We spent the first week of term on a fieldtrip to the Burren, Co. Clare. The first day was spent looking at the geology and hydrology of the region. We visited caves, river valleys, dry valleys, springs and other geomorphological features, and saw what a difference the underlying geology (and subsequent hydrology) has on the types of landscape within the Burren.
In the evening, after a meal in the local pub, we went back to work and made maps of the geology and hydrology in the Burren and discussed how both are related, before either heading back to the pub for pints in front of the fire or getting our heads down early to be ready for the next day.
This was the pattern for the next two days, with Tuesday’s baseline studies being soils, vegetation and fauna, and Wednesday’s being archaeology.
It was on Wednesday that everything suddenly came together for me, in quite a mind-blowing way! Having spent the previous two days getting to know a landscape pretty well, I was taken aback at the added depth that the cultural history would lend to it. The Burren has such a wealth of archaeological monuments and there was no better man to tell us their stories than Prof. Matthijs Schouten.
Thursday was a perfect day of exploring the National Park led by Padraig Whelan, who, along the way introduced us to the conflicts and complexities that can arise when managing a National Park. We climbed to the top of Mullach Mór and had time to take in the unique beauty of the landscape.
That evening we had a presentation from Dr Sharon Parr of the BurrenLIFE project, who showed us that although there are conflicts between conservation and socioeconomic issues in the Burren, there are also some forward thinking solutions being implemented that have the best interests of all at heart. Weary-legged we made our way back to the hostelry where rosy-cheeked pints/hot whiskeys were most definitely drunk that night!
The final day involved piecing everything together, with our maps and discussion groups we brainstormed ways of making a practical management plan for conserving the most valuable parts of the Burren whilst ensuring a viable and sustainable livelihood for those that inhabit it.