The Burren is like a ‘five-star hotel for cattle in winter’

The Burren is like a five-star hotel for cattle in wintertime, according to manager of the Burren Programme Dr. Brendan Dunford, who praised the efforts of farmers in becoming eco-service providers as well as food suppliers.

“We’ve always viewed farming in the Burren as being primarily about food production, but we also understand that farming is also about delivering wonderful things like landscape, biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration, all of those things,” Dr. Dunford said.

“What we have done [in the Burren Programme] is we have rewarded farmers when they have delivered these outcomes.

And that’s important because society really wants better biodiversity, better water quality, a better climate and farmers – especially in the Irish context – are the ones to deliver on the coalface.

The programme manager noted that the scheme provides a mechanism to reward farmers that deliver for the environment and deliver for society.

“With targeted research with proper financial support and with a little bit of encouragement, I think farmers can really deliver more than just food; they can reinvent themselves as farmers and as an industry to be providers of a range of ecosystem services as well as great food providers.”

Winterage weekend

Dr. Dunford also commented on the upcoming Burren Winterage Weekend, due to take place on the last Sunday of the month.

“We have this amazing tradition down in Clare and Galway called the Burren Winterage system whereby farmers bring their cattle to the hills in wintertime; and people wonder why would you do that,” he said.

“Well, the Burren is one big tablet of limestone so effectively it’s like an underfloor heating system for cattle.”

The manager highlighted that cattle on the landscape have calcium-rich water to drink, along with a broad range of herbs and vegetation to eat throughout the winter.

So they’ve plenty to eat, plenty to drink and they have what’s called a dry lie as well – so I always think of the Burren like a five-star hotel for cattle during wintertime.

“So we’re celebrating that every year, so it’s important to acknowledge the role farming plays in this amazing landscape of the Burren and we have this little festival every year called the Burren WInterage Weekend.”

Dr. Dunford explained that when the farmers bring their cattle up to the hills, the broader community is invited to join them.

He explained that the “ancient tradition” captures “not just the importance of this traditional farming system but also what they give to us as a society”.

“What they give to us in terms of tradition, culture, biodiversity, landscape; so it’s a lovely way to acknowledge that at the Burren Winterage Weekend, and the walk this year will be on October 28 in a place called Abbeyhill in the north Burren,” Dr. Dunford said.