The Heritage Council has called for the urgent introduction of a national landscape management plan following a report that concludes that the Burren in Co Clare is seriously under threat from scrub overgrowth, which is destroying the habitats of rare flowers and plants.
The report, carried out in conjunction with the BurrenLife Project, found that the natural and archaeological heritage in the Burren is far richer than previously understood but that it is under threat from ad-hoc changes such as reduced cattle grazing and farming activity which have allowed scrub to grow unchecked. The project promotes farming for conservation.
"Changes are happening in an ad-hoc way at a landscape level in the Burren and urgent action needs to be taken to manage these changes as they have an incremental effect which is devastating to the delicate landscape and eco-system in the Burren," said Michael Starrett, chief executive of the Heritage Council.
The Burren which covers over 600sq km (232sq miles) is one of Ireland's main tourist attractions as well as being one of the country's most important heritage assets.
The report found the growth of hazel and blackthorn scrub is increasing by almost 5 per cent per year. It also found that an aerial survey of just five square kilometres showed at least a 120 per cent increase in the number of archaeological monuments recorded. It concluded that the Burren is much richer in archaeology than ever previously imagined. The report also found that more consultation was needed with landowners in the Burren.
Cattle have grazed on the Burren for thousands of years and they were a very important element in managing the landscape and allowing the rare flowers and plants to grow there. The cattle have stopped grazing in many areas due to a reduction in farming and scrub is now growing out of control. The growth is changing the environment so that many delicate plants can no longer live there as their habitat is being destroyed. It is also threatening the world-renowned archaeology there.
"We urgently need to resource a national landscape management programme. It is especially needed for areas such as the Burren, the Tara-Skryne valley and the Cooley Peninsula and many others," Mr Starrett said.
"Ireland lags far behind other European countries which have legislation in place to allow designation of important landscapes and accompany the designation with resources to manage them in a sustainable manner. This approach is vital for our economy, quality of life and environment and we strongly recommend that urgent steps are taken to manage our most important heritage and tourism landscapes," he concluded.
Commenting on the report, Brendan Dunford, from the BurrenLife project, said: "The findings of this report are very important and we need to take it very seriously before too much irreversible damage is done. Our project is about 'Farming for Conservation of the Burren'."
© Irish Times