The LIFE on Machair project is taking place within 9 SACs & 4 SPAs in the west and north-west of Ireland and aims to protect and restore the priority Annex I habitat Machair (*21AO) as well as associated coastal habitats and the species they support. The conservation status was assessed as Unfavourable – Bad: (a habitat in serious danger of disappearing, at least regionally) in Ireland’s 2019 Habitats Directive reporting and further evidence suggests there has been further degradation since 2013. Additionally, machair forms a complex with the priority Annex I habitat *2130 Fixed dunes which was also assessed as unfavourable - bad in 2019. This project aims to address the primary pressures negatively impacting machair systems: unsustainable agricultural and recreational/tourism activities. Agriculture pressures include inappropriate stocking levels and timing of grazing and interference with the machair physical structure. Inappropriate grazing reduces the diversity of vegetation structure and plant communities, diminishing floral resources for pollinators, and producing a sward structure that is not suitable for nesting waders.
The overall objective of the LIFE on Machair project is to improve the conservation condition of Ireland’s ‘Machairs’ habitat and the ecological conditions for breeding waders and pollinators within project sites. The project will employ an integrated management approach; provide education, guidance, and informed management policies for stakeholders, and deliver concrete conservation actions within a network of machair and wader Natura 2000 sites.
The specific objectives of the project are to:
- Work with farmers to develop and roll out agricultural management agreements on project sites that incentivise and reward farmers for improving habitat functioning and delivering ecological resources for breeding waders and pollinators in the long term;
- Work with landowners to implement site-specific conservation interventions (e.g. revegetation, predator control) to address acute threats to the targeted habitats and species;
- Provide opportunities and support for local farmers and communities to engage in capacity building and knowledge sharing on the sustainable management of machair sites;
- Reduce the negative impacts of recreational users on popular sites by developing a sustainable tourism model for machair sites;
- Develop a strategy to ensure replication and transfer of project results in the context of the After- LIFE Plan.
- Improved structure and functions of the component habitats over a total machair system area of around 3,500 ha, with improved ecological conditions for waders and pollinators;
- A results-based agri-environment measure designed and implemented on up to 3,000 ha of target lands, thereby improving habitat functioning and delivering ecological resources for waders and pollinators in the long term;
- Site-specific concrete conservation actions for habitats, waders and pollinators implemented on around 3 500 ha of SACs (overlapping with approximately 560 ha of SPAs), reducing and/or eliminating acute threats to these habitats and species;
- The above actions will improve the conservation condition of the targeted 1,200 ha of ‘Machairs’ (*21A0), that is 39% of the total area of machairs habitat in Ireland, and the EU, and 1 000 ha of ‘Fixed dunes’ (*2130), 12% of total area in Ireland;
- The total population of breeding waders within lands targeted by the project at least maintained at 259 pairs, but ideally will have increased;
- Annual community workshops in project sites will have explored the sustainable use of machair sites for tourism and recreation, and a sustainable tourism model for machair sites will have been developed;
- Approximately 6 knowledge exchange groups covering all project areas implemented, supporting and improving farmer/landowner capacity to sustainably manage machair sites;
- Local community initiatives developed during the workshops will have been facilitated through the provision of small grants for eco-friendly tourism to the value of €80,000; and
- A strategy to ensure replication and transfer of project results in the context of the After-LIFE Plan will have been developed.