The Burren Fieldtrip: A lesson in Conservation and Landscape Management

by Ailbhe Murphy

It was once said of the Burren, by one of Cromwell’s generals, that it was a place with, “not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, or earth enough to bury him”.  (Obviously the invasion was not going as well as they had hoped!).  Luckily during the 4th year BEES students’ visit to the Burren Fidelma Butler, Matthijs Schouten and Padraig Whelan were able to give a much more insightful and positive interpretation of the landscape than that of Cromwell’s general!

We learnt, for example, that there is, “not water enough to drown a man” in the Burren because it is largely a Karstic landscape of permeable bedded limestone which swallows its rivers underground, that there is not, “wood enough to hang one”, because c.5000 years ago its native woodlands were cleared by Neolithic farmers and that there is not “earth enough to bury him” due to the combination of woodland removal preceded by glacial scouring, following the last ice age.

We also learnt, however, that far from making the Burren bleak and lifeless, these physical attributes have in fact led to a landscape of intrigue and diversity.  A landscape that requests your attention if its newts, lizards, array of wildflowers and system of underground rivers are to be revealed to you.  Thankfully orator Matthjis was on hand to captivate and direct our attentions further and, on day one he had us exploring an inland cave from which we could spy on the subterranean R. Fergus.  On day two he opened our eyes to the juxtaposed nature of the Burren’s semi-natural grasslands, pointing out the white flowers of arctic-alpine Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) sitting unabashed next to the pretty pinks of sub-Mediterranean Bloody Cranesbills (Geranium sanguineum).  Historical obscenities were also revealed, on the “day of culture”, which gave rise to much unsuppressed giggling in front of Kilnaboy’s Sheela na Gig.  But fear not, our sins were quickly purged by a visit to the penitential stations on our way back to Carron hostel!

By delving into all these layers of the Burren landscape (geology, hydrology, flora, fauna, archeology) a want to conserve, and recognition of conservations purpose, was inspired in us all. So much so that by day 5, our understanding of the landscape’s workings allowed us to identify its strengths and sensitivities; its allies and its foes.  Establishing these led to an uplifting brainstorm of fresh ideas on how to approach, what initially felt like the mammoth task of landscape management.  Ideas which left conflicts and destruction behind and resolution and conservation very much in the forefront.

This sense of deep learning along with the memories of waking up to views of Carron Turlough, climbing to the top of Mullagh More and being spoilt with daily words of wisdom from Matthijs has made for a rather unique start to this our 4th and final year in UCC.

More photos from the Burren Fieldtrip on the BEES Facebook Page.


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