Natural Heritage Conservation
Much of the Burren has been recognised as being of major international conservation interest: over 30,000ha of the region has been designated as a ‘Special Area of Conservation’ (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive. This designation arises from the presence of significant expanses of ‘priority’ EU habitats including limestone pavements and orchid rich calcareous grasslands. Under SACs landowners have to get consent from the National Parks and Wildlife Service before undertaking certain actions (‘activities requiring consent’) on their land; failure to do so may result in prosecution.
While most of the Burren is privately owned, it does contain a National Park – Ireland’s smallest at 1,500ha – and several Nature Reserves (Slieve Carron, Coole-Garryland and Dromore Woods). These lands are owned by the state and managed through ‘grazing agreements’ with local farmers.
Who is supporting nature conservation in the Burren?
The main body charged with the protection of the Burren is the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). Two NPWS rangers are based in the (east and west) Burren, while the NPWS also manage a visitor information centre in the town of Corofin (www.burrennationalpark.ie). The NPWS rangers liaise with landowners regarding planned works, but also investigate instances where works that contravene the Habitats Directive may have occurred. NPWS are responsible for the management of the National Park and Nature Reserves and employ workers to undertake conservation measures – scrub control, wall repair, path maintenance, litter removal etc – on these areas.
As the Burren is a vast area, with a huge amount of active conservation needed, the Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers are key in helping to train, raise awareness and carry out action on conservation in the region. View here for the work the Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers carry out.
As the Burren – and its SACs – is largely owned and managed by farmers, the most effective way to ensure that the regions habitats are managed well is by working with these farmers. The Burren Programme (www.burrenlife.com) is a bespoke Agri Environmental Programme for the Burren and arose out of detailed research through the EU-funded BurrenLIFE project. Funded by the Dept of Agriculture and by NPWS, its aim is to conserve and support the heritage, environment and communities of the Burren. From its office in Carron, it works with several hundred Burren farmers as part of its locally-targeted, farmer-centered, results-based approach to conservation.
The Burren Programme contains two main measures. The first is where farmers nominate actions which will improve the environmental health of their farm – protecting water sources, removing invasive scrub, repairing walls – and are then part-funded to carry out these works on their land. The second measure employs an innovative scoring system which captures the ‘environmental health’ of each field on an annual basis and rewards the farmer in accordance with his/her success in achieving this. The Programme has shown six years of demonstrable improvements in environmental health of the Burren and this approach is now being employed in other places such as the Aran Islands.
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark Official (www.burrengeopark.ie) is another conservation project which, from its base in Ennistymon, aims to support people and organisations to work together to ensure a cared-for landscape, a better understood heritage, more sustainable tourism, a vibrant community and strengthened livelihoods.