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John McDonagh, Maura Farrell, Marie Mahon and Mary Ryan

New opportunities and cautionary steps? Farmers, forestry and rural development in Ireland

It is argued that European agriculture is currently confronted with a multitude of critical challenges and developmental changes, in which the viability of farms based solely on traditional forms of production applies only to a minority who can compete at the level and scale of global markets. The challenge to the remaining majority of farmers and to wider agricultural communities is to remain viable through adoption of alternative farm activities and enterprises under what is described as a multifunctional model of agriculture. One activity that is emerging as a realistic economic option under this rural restructuring is forestry. From an increasing range of policy perspectives within agriculture, rural development, environment, tourism and industry, forestry is becoming redefined as much more than a resource for primary production. It is also an activity which offers enormous potential as a secondary resource, particularly when its significance as an ecological, amenity, recreational and environmental reserve is successfully realised. However, evidence would suggest that Irish farmers have been particularly slow to embrace forestry as a potential resource. In what is generally accepted as a time of economic crisis for the agricultural sector, this paper explores the perceptions, attitudes and apparent reluctance of Irish farmers to engage in forestry as a viable farm enterprise. We assess this evidence against the prevailing EU and national policy context for forestry, particularly the range of incentives and/or barriers to forestry, and seek to establish if, and to what extent, reasons lie within the policy context, or whether farmers contest the notion of forestry as an agricultural activity for other, more ideological or practical, reasons.

Open access

M. Ryan, T. Hennessy, C. Buckley, E.J. Dillon, T. Donnellan, K. Hanrahan and B. Moran

Abstract

In the context of an expanding, export-dependent agri-food sector, indicators of sustainable development and intensification are necessary to measure, assess and verify the comparative advantage afforded by Ireland’s natural pastoral-based food production systems. Such indicators are also necessary to ensure that we produce more food with less adverse impacts on the Irish environment, climate and society. This article outlines the development of farm-level indicators that refect the multifaceted nature of sustainability, which is encompassed in economic, environmental and social indicators. The role of innovation in farm sustainability was also examined. A comparison of indicators across Irish farm systems showed that dairy farms, followed by tillage farms, tended to be the most economically and socially sustainable farm systems. In relation to greenhouse gas emissions in particular, the top-performing dairy farms, in an economic sense, also tended to be the best-performing farms from an environmental sustainability perspective. This trend was also evident in relation to the adoption of innovative practices on farm, which was found to be strongly correlated with economic performance.

Open access

Karen Daly, Marion Breuil, Cathal Buckley, Cathal O’ Donoghue, Mary Ryan and Catherine Seale

Abstract

This paper examines current recreational water use in the rural landscape in Ireland and reviews current EU policies and national regulations aimed at protecting water quality and the wider environment under agri-environmental schemes. Specifically, we review policy instruments that protect water for recreational use, their impacts and the challenges they pose for rural development against current requirements to increase public awareness and participation. In Ireland, there is limited experience in public participation in water quality protection and restoration and we highlight how this can be addressed by focussing on the specific contribution of water quality in rural areas in relation to the provision of recreational ecosystem services. These services provide the infrastructure for much of Ireland’s rural tourism sector. In this context, emerging participatory approaches to policy implementation are also assessed as national and local government prioritise community engagement for the second cycle under the EU Water Framework Directive.