Drivers of Land Abandonment in the Irish Uplands: A Case Study

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Land abandonment is a complex multi-dimensional process with interlinked economic, environmental and social aspects. This paper presents a case study of an isolated hill sheep farming community in SW Ireland, where a combination of low incomes, ageing population, lack of successors and strong environmental constraints are perceived to be among the main factors leading to their demise. However, the uplands they have grazed for generations are of high nature conservation value, and depend on active management to maintain both their ecology and landscapes. The research, which is based on a combination of interviews and farming systems research, highlights the misfit between what the mountain can produce, light hill lamb, and what the globalised market demands. The paper argues that if ‘farming for conservation’ is the new function of such farming systems, then we should consider decoupling public goods payments from agricultural subsidies, along with integrating agriculture in disadvantaged areas within a broader rural development framework. The research aims to fill the gap between macro policy and the micro reality of an upland community on a self-declared ‘tipping point’.

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