Wednesday 20 May 2015

HRH Prince Charles visits The Burren

On his first ever visit to the west of Ireland, HRH Prince Charles chose to spend his opening afternoon in The Burren, the limestone landscape famous for its flora, archaeology and unique farming traditions. During the visit, hosted by the Burrenbeo Trust, the Prince was introduced to local farmer Patrick Nagle, who showed off some of his livestock and also some of the work he has done to protect the environment as part of the award-winning Burren Life programme. The Prince then met local schoolchildren who had recently graduated as ‘Burren experts’ through Burrenbeo’s ‘Ecobeo’ programme, before joining some ‘Burrenbeo conservation volunteers’ in repairing some farm walls. On his departure from the farm, the Prince was presented with a hamper of local food products by his hosts and enjoyed some traditional tunes courtesy of local teenage musicians, the Kinvara string quintet.

Described as ‘the heritage soul of Ireland’, the Burren contains Ireland’s highest density of archaeological sites, boasts a stunning geological heritage and is home to over 70% of all of Ireland’s native flower species. Prince Charles arrived at the perfect time to witness this extraordinary botanical display in full bloom, seeing Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean wildflowers first-hand. The Prince was told of the vulnerability of these plants and their habitats and the need for sensitive management, while hearing about the success of two community-based projects, the Burrenbeo Trust and Burren Life programme, in doing just this.

The Burrenbeo Trust is Ireland’s first landscape charity dedicated to the sustainable management of the Burren. The focus of the Trust’s work over the past decade has been to ‘connect people to Ireland’s learning landscape’ through innovative education and training programmes, conservation volunteer events and community festivals. Trust Coordinator Brigid Barry, who showed off this work to the Prince, said ‘We are thrilled to showcase our conservation and education programmes to the Prince. We believe the future of the Burren is in building pride and awareness in the region, which we do through our 20 week Ecobeo schools programme from which over 1,000 local children have graduated, as well as monthly walks and talks and annual festivals such as ‘Burren in Bloom’ and the ‘Winterage Weekend’. There is now a great sense of pride and respect for this extraordinary landscape, which Prince Charles was fascinated to learn about’. Ms Barry also told the Prince of Burrenbeo’s advocacy for an increased emphasis on ‘place based learning’ in Ireland and of Burrenbeo’s vision for the Burren as the ultimate ‘learning landscape’ where people can really connect with the world around them.

The work of the Burrenbeo Trust is complemented by that of the Burren Life Programme, an innovative farming programme which pays farmers for their environmental performance. Through Burren Life, local farmers identify, co-fund and carry out key conservation tasks on their farms – such as wall repair, scrub removal and protecting vulnerable water supplies. These farmers are also paid for their ‘environmental performance’ – how successful they are at looking after the local habitats, water and soil – through an innovative ‘scoring system’ which Prince Charles learnt about from Burren Life scientist Dr. Sharon Parr. The ‘results-based’ approach pioneered by the Burren Life Programme is now being used as a template for Agri-Environment schemes across the EU.

Patrick Nagle, on whose farm the Royal visit took place, said that ‘It was a great honour to show Prince Charles around our farm. We told him about the work that my son Oliver and I have done over the past 5 years of Burren Life – new walls built and gates hung, scrub taken out, water sources protected, silage replaced – and about how the improved grazing that has resulted from this work has helped us to earn better environmental payments. This is a very proud day for us, for the generations of farmers who have worked the land of the Burren in the past, and for the youngsters that we hope will farm it in the years ahead.'

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