‘Farm­ers here have been mind­ing the en­vi­ron­ment for thou­sands of years’

Irish Independent - Farming - - ANALYSIS -

It’s a mild Oc­to­ber morn­ing in Fanore on the west coast of Clare where Bur­ren farm­ers, neigh­bours and day-trip­pers pre­pare to do the re­verse of the Alpine process and take their an­i­mals up to higher ground for the win­ter.

Farmer Patsy Car­ru­can is stand­ing on a pic­nic ta­ble out­side O’Dono­hue’s pub wel­com­ing all and sundry to walk with his cat­tle to the lime­stone up­lands. The event is part of the an­nual Bur­ren Win­ter­age Fes­ti­val, a week­end of sem­i­nars, talks and walks hosted by the Bur­ren Beo Trust.

“Tak­ing cat­tle to the higher ground has been done here for thou­sands of years,” ex­plains Patsy. “The rank grasses and flow­ers such as or­chids and oth­ers that bloom in sum­mer on the higher ground are not palat­able then but in win­ter the cat­tle love them.”

Dr Bren­dan Dun­ford, the driv­ing force be­hind the Bur­ren Life Project, has been work­ing on the project for 20 years.

“Farm­ing in places like the Bur­ren is more than just about food pro­duc­tion,” he says. “Farm­ers in this area have been mind­ing this sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­ment for thou­sands of years, and we work with them to con­tinue that while also mak­ing a liv­ing.”

This is echoed by Michael Da­voren, chair­man of the lo­cal IFA who says: “It’s the farmer who knows ev­ery cor­ner of his own fields. We are all pas­sion­ate about what we do here.”

Up to 400 farm­ers with a to­tal of 25,000ha par­tic­i­pate in the Bur­ren Life Project and are re­warded with an av­er­age an­nual top-up of about €6,000 to €7,000 per farmer.

The talk­ing is over and it’s time to hunt cat­tle. For a regis­tra­tion fee of €5 we get a drover’s stick, a cup of tea and a help­ing of lo­cal home cook­ing.

For­ti­fied for the climb, we re­ceive in­struc­tions from the co­or­di­na­tor of the Bur­ren Life Project, Brid­get Barry, and leave to meet the cat­tle. Climb­ing through el­e­vat­ing fields, we gather on a road above Fanore look­ing out to sea where the Aran Is­lands bask in the mid­day sun.

A lo­cal priest stands on a gate and blesses the an­i­mals, but with a hun­dred pairs of eyes star­ing at them and a pha­lanx of cam­eras whirring in their faces, they are re­luc­tant to leave the safety of the pen. Af­ter some en­cour­age­ment, one of them leads the way and the oth­ers fol­low.

Low main­te­nance

Af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar but gen­tle climb we ar­rive at the up­lands, where the cat­tle swish their way into the new pas­ture and gladly savour the first taste of their win­ter de­lights.

Patsy Car­ru­can ex­plains that the herd will stay here un­til Jan­uary when he will bring them back down for calv­ing. Many farm­ers leave them on the up­lands un­til March.

“Up here they are in a very low-main­te­nance en­vi­ron­ment. I come up ev­ery few days to say hello,” says Patsy.

It’s time for us to say good­bye and leave the cat­tle to their win­ter fare. The hu­mans re­turn to O’Dono­hue’s pub to bowls of steam­ing Ir­ish stew, creamy pints and more than a cou­ple of songs.

Cat­tle en­joy their win­ter graz­ing above Fanore

PHOTO: KEVIN BYRNE

Right to left: Patsy and Anne Car­ru­can with their daugh­ter Ni­amh, son Kevin and daugh­ter-in-law Noirín

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