shouldn’t be the case,” he says.

You might think farming with nature is the obvious route to take but, over the last 40 years or so, mainstream farming practices have become so intensive that much of the natural world is interacts with has been destroyed.

Wildlife – animals, birds, plants and insects – have been killed off through the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, widespread drainage of land and the removal of hedgerows. And the efforts of a small but growing cohort of farmers who protect habitats and encourage wildlife to flourish on their land were celebrated at the inaugural countrywide Farming for Nature awards in the Burren, Co Clare, in October.

Cork dairy farmer Donal Sheehan, Kildare mixed farmer Kim Mc Call, Achill Island sheep farmer Martin Calvey, Roscommon cattle and sheep farmer Pádraic Corcoran, Wicklow hill farmer Pat Dunne and Tipperary organic farmer Seán O’Farrell were the winners of the first Farming for Nature awards in 2018.

Speaking at the award ceremony held as part of the Burren Winterage festival, each farmer outlined the measures they take to cultivate a positive relationship with nature.

If we want to prevent further species decline, we require high-nature value agriculture.

When there are positive links between farming and nature, we can turn around species decline.

I’ve been inspired by those with a passion for nature,” he says.

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