Monday 25 February 2008

Gormley stresses Burren's uniqueness

THE GOVERNMENT will actively pursue efforts to make the Burren Ireland's next Unesco world heritage site, Minister for the Environment John Gormley is to disclose this evening.

The Green Party leader wants to achieve the status for what he described as the Burren's "unique environment" within the lifetime of the Government.

There are only two world heritage sites in the State - Newgrange in Co Meath and the monastic settlement on Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry. Both were added to the list in the 1990s.The Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim has been on the list since 1986.

In addition, the monastery at Clonmacnoise in Co Offaly is also at an advanced stage of the process and there are hopes that it can attain world heritage status within 18 months.

In an address to be delivered at the BurrenLife conference in Ennistymon, Co Clare, tonight, Mr Gormley will say that he plans to redouble Ireland's efforts at achieving world heritage status for a number of additional sites in Ireland, with Clonmacnoise and now the Burren at the top of the list.

Both sites were included on a tentative list that was submitted to Unesco in 1992.

A site achieves the status of world heritage site when it has a cultural or natural significance which is "so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity".

There are some 851 sites on the world heritage list in 141 countries. They include monuments and landmarks as diverse at the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House, Machu Picchu in Peru, as well as the historic centres of famous cities such as Venice, Prague, Rome and Paris.

The Burren, if accorded the status, would be a "different type of Unesco site", Mr Gormley added. At 50,000 hectares it is a multiple of the size of the other two sites in Ireland.

However, he said: "It allows for dynamic living and working environments like the Burren. There are many examples around the world of such sites, most notably the island of Öland in Sweden."

In the speech, Mr Gormley will accept that Ireland's current tally is too low and also concede that only limited work has been done to remedy that in the past decade.

According to Mr Gormley: "The Burren is the finest example in western Europe of a landscape moulded by the combination of glacial activity and the solution of limestone by water."

Besides its unique landscape and geology, the Burren is also renowned for its botanical and archaeological richness and for its wide variety of bird and animal species.

However, the Minister will warn that efforts to achieve Unesco status could be threatened by over-intensive farming methods. Another slightly unexpected threat has been the boom in garden landscaping in recent years. It has resulted in the removal of large quantities of water-worn limestone pavement.

As a first step, the Department of the Environment is expected to begin work on a draft management plan for the Burren.

The Irish Times

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