Burren farmer to lead Winterage Community Cattle Drive

A 22-year-old farmer who is passionate about farming for nature in the Burren will lead this year’s Burren Winterage Community Cattle Drive on Sunday, October 27, from 11:30am in Carron village.

A celebration of the unique Burren farming tradition of winterage, it was recently added to Ireland’s list of intangible cultural heritage by the department of heritage, culture and the Gaeltacht.

Members of the local community and visitors are invited to join Aoife Forde and her family as they walk their cattle up to their winterage pastures in the Burren uplands, continuing an ancient tradition that plays a vital role in conserving the Burren’s famous landscape and its biodiversity.

Unique to the Burren

“The cattle drive demonstrates the pride that people living in the Burren feel about the farmers and farming heritage of the Burren,” said Brendan Dunford, manager of the Burren Programme.

“This year, we are delighted to have Aoife Forde and her family leading the cattle drive. Aoife has grown up in the heart of the Burren, farming alongside her father P.J. and her mother Fiona.

At 22, she is pursuing a master’s degree in agriculture innovation and support and is passionate about farming for nature in the Burren. The future of the Burren depends on young farmers like her.

The practice of winterage or herding cattle from the lowlands up to the highlands for grazing over winter is unique to the Burren and nearby Aran Islands.

The landscape of upland limestone in the Burren provides a warm dry place for the cattle to rest, as well as water from calcium-rich springs to drink and a variety of plants to eat.

The practice of winter grazing has been proven by scientists to ensure that every spring, the great biodiversity of the Burren’s orchid-rich grasslands can come back to life and thrive.

Annalisa Murphy, coordinator at the Burrenbeo Trust, said that as they follow 22-year-old Aoife and the Forde family along with their cattle up to their winterage pastures, participants will be able to enjoy stunning views of the Burren hills and of Carron turlough.

“The trail will bring us along a beautiful ‘green road’ to the summit of the hill where the cattle will overwinter.

The starting point of the walk is the school in Carron. The full route to the winterage and back will be 10km but there is also an option to do a shorter 5km loop.

The event will commence with an orchestral performance at Carron church at 11:00am by Sonic Strings, a local teen orchestra joined by Swedish orchestral friends DalaViolinisterna.

Registration for the walk will begin at 11:30am. There will be tea, coffee and scones on offer beforehand and hazel sticks to help people on their way. The walk will begin at 12:30pm.

It is open to all, with a suggested donation of €10 to €5 per person towards the landscape charity, Burrenbeo Trust, for its education programmes in local schools.

Awards

The community cattle drive is one of a variety of events organised to celebrate the heritage of winterage in the Burren during the Burren Winterage Weekend between October 24 and 27.

Focusing this year on the theme of building a healthy future for people, food and nature, the events include the three-day long Burren Winterage School; herdman’s walks; a historical walk; a food fair; book readings; film screenings; a children’s art workshop; a Burren perfumery workshop; and the national farming for nature awards.

While a lot of the events are free of charge, some of the ticketed events of the Winterage Weekend are fundraisers for the Burrenbeo Trust. Full information on the programme and booking details are available on: www.burrenwinterage.com.

Meanwhile, people are reminded to vote for their favourite Farming for Nature ambassador; 10 short films on this year’s ambassadors can be found at: www.farmingfornature.ie. The deadline is October 25.

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