Developing a unique brand of beef meat in the Burren region in Co Clare could save the future of farming in the area, it emerged today.
Livestock herds that have traditionally grazed the vegetation are dwindling in the face of profit-driven, intensive agriculture.
Now a local EU-funded initiative aims to produce and market a high-quality brand of beef to conserve the natural habitat and make farming more viable.
The BurrenLIFE Project was established last year to develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the limestone region known for its rich diversity of plants and flowers.
Project leader Dr Brendan Dunford said: “In terms of delivering a branded product from the region, beef looks like the best bet, as other sectors like sheep or dairy are not sufficiently strong.
“Livestock feeding on vegetation rich in nutrients and minerals and drinking from natural springs will create conditions even more unique than organic farming,” he said.
“If enough farmers are involved, a steady stream of quality product can be delivered.”
Like other organic meat products, the Burren beef will be juicy and full-flavoured with less fat and cholesterol.
There will be no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or hormones used along the production chain.
It is envisaged that the beef will be stocked in local restaurants, guest houses and shops as well as exported to national and international markets.
There are about 400 farmers in the Burren region who struggle to run small beef and dairy herds of Shorthorn, Angus and Hereford breeds.
But less herds are grazing the uplands where they traditionally kept down vegetation so that delicate species of flora could survive.
BurrenLIFE is also exploring the potential for developing and marketing other branded products from the region like milk and cheese.
The Burren’s limestone landscape spans 160 square kilometres and nurtures plants and flowers only found in Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine regions.
“It contains 70% of Ireland’s native flora such as orchids, foxgloves, rock roses and several herbs,” noted Dr Dunford.
Environmentalists have called for the area to be designated a Unesco World Heritage Site like Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway.
It is a designated area under the EU Habitats Directive and contains five Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) covering 47,000 hectares.
The BurrenLIFE project is supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in partnership with Teagasc and Burren IFA.