The Burren - Agriculture
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Many visitors to the Burren in County Clare are surprised to learn that these rugged hills are home to several hundred farm families, and that these families continue a long and illustrious tradition of farming in this rocky kingdom.
Often misled by the ostensibly barren, rocky appearance of the hills, and by the absence of livestock on them over the summer season, little do these visitors realise it, but the fascinating cultural and natural heritage that attracts them to the Burren is essentially a legacy of this agricultural tradition.
From a farming perspective, the Burren uplands are primarily associated with the practice of 'winterage'. This is an unusual adaptation of the 'transhumance' tradition (the seasonal moving of livestock by farmers) found in upland areas elsewhere in Europe, wherein animals are moved to the hill pastures in summertime. In the Burren uplands, this system was reversed and hardy native breeds of beef cattle were used to graze upland grasslands between the months of October and April.
The ecological significance of this tradition in immense: wintering animals removed all the litter and grasses that would otherwise inhibit herb growth and thus limit plant species diversity, without damaging these plants during their flowering season. The cultural legacy of this ancient practice is apparent in the numerous tombs, ring forts and tower houses found throughout the upland pastures which, without continued farming activity, would eventually disappear under the sea of scrub and woodland.
The people of the Burren and their wonderful traditions are an integral, though frequently overlooked, aspect of this special landscape. These people have an important role to play in the protection and interpretation of their rich heritage, so visitors should spare a thought for the custodians of the Burren, and be sure to be courteous and respectful towards them and their beautiful home.