Burren future lies in balance

A DEFINING moment is looming for the future of the Burren in Co Clare, one of the most important landscapes in Europe with a wealth of natural and cultural heritage.

BurrenLife Project has been working for the past four years in partnership with the Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc and the National Parks and Wildlife Service towards developing a new model for sustainable agriculture in the limestone region.

Much of the Burren is designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and forms part of the Natura 2000 Network. These areas contain a variety of habitats, including limestone pavements, grasslands and limestone heaths.

The project’s objective is to develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve the designated habitats.

The Burren is especially famous for its flowers. Three-quarters of all of Ireland’s native flowers are found there, including most of the Irish orchid species.

An important step in developing a model for sustainable agriculture in the country’s flagship heritage landscape will be taken at a three-day international conference to be held at the Falls Hotel, Ennistymon, Co Clare.

Environment Minister John Gormley and Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle will be among speakers from Ireland and other European countries who will address the (February 24-27) conference on the theme of Farming for Conservation — Supporting the Future.

Case studies will be presented from other limestone regions across Europe, including the Alvars of Sweden, the Causse in France and the Yorkshire Dales in Britain.

Project manager Dr Brendan Dunford said there is a moral and legal obligation to do whatever is necessary to protect the Burren for future generations.

“The strong support of the local farming community to date for this work would have to be matched by the commitment and resources of the relevant authorities in years to come.

“Decisions, which now have to be made, will determine whether the Burren will be managed and developed for the benefit of all, or whether this special resource is allowed to be squandered,” he said.

Martin Territt, director of the European Commission Representation in Dublin, said the Burren is unique to the European landscape, saying it needs to be protected not only because of the magnificent limestone relief but also because it supports Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine flora side by side.

“However, agriculture is also part of the Burren’s identity and lifeblood. This is why the European Commission is giving support to BurrenLIFE and assisting the launch,” he said.

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