burren LIFE

Farming for Conservation
in the Burren

The BurrenLIFE Project

The BurrenLIFE Project is the first major farming for conservation project in Ireland. It is working in one of the most important and best-known landscapes in Europe. Most of what is valued in the Burren has been shaped by the elements and by thousands of years of farming activity. Thus, to protect the Burren, the best way is to continue farming. Modern farming however is not always good for the Burren. Traditional farming - tight winter grazing by hardy old store cattle and with little in the way of supplementary feeding - is no longer sustainable and this has been replaced by farming which involves continental cattle breeds, silage feeding and slatted houses. This has resulted in many winterages being under-grazed and herbage and flowers are losing out to tough grasses and scrub. Silage feeding is contributing to the problem and may also be causing some enrichment and pollution. Many farmers have left the land. The lack of once plentiful farm labour and time for cattle herding, with more and more farmers working off-farm, has resulted in degradation of habitats through changes in grazing levels, expansion of scrub, land abandonment and the loss of important land management practices. Under the Habitats Directive, Ireland is obliged to maintain the listed habitats in the Burren in 'favourable conservation status'. Consequently, different landuse practices have to be examined and introduced in order to ensure that these habitats are not lost. This will require the research and development of new, integrated, systems for the agricultural management of the Burren, to secure a bright future for its people and their heritage. The BurrenLIFE Project is addressing these concerns by working closely with farmers and drawing on their knowledge and skills. The Project is one of the first projects of its type where a strong partnership has been built up between the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Teagasc and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (Dept. of the Environment) with funding support from the EU Commission (LIFE Nature Fund).

The Project will investigate the best ways of farming the Burren through a programme of practical research. Together with its partners in the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Teagasc and Burren IFA, the Project hopes to develop a 'Blueprint' for farming in the Burren. Research will focus on ways of minimising farm inputs and optimising farm outputs and in ensuring the land is managed as efficiently and as effectively as possible. This should benefit both the habitats of the Burren and the farmers who manage them. The Project offers an opportunity for real progress for farm families to be recognized as custodians of the land, its natural and built heritage. It is also a model for future partnerships and offers great potential for farm families in high value habitats to have their livelihoods enhanced by playing a key role in protecting such habitats and landscapes.

Overall Project Objective

To develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve the habitats of the region designated under the Habitats Directive.

Expected Results

  • The maintenance or enhancement of the conservation status of the habitats on 2,000ha (minimum) of Burren farmland and of the wetland habitats associated with the Project sites, now termed 'LIFE farms'
  • The development and support of a new model for 'Conservation Agriculture' in the Burren
  • Greater awareness and understanding of the heritage of the Burren and how to manage it
  • Better understanding of issues relating to the management of areas of high nature value like the Burren

Project Partners: National Parks and Wildlife Service, Teagasc and Burren IFA
Project Supporters: Clare & Galway County Council, Heritage Council, RRD Leader, NUI Galway and the Department of Agriculture and Food
Project Team: Dr. Brendan Dunford, Dr Sharon Parr, Mr. Ruairí Ó Conchúir & Dr. James Moran
Project Budget: Total budget is €2,230,487 of which €1,672,865 (75%) is funded by the EU (LIFE) €375,122 by NPWS, €169,900 by Teagasc & €12,600 by Burren IFA.
Project Timeframe: 5 years (to August 31st 2009)