Conservation rangers from across Northern Ireland gathered with tenant farmers at the Giant’s Causeway recently to find out more about the North Coast Farm Resilience Project, a pioneering land management project for the National Trust in Northern Ireland.
The Farm Resilience Project is about trialling innovative land management practices to demonstrate that productive agricultural can go hand in hand with farming and nature conservation by farming in a more nature friendly way to deliver a more sustainable farming system.
National Trust Farming Advisor Kevin Duncan has been leading on the development of this unique pilot in association with the North Coast ranger team based at the Giant’s Causeway and two local tenant farmers.
Part of this project has been the sowing of two fields, one at Innisfree Farm, adjacent to the Giant’s Causeway, and one at Dunseverick with Herbal Ley seed mixes.
The mixture contains a complex combination of nitrogen fixing legumes, deep rooting herbs and grasses which bring a range of benefits to forage, livestock health, soil fertility, wildlife and the wider environment.
This contrasts with conventionally sown swards which contain just a few species and require high quantities of expensive fertiliser and therefore have a high carbon footprint to remain productive. A Herbal Ley can often be a mixture of up to 17 different species, with these mixes being adjusted depending on the aims of the ley, location and soil type.
Kevin said: “Our main objective is to find a compromise between modern farm production and the decline in nature, a place where farming and biodiversity work together supporting both wildlife and quality food production.
“I have seen first-hand in England how Herbal Leys can help to create a more resilient farming landscape, one which delivers more economically for farmers and also delivers high environmental outcomes.
“Each plant in the diverse mix brings something positive to the table.
“Benefits of Herbal Leys often include fertility building and improvements in animal performance, animal health, increased biodiversity of fields, longer growing seasons and a reactivation of soil biology leading to increased soil health.
“It is often described as a fertiliser merchant, food manufacturer and vet all in one.
“This is a pilot project here at the Giant’s Causeway which has been delivered by the local ranger team working closely with tenant farmers and I really hope this proves to be a win-win situation for everyone.
“We’ve had interest in the project from Nature Matters NI, which is a campaign led by a coalition of environmental organisations in Northern Ireland who are dedicated to protect nature so that we can secure the best for our environment after Brexit; as well as from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs,” he concluded.
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