Burren bovine experiment set to grow as Ministers hail 'eco-friendly' cattle

Mon, May 25, 2009, 01:00

AN EU conservation programme has confirmed the central importance of the cow to protecting the Burren.

The €2.2m BurrenLife programme is due to finish shortly, and its director, Dr Brendan Dunford, said yesterday that the extension of the pilot project across the Burren “has to happen”.

The programme involves having cows graze at overgrown sites – such as the 5,800-year-old Poulnabrone dolmen – in order to “manicure” the land, which in turn increases biodiversity and improves water quality.

Dr Dunford was speaking after the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, and the Minister for Agriculture, Brendan Smith, signed a memo of understanding aimed at extending the project to the end of this year.

Over the past 4½ years, the project’s work has centred on 20 farms covering 3,000 hectares in the Burren. Dr Dunford said the aim was to introduce the conservation programme to 700 farms across 72,000 hectares from 2010.

Dr Dunford said that at the heart of the project was the role played by the farmer and the cow in ensuring the future conservation of the Burren.

The importance of both to the Burren was first recognised by the State six years ago when the Department of the Environment hired a herd of eco-friendly cattle to conserve the site of the iconic 5,800-year-old Poulnabrone dolmen. The cattle, owned by Burren farmer Pat Nagle, graze the site a couple of times each year.

Mr Nagle said yesterday: “When the cows were first introduced to the site, it was overgrown, but now with the cows manicuring the site, it has shown how essential cows are to the Burren. What is happening at Poulnabrone is a model for the rest of the Burren. It is very important.”

Mr Nagle is paid a nominal amount by the State for the cattle to graze the site from October to Christmas and a few weeks during April and May.

“The cattle grazing the site has allowed the flowers to grow there again and of course the tourists can’t get over that there are cows at the site and love taking photos of the cattle,” said Mr Nagle.

Dr Dunford said: “BurrenLife has provided the evidence that the role of cattle is the key factor in conserving the Burren: in controlling the spread of scrub; in ensuring increased biodiversity and in improving water quality.”

Burren IFA chairman Michael Davoren said: “The BurrenLife project has blazed a trail and has been a big success.”

Dr Dunford said that BurrenLife was the only agri-conservation programme that had been proven to work there.

A spokesman for Mr Gormley said: “The Minister is very keen that, after the expiry of the project, the work of promoting farming for conservation in the Burren should continue.”