Protecting the Burren

Nowhere else is there a landscape quite like it; airy mountains, delicate alpine spring flowers, reminders of peoples long gone and miles of lonely peaceful roads. This is a truly amazing place, a place on another timescale but it’s a landscape that you need to tread on carefully; It’s as fragile as it’s beautiful. The exposed rock of the Burren, the limestone pavement is unique and geologist Dr. Maria McNamara is working on getting a Geopark established. A Geopark is basically a region that has a geological heritage that is internationally important. The status is afforded by UNESCO. Because the geology is the foundation for all other aspects of the landscape, a Geopark also includes sites that are valued for their archaeology, their ecology, their history and their cultural heritage. This landscape, it took over 300 million years to form so we are the custodians of the land and it is our job to protect this environment. We’ve had problems here with people coming in destroying the limestone pavement, people removing it for sale in garden centres, but also a lot of people who just walk over the pavement and don’t recognise its value. Faced with the challenge of protecting this rare and fragile piece of Ireland, while at the same time allowing for development and managing tourism, a number of agencies, among them Clare County Council and Shannon Development have come together to set up the Burren Connect Project. Carol Gleeson is in charge of implementing the project. Carol can you tell us about the Burren Connect Project? The project is really about linking environment, community and tourism together to conserve the Burren, that’s the ultimate aim of the project. It’s the Burren’s conservation and the protection of the environment. We attract thousands and thousands of visitors every year and visitors are very welcome because they contribute quite a bit to the local economy but there is sometimes a negative impact in terms of their footprint on the environment. One of the big issues we have to contend with is traffic management. For example at the iconic Poulnabrone Dolmen that was an area in which there was huge traffic problems but we’ve created a car park there that has alleviated the traffic problems there. And then also we are looking at safe pull-in areas and at those points there’s information. There’s the Burren Code which tries to encourage people to respect the landscape. Our board with the Burren Code which just gives an outline of the various .. So just not disturbing the ecology, not lifting the pavement, not picking flowers and respect land owners. The beauty of the Burren is fascinating people from all over the world and many of the visitors clogging up the little roads with their cars come here to walk. The kind of walking routes that we want to develop are either ones that have existed for centuries such as the green roads or places where we have agreements with landowners. The green roads, they’re really very, very beautiful places that crisscross the Burren. And there’s no cars on these. No not at all. These are literally green roads. There’s rights of way through them because they’ve been used by the public for as long as they’ve existed. There are also practical hands-on conservation measures as part of the project. The main conservation project we have is in Fanore Dunes and the Dunes attract a lot of visitors because there’s a beautiful beach there and what we’re trying to do is balance the amenity demands with the conservation needs. John Murphy from Birdwatch Ireland is leading today’s guided talk. Now that’s quite late for late September. There are many aspects of wildlife and nature here on this display board and there are more boards around the area here explaining the small birds, insects, flowers and wildlife that we have here in Fanore itself. The public awareness is very, very important. People need to be informed and told exactly what’s going on. We’re going to be walking through the actual area itself around Fanore here and as we go along we’ll show people what we come across and what’s here. The sand dunes here have been partly fenced off to stop their deterioration. Shifting sand is kept in place by the roots of marram grass. If that is disturbed the sand is once more on the move. Through traffic of people going through the sand dunes they’re eroding away sections of it in areas and it’s fenced off for a very simple reason we’re trying to keep people out to stop this erosion happening because if the sand dunes disappear here the sea will just come right in and start eating away through the rest of the land and through the rock and through parts of Fanore. Today’s vegetation of the Burren is the result of centuries of farming practices. Without the grazing of animals, the Burren would revert to hazel scrub. With all the farming going on here is there much local produce? There’s a lot and there’s a lot already being produced locally and it ties very well in with the whole concept of ecotourism which is how when people come to a locality that they’re actually eating the food from the locality. So for example you have the Burren Smokehouse which produces very, very high quality smoked fish, there’s a lot of cheese producers, there are farmers’ markets where you can buy this produce and an awful lot of the businesses are actually using and selling the produce themselves. We would like to see the Burren become an ecotourism destination. The Burren is a very, very sensitive landscape and when you are actually preparing plans, you know to improve the economy here, to actually grow the number of businesses, to look for the opportunity for example for ecotourism, you’ve got to do it in a very planned manner. You’ve got to do it in a way that actually protects the environment; protects it for the people who work and live here at the moment and also protects it for future generations.

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