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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article14 November 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency

Farming for conservation on Ireland’s Atlantic coast

LIFE04 NAT/IE/000125
Photo: LIFE04 NAT/IE/000125

In Ireland, the project BurrenLIFE developed a new model for the sustainable agricultural management of the priority habitats of the Burren.

Regarded by many as an emblematic LIFE nature project, the BurrenLIFE project in Ireland ran between 2005 and 2010 in the Burren in Co. Clare, an area famous for its beautiful limestone landscape and rich biodiversity. The exploitation of the land by generations of farmers, over 6 000 years, had ensured that large areas of limestone pavements have remained free of scrub, creating a dramatic landscape.

Despite this long tradition of agriculture in the Burren, recent years had seen reduced farming activity, which had led to the slow degradation of priority habitats through under-grazing, abandonment and the loss of land management traditions. In essence, the project paid the farmers of the Burren to deliver defined environmental objectives: maintaining their traditional system of seasonal cattle grazing, while protecting the region’s unique plant life. 

Dr Brendan Dunford, project coordinator of BurrenLIFE, said, ‘Often when we think about biodiversity in farming, we think these two just don't get on very well. Farming is viewed as being very destructive towards our environment, biodiversity or water quality or habitats, but actually that's not always the case. And in most of our high-nature-value farmed landscapes in Europe, it's because of farming that we have those special values in the first place. So, what I'd say is the wrong type of farming is very destructive. But the right type of farming is critically important.’

A rigorous process was used to select 20 pilot farms representative of the diversity inherent in Burren agriculture. The outcome of this process was a series of trialled, costed management actions that form the basis of the new model for the sustainable agricultural management of the priority habitats of the Burren.

In the years that followed, BurrenLIFE evolved into the Burren Programme, which now encompasses hundreds of farms in the Burren, and serves a model of what can be achieved when farmers and conservationists work together. 

  • Hear more about BurrenLIFE in the #LIFEis30 podcast series, episode ‘LIFE begins at 30’.

Burren LIFE is aligned with the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Nature Restoration Law.