Galway farmer Nia O’Malley has been chosen as a Farming for Nature Ambassador for 2021.
Nia farms 60 hectares in the Slieve Aughty Mountains and is one of seven ambassadors chosen for the 2021 Farming for Nature public vote awards.
Now in its fourth year, Farming For Nature was set up with an aim to source, share and celebrate the stories of farmers across Ireland who manage their land in a way that sustains nature, while providing a livelihood for their family.
The ambassadors include beef, poultry, forestry, horticulture and tillage farmers who manage a wide range of very valuable habitats including species-rich grasslands and heaths, wetlands, woodlands and hedgerows.
Nia took over the family farm in 2010 and since then, she has worked incredibly hard to rebuild and regenerate the farm, doing so with respect and consideration for the natural landscape and wildlife of the area.
“Something you learn as a hill farmer is you have to adapt to the area – you can’t just come in and change things as you wish,” said Nia.
“You have to adapt to the land and work with the land, rather than forcing the land to adapt to your farming practices.”
Farming in a Hen Harrier Special Protected Area, Nia joined the Hen Harrier Programme in 2018 where she was involved in a mountain grazing project.
The trial focused on increasing cattle grazing on areas of bog/heath that are dominated by Molinia grasses and pose serious fire risks.
“My involvement with the hen harrier project enabled me to look at my land differently and value what I might not have valued before,” she said.
“The more you graze commonage, the more you will reduce the Molina grass growth and the more you will encourage other grass species to come up. This will eventually extend the grazing season on the mountain.”
Nia currently manages a small herd of Galloway cattle who play a crucial role in grazing the mountain vegetation, fertilizing the land and regenerating the soil. She has planted hedgerows and areas of native woodland around the farm.
“I’m putting a lot into planting hedgerows and trees on the farm, which for me is a long-term thing – I might not see the real benefit of it.
“But my mother would have planted a lot of trees when she was here, and I’m benefiting from that now.”
Dr Brendan Dunford of the Burren Programme, founder and committed volunteer with Farming for Nature said that this year’s farming for nature ambassadors are, like their predecessors, just so engaging and inspirational.
“They provide a powerful and timely testimony as to how farming and nature can, and must, work in harmony – and that simple actions can make a big difference,” he said.
“These farmers deserve our respect, gratitude and support: they embody all that’s great about rural Ireland and they offer great hope at a time of climate and biodiversity crises.”
The seven ambassadors will be featured at the annual Burren Winterage Weekend (www.burrenwinterage.com) in October when the winner of the public vote will also be announced.
Sixteen additional ambassadors will be announced and profiled over the coming months, bringing the FFN Ambassador network to a total of 66 wonderful farms located across the island.
The public are invited to vote for their favourite ambassador by visiting www.farmingfornature.ie. The deadline for voting is midnight Friday 22 October 2021.