Partnership working – building on success at Greenmount Hill Farm, Glenwherry

Date published: 12 April 2017

Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Partnership Project

GHRP Board Members pictured at a recent GHRP Meeting.

The Greenmount Hill Farm is located at Glenwherry in the Antrim Hills between Ballymena and Larne. Partially situated within the Antrim Hills Special Protection Area (SPA) for hen harrier and merlin, it extends to almost 1,000 hectares and was previously part of the Glenarm Estate. The farm was acquired in 1963 by the then Ministry of Agriculture where it has since been managed as an upland beef and sheep farm. 

Educational role

The Greenmount Hill Farm plays a key role through providing a resource for the delivery of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise’s (CAFRE) education, training and Knowledge Technology Transfer to farmers/landowners. It is used extensively to demonstrate, profitable and sustainable livestock production while simultaneously seeking to improve habitat condition.

Partnership working

Producing multiple outcomes from one farm requires careful planning to ensure that the management regime used to deliver for one particular interest does not have a negative impact on the others. This requires a fully integrated approach and as a result the Glenwherry Hill Regeneration Partnership (GHRP) was established in 2009 to help achieve this integration. A project board was formed consisting of staff from CAFRE, RSPB and the Irish Grouse and Conservation Trust (IGCT). Further support for the project board in terms of scientific expertise and guidance is provided by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group (NIRSG), Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Countryside Management Delivery Branch.

Working farm

A viable farm business capable of responding to commercial opportunities and challenges is an essential component of sustainable land management. With this in mind, a progressive upland working farm is firmly at the foundation of the GHRP project with grazing livestock central to managing the land and its habitats. Wide ranging objectives were drawn up, including the creation of a sustainable red grouse moor and managing habitat for hen harrier, merlin and breeding waders. Every opportunity is taken to use project outcomes to raise awareness, educate, train and demonstrate best practice to students, farmers and other land managers.

Positive results

A review of the initial five year phase of the project revealed that much has been accomplished. The target of increasing the red grouse population from nine pairs present in 2009 to 15 pairs in 2014 has been vastly exceeded through a combination of a legal predator control strategy (targeting foxes and crows) and habitat improvement. At the same time, the target of managing 550 hectares of foraging habitat for hen harrier has been substantially achieved on the farm and over that five year period some of the most productive hen harrier and merlin pairs were recorded. Breeding waders have benefitted too – considerable effort and the integrated approach of all partners to managing the breeding wader site has resulted in 11 pairs of breeding waders, including snipe and curlew, utilizing the site. Grazing management is also a key factor in achieving many of the project objectives and this has been fine tuned to deliver on environmental outcomes without having had a significant adverse impact on farm productivity.

Predator Control has been instrumental to the achievement of this progress depending heavily on the skills of a Gamekeeper which has been provided by the IGCT since the project was established.

The legal predator control strategy has provided nest protection for a range of ground-nesting species and has been an important aspect of the project. Given the shortage of trained gamekeepers in Northern Ireland, CAFRE together with IGCT and supported by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) provide a course for prospective gamekeepers. Entitled “Principles of Live Quarry Shooting”, this introductory qualification in gamekeeping has been accredited by City & Guilds. It is now in its fourth year and has attracted 12 – 15 participants each year.

Wider environmental benefit

Although not the focus of the project, Irish hare numbers have increased substantially during the lifetime of the project. There is little doubt that controlling predation and best practice habitat management played a large part in this. 

Knowledge and Technology Transfer

Every opportunity has been taken to transfer knowledge and skills gained from the GHRP project to those involved in hill farming and other land management positions. Several large scale Knowledge and Technology Transfer events have taken place since the GHRP Project was established. Examples include a Suckler Beef Event, Sustainable Hill Farming Event, Sheep Production Event and Rush, Bracken and Heather Management KTT events. These events have been very well attended with similar events planned over the next few years.

Going Forward

Many of the original objectives will require more time to achieve further progress. Phase 2, which takes the GHRP project to 2019, aims to facilitate this. Renewed targets have been set in terms of habitat condition, grouse, hen harrier and merlin, breeding wader numbers and importantly suckler cow and sheep enterprise performance. In an attempt to build on progress achieved during the first phase of the project, phase 2 has a number of additional objectives. These include the reintroduction of grey partridge to the moorland fringe – now a very scarce bird but once a common sight throughout Northern Ireland and a number of barn owl boxes have been installed at the hill farm to encourage this rare species back to nest in the area. As a contribution to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015 – 2020, a small number of honey bee hives will be accommodated on the farm. The bees will be positioned to take advantage of the vigorous heather flowering associated with the grouse moor management. Ambitious plans are also included to restore low grade coniferous forest back to moorland vegetation. 

When describing partnership working it has often been said that the sum of a partnership equals something much greater than its parts and after a most encouraging first phase of the GHRP project, this has proved to be the case.  `

Notes to editors: 

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