I’ve been really lucky to have spent the past 15 years or so working at a very local level here in the beautiful Burren on some of these ‘global sustainability’ issues. I certainly don’t have any real answers to the big questions, in fact I’m as daunted as the next person by the scale and speed of change in our relationship with the planet and all the implications of this change, from climate change to biodiversity loss.
But I take my inspiration from what a local farmer once told me: ‘It’s better to light a candle than to curse the dark’ and there are a lot of people cursing the dark right now! I also think that there is a lot of analysis paralysis’ out there with so many conflicting ideas and priorities, but this can often end up as an excuse for inaction: you have to begin somewhere, sometime and that place and time are here and now, not there and sometime else!
Anyway, for me, coming from a small farm in the south of Ireland, farming is a good and important place to start. It plays such an important role in shaping our environment and I believe that farmers, with the right support, can become a huge resource in the conservation of our environment, rather than being perceived as villains, as they often are, sometimes with justification. So 10 years ago we set up the Burren Life programme which effectively rewards farmers based on their success in delivering a range of ecosystem services, from enhancing farmland habitats to preventing damage to our soil and water. Farmers have even come up with innovative feeding systems which help livestock forage more efficiently, thus improving biodiversity and water quality as compared with other, less-carbon efficient, feeding systems. We’ve had great success with this locally-led, farmer-centred, results-based approach and this model is now being used elsewhere in Ireland and Europe it really can work on any farm, anywhere, it’s that simple.
But farming is just one sector of society, what about the rest of us? For me, one of the biggest issues here is our growing disconnect from our local places – sometimes we’re more tuned in to what’s happening worlds away than we are about our own backyard. I sometimes feel that, if people aren’t conscious of their own place and the factors impacting on it, it’s a big stretch to get them to care about, and react to, global issues and threats.
So a few years back a few of us came together to set up the Burrenbeo Trust, a charity, one of the main focuses of which is re-connecting people with their place, the Burren. We do a lot of different things, ideas that can be replicated easily elsewhere. For example, every month for the past several years we have a ‘learning walk’ in the Burren led by a farmer, scientist or other expert, these are very enjoyable, social events which help us all to learn, and care more about, our place and our community. We also have monthly talks, local festivals, celebrations and awards nights, as well as a monthly local volunteer group outing a great way to learn by doing!
One of Burrenbeo’s best programmes is Eco Beo which we run in local schools. Over a 20 week period the kids learn about a different subject relating to their area, the geology, history, archaeology, flora, fauna etc. as well as farming, tourism and conservation. All the kids do a project on their area and present it to their community at the final graduation event where they become official ‘Burren experts’ and are charged with making sure nobody, but nobody, damages their very special place. Again, it’s a simple model which could work anywhere and its great fun for teachers and students alike.
So, no way do we have all the answers who does? – but we really enjoy coming up with ideas that can make a positive difference to our place and our community, and thus our wellbeing!
For our series on the power of communities to tackle climate change around the UN climate summit in Paris we’ve asked social entrepreneurs, environmentalists, researchers and community leaders for their comments on how communities can take action to reduce their carbon footprint and to build awareness for a more sustainable lifestyle. Please share your take on the issue with us. [email protected] , #ChangeX #Cop21
Brendan Dunford is an Irish entrepreneur from the Burren. With his organisation Burren Beo Trust he has dedicated his life to two big projects: Connecting people and local landscape and the Farming for conservation programme where he developed an incentivised system for farmers to farm sustainable by particularly aiming for the production of a species-rich grasslands and the improvement of water quality. Based on 9 criteria, the farms in the Burren are regularly ranked between 1 and 10 points. Having started at an average of 6.4 of all farms they’ve now reached a 7.2 with 2 farms having full 10 points on all their fields.