THE BURRENLIFE project has received a late reprieve after the European Commission extended the project’s work for a further five months.
The work of the BurrenLife group – which is putting in place a blueprint for the future development of farming on the Burren – was due to expire on August 31st next.
However, project director Dr Brendan Dunford confirmed yesterday that the commission had given the green light for the extension of the project to January.
Dr Dunford said that the extension was vital for BurrenLife to complete its work.
Recently, Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith announced that farmers in the Burren were to receive €3 million to implement the practices developed by BurrenLife across the Burren over a three-year period from 2010.
The EU conservation programme has been in place for the last five years and has identified the central importance of the farmer and the cow in the conservation of the Burren.
Dr Dunford said yesterday: “There has been a tremendous amount of research collated over the past five years and it is our job to bring that data together now.
Dr Dunford said the data will form the blueprint for future farming in the Burren.
Since 2005, the project’s work has centred on 20 farms covering 3,000 hectares in the Burren and Dr Dunford said that the aim was roll this out to 700 farms across 72,000 hectares from 2010.
The chairman of Burren IFA, Michael Davoren, said yesterday: “We are absolutely thrilled that the scheme has got an extension. BurrenLife has done wonderful work over the past 4½ years and we are hopeful now that the scheme can be rolled out across the Burren.”
The importance of the farmer and the cow to the Burren was first recognised by the State six years ago when the Department of the Environment hired a herd of cattle to conserve the site of the iconic 5,800-year-old Poulnabrone dolmen.
Dr Dunford said: “The pilot project posed the questions and now we have the answers and with the various legal designations on the Burren landscape and a possible World Heritage site designation, all of that in the future will be contingent on the work BurrenLife does.”
He cited a recent study which shows that 88 per cent of Burren farmers are positive about the impact of BurrenLife.
He was hopeful that the Department of the Environment would provide the funding to allow the administration and research for the spending of €3 million over the three years from 2010-2012.
For some years scientists have been reassessing their views on what influences in the past, whether natural or man-made, made the Burren as we know it today.
The long-held view was that the action of glaciers was the only influence that created the moon-like landscape seen in some parts of the Burren.
However, research by Prof Michael O’Connell, of the palaeoenvironmental research unit in NUI Galway’s school of natural sciences and botany, conducted research which showed that there had been extensive grazing activity across much of the Burren.
Cattle, not glaciers, cleared the rough limestone landscape of surface vegetation.
In addition, there had been extensive open pine forest cover in the north Burren west of Ballyvaughan
For some years it was argued that livestock should be kept off the Burren in order to protect rare species of flowers such as the gentian. Researchers showed however that scrub bushes will quickly colonise and overwhelm areas where there are no cattle or sheep to eat these plants as they sprout.