Changing farm practices in the Burren, Co Clare, are endangering the archaeology there as hazel and blackthorn scrub are increasing at an estimated annual rate of 4.4 per cent.
This has been one of the findings of the major new Heritage Council-funded study into the impact of scrub on the archaeology of the Burren which has just been published. The detailed study noted that during fieldwork, 77 per cent of recorded sites in the study area were being threatened by hazel and blackthorn scrub encroachment.
Scrub was found to be damaging sites at a structural and sub-surface level and occluding sites, thereby putting them at increased risk of future loss or damage through inadvertent scrub clearance.
The summary of the report found that the landscape and archaeology of the Burren had been shaped and managed by the long tradition of farming which included grazing livestock on the limestone pavements during the winter.
It said recent changes in farming practices had led to changes to the Burren which has the highest concentration and perhaps the highest diversity of archaeological remains in Ireland. The changes, the report added, had implications for the future landscape resources throughout the country, including archaeology.
In its conclusions, the study called for a proper landscape-level management plan for the archaeology of the Burren as a matter of urgency.
It also recommended that a full archaeological survey at an estimated cost of €1.25 million should be carried out, however this could take up to five years to accomplish.
The Heritage Council-funded study also called for annual monitoring and mapping of hazel growth using satellite or other suitable imagery. "As part of this a system of monitoring and maintenance of archaeological monuments affected by scrub should be devised," it said.
"A programme of remedial work should be devised for a number of monuments which are already under threat from scrub."
The report said that landowners should be notified of the protected monuments and areas on their lands. This would allow for the implementation of legislation.
The report also said there should be more effective and improved consultation with Burren landowners.
Seán Mac Connell
© 2007 The Irish Times