Farmers at centre of project to preserve Burren’s unique heritage

FARMING is set to play a key role in conserving the unique landscape, biodiversity and archaeology of the Burren in Co Clare for future generations.

BurrenLIFE Project, a partnership with the Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, is due later this year to publish a blueprint for conservation farming in what is regarded as one of Europe’s most important heritage regions.

Project director Dr Brendan Dunford told an international conference in Ennistymon yesterday it is critical to identify and support sustainable farming systems for the Burren, “The blueprint being finalised will need to be adopted urgently and wholeheartedly by the relevant authorities if we are to secure the region’s rich heritage for generations to come,” “he said.

Dr Dunford said for too long farmers have viewed heritage management as a restriction imposed on them, and have struggled to exploit the significant opportunities presented by recent developments.

“Farmers in the Burren today stand on the cusp of a great opportunity,” he said, urging them to have the vision, courage and conviction to grasp it, and lead the way to secure a sustainable future for Ireland’s most extraordinary and inspiring landscape.

The conference discussed the shift away from the strong production-orientated model of agriculture to a situation where environmental and heritage interests have increasingly taken hold, particularly with the introduction of Rural Environment Protection Scheme (RPS) and the designation of large areas of the Burren as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).

Burren IFA chairman Michael Davoren said farmers relate to practical conservation measures. They are enthusiastic to be part of this kind of environmental work. The cutting of hazel, opening of access tracks and the re-establishment of old field systems to fully utilise all available grazing are all of benefit to the land.

However, they fully realise that this type of farming is totally un-economic in today’s world of cheap food. Farmers in the lush pastures find it difficult to earn a living when competing with cheap imports, so marginal areas such as the Burren have no chance.

Mr Davoren said the future is dependent on the outcome of the LIFE Project research, which will become the blueprint for the production of high quality, species rich grassland, while controlling scrub.

Orchid-rich grasslands and other habitats will become the new products.

A labour-intensive method of farming is essential in this environment, but a farmer needs to earn an income from doing this very necessary work to preserve the Burren for future generations.

Mr Davoren claimed that to achieve this objective there is a need for local resources to work to create a unique management plan for each farm in the Burren, and to monitor the environmental work required.

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