Three Natura 2000 sites the islands of Inishmaan, Inishmor and Inisheer comprise the Aran Islands off the west coast of County Clare, Ireland. The islands are known for a range of intact habitats, including limestone pavement, calcareous grassland and Machair all listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The principal land use on the islands is low-intensity farming, which, combined with the minimal use of fertiliser, has helped to maintain a rich diversity of flora species on the islands. However, the economics of this farming system has led in recent years to a cessation, withdrawal, restructuring or reduction in farming activity, resulting in a serious decline in the condition of these three habitat types, mostly due to under-grazing, abandonment and the loss of important land management traditions. These changes need to be reversed to improve the conservation status of these habitats; developing and demonstrating best management practices will restore these sites to a favourable condition.
The AranLIFE project aimed to: demonstrate best habitat management techniques to maintain, and bring the Natura 2000 sites to a favourable condition, by addressing the threats of land abandonment, under-grazing, intensification, loss of traditional management systems and the associated loss of knowledge; improve the conservation status of 1 011 ha of priority habitats, comprised of limestone pavement (218 ha), calcareous grasslands (78 ha), Machair (29 ha) and a mosaic of calcareous grassland and limestone pavement (686 ha); enhance understanding and appreciation of key stakeholders of the need to conserve priority for conservation habitats on the Aran islands, and to strengthen their engagement in the conservation efforts, by increasing the availability of information and by creating a website, producing six information sheets and five best practice guides, and organising 39 educational visits and 39 classroom-based presentations; and recommend appropriate support mechanisms for farming on the Aran Islands that address the issues that threaten the status of the islands priority habitats;
The AranLIFE project engaged with farmers (67 in total) on the three Aran Islands to develop and promote traditional and sustainable farming practices to the benefit the natural environment. It improved local farming know-how by utilizing the scientific expertise of project partners to overcome the challenges of island farming and to improve the conservation condition of the Natura sites.
Specifically, the project achieved the following: improved access to land parcels to facilitate management including grazing, by clearing 28 km of boreens and installing 40 gates and assisting access to around 460 ha of land; scrub and bracken control management resulting in 91 ha of scrub controlled; enhancement of livestock management facilities through the provision of water infrastructure comprising 131 new water features, and the repair of 107 existing rain catchers. This infrastructure secures the conservation of over 4 500 000 litres of rainwater annually and improves the grazing in around 474 ha of land; development of a simple scoring system that reflects the quality of the habitat and level of grazing achieved; implementation ofoptimal grazing plans on 1 011 ha of land within the project, based on a results-based approach to measure success; identification of the deficiencies in the forage and cooperation with a local veterinary surgeon to provide mineral supplementation specifically suited to the island forage; publication of a range of informative booklets (Aran Islands: Plants of the farm; Butterflies and day flying moths of the farm; Birds of farms and villages, Coastal birds and Historic monuments on the farm) along with the production of 700 calendars and 1 206 posters; erection of four wildlife notice boards at the playground on Inis Orr based on these flora and fauna guides; publication of four newsletters; production of best practice guides and information sheets to encourage more effective ecologically sensitive management of additional land on the islands and for use in other areas; production of a range of short videos detailing the biodiversity of the islands and the conservation issues that the Aranlife project addressed; and installation of four noticeboards, one on each island outlining the AranLIFE work.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan/After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).