“There is widespread awareness of the environmental damage that can be caused by the wrong type of farming. We hear about it all the time. There isn’t as much discussion of those that are doing a great job farming for nature, about the positive stories, meaning we don’t have many good role models. This negative narrative can alienate farmers from nature, making them feel apart from it rather than part of it. Encouraging farmers to feel that they are part of the solution, not just the problem, is the first step in a long journey which will require a lot of financial and technical support, new partnerships and new visions. This can hopefully be the start.

The Farming for Nature initiative seeks to acknowledge and support those farmers who farm, or wish to farm, in a way that will improve the natural health of our [Irish] countryside.

‘To change the world, let’s start by changing the way we talk about it, and let’s highlight those initiatives that are having a positive impact on people and the planet, to renew our confidence and spur us into action’ (Sparknews)

from the Farming for Nature 2021 Awards website

I’m really thrilled to share news that my earliest Irish forest-wildlife mentor and friend Noel Kiernan has been nominated as a leading alternative Farming for Nature advocate in Ireland. Vote for his work here

Noel is a visionary landowner, born into a farming family yet moved into forestry to align his deep interest in managing Irish lands, cattle and wild flora and fauna in an enduring ecological way.

When I was new to Ireland in the late 90s, I found myself working alongside Noel for the CRANN NGO – a small Irish broadleaf tree organisation trying to advance broadleaf forest planting across Ireland. It was some adventure, working out a small office/craft shop/environmental library in the small village of Mohill, Co. Leitrim. I was new to the home of my Irish ancestors and knew little about Ireland’s natural heritage (I shared my early Crann experience in a recent invitation to the Dock Art Centre which you can listen to here and here and illustrated the 97′ Crann Calendar with Noel -the first time I really employed my creativity for an ecological aim).

County Leitrim was, and sadly still is the heart of monoculture, industrial forestry – a form of forestry now out of step with biodiversity, disease and climate change challenges. From listening to Noel, eavesdropping on his chats with landowners, farmers, foresters, and others concerned for Irish lands, flora and fauna, I learnt so much from Noel about envisioning a radical new vision for forestry-land management in Ireland.

Noel lived and shared what an ecological worldview meant. I know how much effort and courage it took to practice ways that mean we live well with the wider Earth community – especially when so many had little understanding that business as usual was advancing the environmental emergency.

Noel and I with the Crann Releafing Ireland stand around 1997.

Ever since meeting Noel as a forester, he often shared how he never forgot his initial passion for wildlife and farming. And he always worked as both a farmer and forester. Decades ago, long before the recent alarms about biodiversity collapse, increasing tree pests and diseases, Noel knew to cultivate lighter rare Irish cattle breeds to protect farm soils and to limit the need for fertilizers, and pioneered mixed species new-to-Ireland continuous cover forestry management in an integrated way that is only beginning to be implemented now on a national scale.

Photo of Noel Kiernan, with Cathy Fitzgerald and others for the Crann Local Project, Mohill Co Leitrim
Noel was the forester for the Crann Releafing ‘Local Project‘. You can read more about it here

I have been particularly impressed in recent years with Noel’s bolder venture into farming and foresting a significant farm near Ballymahon, Co. Longford. I drop in when I’m passing as its hard to ignore the pioneering holistic vision and real world experience for ecological Irish land management that Noel has brought together on this farm: extensive Close-to-nature mixed species agroforestry, growing numbers of rare Irish cattle that look wonderfully happy with their meadow-forest foraging, and sensitive wetland and meadow restoration that he knew would one day connect to adjacent boglands–now having to be restored by Bord na Mona.

There is a joined up, what really matters, holistic mindset that Noel navigates with ease – an ecology of mind that we all need to embrace. And, it really is a case that Irish farming and forest policy will have to catch up with Noel’s deep insights and knowledge urgently too 🙂

So I’m thrilled to share that you can vote for Noel and his wonderful forestry-farming vision for the 2021 Irish Farming for Nature Awards.

And thank you Noel, for being the most radical, on-the-ground, in-the-forest teacher I have ever had the great fortune to know! Congratulations Noel!

Voting is now open for 2021

You can vote for Noel here

Read all about the other great inspiring Irish landowners here

This year we are honoured and delighted to introduce 23 wonderful Farming For Nature Ambassadors! These farmers were nominated by environmental specialists across Ireland, interviewed and shortlisted by the FFN team and approved for selection by our panel of judges. Now we are sharing short films of a cross-section of 7 of these Ambassadors (the 16 others will be announced on a monthly basis from November onwards) and we are inviting you to select which one you find most interesting and inspiring. You can vote for your favourite by clicking on the button below  – just one vote per email address though! The voting closes on Friday 22nd October at midnight and the winner of this public vote will be announced on Saturday 23rd October at the annual Burren Winterage School. Please share this link and encourage others to vote as a gesture of support for these wonderful farmers who work at the coalface of addressing our climate and biodiversity crises.

The annual Farming For Nature Ambassador Awards are supported by Bord Bia.

[And in reference to other research I have done, Noel is part of those advancing a Symbiocene era, where all species flourishing is prioritised, rather than the end-game thinking and practices that mark our current unsustainable and unjust Anthropocene.

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