For the last year RSPB NI have been working in partnership with the Dairy Council Northern Ireland (DCNI) and its member organisations Dale Farm, Lakeland Dairies and Leprino Foods, alongside the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) to develop guidance around Nature Positive Dairy Farming.

With a network of over 3,000 farms, the dairy industry commands a substantial portion of Northern Ireland's agricultural land, providing a unique opportunity to champion nature-friendly initiatives. From the outset we sought to adopt a hands-off approach to encourage the dairy industry to take ownership of the project.

Image: Ian Stevenson of Dairy Council NI and Dr Jonathan Bell (RSPB NI) launching A Guide to Nature Positive Dairy Farming in partnership with David Stewart of Lakeland Dairies (left), Neville Graham, Dale Farm (right), Leprino Foods and NFFN NI (c) RSPB

This project co-designed the first-of-their-kind guidelines for nature positive dairy farming in Northern Ireland, including a site visit to one of the project farms which gave us the opportunity to demonstrate best practice with project partners. Birnie Consultants led the development of the project outputs, delivering a literature review, a farm workshop with 20 dairy farmers, and A Guide to Nature Positive Dairy Farming for farmers.

On 22nd November 2023, we presented at DCNI’s EU Sustainable Dairy Symposium to officially launch the guide. The project saw good media coverage, being picked up by Farming life and BBC Farming Matters, as well as materials pushed by project partners’ media channels.

Ian Stevenson, Chief Executive of the Dairy Council Northern Ireland said, ‘’The Dairy Council has been working with RSPB NI over the last year, to develop these guidelines for farmers. By identifying what farmers are already doing, a series of practical measures have been developed, to allow farmers to enhance biodiversity on their land, creating positives for both the farm and the environment, which is the bottom line at the end of the day.’’

Dr Jonathan Bell, Head of Land and Sea Policy at RSPB NI commented, “This work has been well-received by the dairy industry and farmers, who want to take steps towards managing their farms better for nature. The project has helped identify what is possible, even on our most intensively farmed land; a set of practical actions all dairy farms can take to help turn the tide on nature’s decline. We believe, with the right policy tools and financial support, the dairy industry can become leaders in Nature Positive practises.”

One of the participating farmers, Drew McConnell said “Being involved in the whole process has been a game-changer for me. The involvement of RSPB NI and the project partners has given me a real understanding of what's living and growing on my farm and how we can make things better for both our land and wildlife that call it home.”

Drew continues “Farmers like us, we're ready to roll up our sleeves and do our part to bring nature back into our farms. But we can't do it alone; we need the government's support to make these changes on a big scale.’’

You can watch a short video on the collaboration here. We hope that this is just the beginning of our nature positive journey with the industry. Our work now continues to ensure these principles are embedded into Future Agricultural Policy and market premiums, such as through the Fair to Nature standard, to provide a comprehensive roadmap towards nature friendly farming practices for NI dairy farmers and beyond.

Image: Dr Jonathan Bell Presenting RSPB NI's Nature Friendly Dairy Farming Project at the EU Sustainable Dairy Symposium in November 2023 (c) RSPB

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