Gormley says farmers key to future of Burren wildlife habitat

IRELAND has a moral and legal obligation to protect the Burren’s wildlife habitats and biodiversity, Environment Minister John Gormley said yesterday.

“How it survives will depend mainly on how it is farmed, with farmers holding the key to its future,” he said.

Mr Gormley was launching a DVD on conservation farming in the Burren at the European Commission Offices in Dublin.

The DVD tells the story of farming for conservation in the Burren, one of the most important landscapes in Europe, due to the wealth and diversity of its natural and cultural heritage.

But it is also home to a farming community which, over many generations, has farmed the Burren’s rocky hills successfully.

The BurrenLIFE Project, initiated in 2004, is one of the first big partnership-based farming for conservation projects in Ireland.

It involves the European Commission, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Teagasc, the Burren IFA and local farmers.

Much of the Burren is designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the European Union Habitats Directive and forms part of the Natura 2000 Network.

These areas contain a variety of habitats, including limestone pavements, grasslands, limestone heaths and hazel scrub. BLP’s objective is to develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve the designated habitats.

Mr Gormley said the story of farming in the Burren goes back 6,000 years.

The farmers working the land today are its custodians for future generations so it is important that their story is told.

By working with farmers, the BLP has developed a blueprint for the sustainable agricultural management of the Burren.

Mr Gormley said the spread of hazel scrub on the Burren threatens the internationally rare orchid-rich grasslands and limestone pavement, reduces the available grazing area and limits the access onto the winterage.

However, the BLP has focused on removing recently developed scrub from these areas and on opening pathways, leaving the valuable habitat of old scrub undisturbed, he said.

Twenty farms are involved in the five-year conservation project, which involves the active management of priority habitats including orchid rich grasslands, limestone pavements and turloughs.

Dr Brendan Dunford, project manager, called for continued support for farming for conservation in the Burren.

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