Lough Neagh Partnership stimulates farming economy

The Lough Neagh Partnership, a stakeholder body overseeing the management of the Lough, is celebrating five years of working with farmers in the southern shores of Lough Neagh through the Environmental Farm Group Scheme having awarded almost £17,000 to each farm.

The successful scheme aims to encourage farmers to carry out more environmentally friendly farming practices on their land, which will in turn help restore, and enhance the number of important habitats and wildlife species along the shoreline, together with helping improve water quality and soil management.

The main area of benefit however has not just been environmental but also economic, as the scheme has allowed farmers to attract major financial investment into the farming economy. By helping farmers sign up to the Environmental Farm Group Scheme, run by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, it has allowed them to access compensatory funding for the more environmentally friendly practices.

Arnold Hatch, Chairman of the Lough Neagh Partnership, and a past Alderman in Craigavon Borough Council, said: “The Partnership has helped farmers living along all of its shore to bring in over £5.7 million of investment. However, the economic impact has been particularly significant in the southern shores with over £2.6 million of investment brought into the Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council area.”

Michael Meharg with Moiled Cattle

The scheme has proven to be remarkably successful and brought real change and habitat protection impact to the southern shores of the Lough. Over 3,528ha of wet grassland and 8 priority species sites are now under better environmental management and over 25km of watercourse fencing has now been installed in the wider Council area together with the creation of a new Lough Neagh Irish Moiled Cattle Scheme. The scheme has created 523ha of woodland priority habitat and 357ha of species richness grassland priority habitat.

Michael Meharg, who is a local Lough Neagh shoreline farmer and manages the scheme on behalf of the Lough Neagh Partnership, remarked that: “The scheme has been a huge success and the funding from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has helped change people’s economic wellbeing whilst also helping protect wildlife species and habitats on the southern shores of the Lough. The Partnership has been in discussions with the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs about developing the scheme for the next five years and as more of the department’s funding is targeted towards designated areas, like the southern shores of Lough Neagh, there is a huge opportunity for farmers to receive greater help to address not just biodiversity loss but help address new environmental challenges such as climate change and carbon management.”

Farmers seeking more information about the Environmental Farm Group Scheme should contact Michael Meharg by telephone on 07834 322214 or by email at [email protected]