The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has confirmed the provision of €2.6 million funding for Aran Islands conservation under the EU’s LIFE+ programme. The AranLIFE Project will run for four years from 2014, working with local farmers to support traditional island farming practices and maintain the islands’ significant natural and cultural heritage.
The AranLIFE Project is an integrated project between the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Heritage Council, the European Forum for Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, Institute of Technology, Sligo, Teagasc, and the farming communities of the three Aran Islands. Additional funding is provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Galway County Council and Fáilte Ireland. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which has overall responsibility for offshore Islands is the Coordinating Beneficiary or lead applicant for the project.
The communities of the Aran Islands have lived in and farmed the islands for centuries. Their traditional farming practices have been central in creating the iconic Aran landscape, and maintaining its natural heritage, which draws visitors from all over Ireland and the world. The islands are of such high value for nature that over 75% of the land area has been legally designated as Natura 2000 sites under European legislation. However, working with these designations, the small nature of island farms and the high labour input required means that farming on the islands faces many challenges. While many farmers clearly wish to continue practices handed down over generations the early impacts of a reduction in farming activity are becoming evident, in the form of undergrazed pastures and overgrown fields. Traditional knowledge and practices are also being used less and the AranLIFE project will assist and encourage farmers to reverse this trend. These changes are affecting the Islands’ significant natural heritage, including its limestone pavement and orchid-rich grasslands, and will affect the social and economic fabric of the islands.
Welcoming the announcement, Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley T.D., said that ‘the traditional practices of the Aran Islands are a vitally important part of our natural heritage. I welcome this funding as it will ensure the longevity and sustainability of the rich and valuable landscape of these traditions into the future, and also enhance the valuable tourist product of these islands for visitors from all over the world.”
The AranLIFE project has been set up to tackle some of these challenges over the next four years, working closely with the farming communities, increasing awareness of the natural heritage of the islands, leading to an improvement in the condition of the Nature 2000 sites, and turning the designations from a challenge to an opportunity.
(Above) Dr James Moran, Lecturer in Ecology and Environmental Science, IT Sligo.