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“a silver stone land with not enough water to drown, nor earth to bury, but fauna and flora half-hidden, abundant.”

Maureen Grady

Burren 7 °C Cloudy
29. 1. 2023
6:30
Burren National Park logo

Nature & Conservation


The Burren National Park is located in the southeastern corner of the Burren and is approximately 1500 hectares in size. It contains examples of all the major habitats within the Burren: Limestone Pavement, Calcareous Grassland, Hazel scrub, Ash/Hazel Woodland, Turloughs, Lakes, Petrifying Springs, Cliffs and Fen.

Burren's Karst Landscape

above:Karst Landscape of the Burren

The word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boíreann” meaning a rocky place. This is an extremely appropriate name when you consider the lack of soil cover and the extent of exposed Limestone Pavement. However, it has been referred to in the past as “Fertile rock” due to the mixture of nutrient rich herb and floral species.

Arctic-alpine plants live side by side with Mediterranean plants, calcicole (lime-loving) and calcifuge (acid-loving) plants grow adjacent to one another, and woodland plants grow out in the open with not a tree nearby to provide shade from the sun. You will also find certain species which, although rare elsewhere, are abundant in the Burren. All of these plants survive in a land that appears to be composed entirely of rock.

Protect Nature

Thank you for helping us protect nature in the Burren. When you enjoy responsible outdoor recreation here, you help us preserve the unique creatures and habitats of the Burren landscape.

Please follow our protect nature tips below and remember to Leave no Trace of your visit:

Useful Tips

Keep to the marked trails

It is important to keep to the marked trails to protect the landscape and don’t disturb the wildlife. Check the weather and make sure you have everything you need to bring before you set off.

Protect ancient structures

Many of the walls in the Burren are ancient structures.  Please use stiles provided and refrain from climbing over walls.

Be Considerate

Remember to close any gates behind you.


Respect privacy

No drone use is permitted without a licence.

Leave What You Find

Please do not move or remove any rocks or fossils, and do not pick any plants or interfere with the wildlife.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Litter is a huge threat to nature. By bringing your waste home, you help protect the park and its wildlife, and keep the Burren healthy.


Protect our waters

Please remember that fishing is not permitted in the lakes, turloughs or water systems in the Burren National Park.


Geology


The Burren is underlain by limestones of the Lower Carboniferous (Visean) period. The limestone formed as sediments in a tropical sea which covered most of Ireland approximately 350 million years ago. These sediments were compressed into horizontal strata and contain fossil corals, sea urchins, sea-lilies (crinnoids) and ammonites. The limestones within the park belong to the Asbian stage of the Burren formation of which two members are present:

Mullaghmore

  1. The younger terraced member is well jointed and strongly bedded with clay-shale layers interposed between limestone beds at intervals, to produce the characteristic stepped profile of the hills. The upland areas in and around the National Park are underlain by rock belonging to this member. These include the high commons along with Mullaghmór and the hills of Slieverua and Knockanes which are outliers of the main Burren limestone plateau and mark  the southeastern extremity of the Burren uplands.

  2. The underlying maumcaha member is bedded only in its  uppermost part and also has silica (chert) rich zones in its topmost section. The low-lying areas in the park are underlain by this stratum.

Glaciation & Glacio-Karst landscape


The Burren is one of the finest examples of a Glacio-Karst landscape in the world. At least two glacial advances are known in the Burren area. However, it is probably the effects of the last glaciation (the Midlandian) that are most in evidence in the National Park. It is thought that most of the Burren was overrun by ice during this glaciation. This is evident by the presence of fresh deposits of boulderclay at altitudes of just under 300 metres. The covering of ice is not likely to have been thick however, and some of the hills to the west may well have remained clear of ice.

The ice that covered the Burren during this period eroded any remaining shales off the Park and helped to give the hills their rounded shape. The ice sheets had the effect of scraping off a lot of the loose material in the pavement areas but they were also responsible for depositing large heaps of loose material (boulder clay) in the forms of drumlins and moraines or low ridges. Examples of these can be seen on the eastern slopes of Mullaghmór. The glaciers also moved and deposited large boulders sometimes referred to as Erratics, these large limestone boulders can be seen on top of the limestone pavement in Rockforest, an area to the east of Mullaghmór.

The effects of earlier solutional erosion (karstification) have been obliterated by the last ice age, so the karstification of the present day Burren has only been occurring since the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago. The Burren Karst therefore is relatively modern compared with Karst from Eastern Europe.

Slieve Carran

Habitats

Glance at the Burren and you might think it was rock and little else. It is, however, a very complex ecosystem. The habitats within the park grade into one another, creating a mosaic of habitats that are hard to isolate. Limestone pavement is often intermixed with calcareous grassland and hazel scrub, or ash woodland on limestone pavement.

All the major Burren habitats are represented within the park. Around 75% of plant species found in Ireland are represented within the habitats of the Burren, including 23 of Ireland’s 27 native orchid species.


Limestone Pavement


Limestone pavement has become synonymous with the Burren and covers most of the National Park, although usually in a mosaic with other habitats. The pavement may be of either a smooth or shattered type.

Calcareous grassland


Calcareous grassland is found on the terraces of the mountains and between the limestone pavement where there is also a thin layer of soil, as well as on glacial deposits throughout the Burren. These calcareous grasslands host an extraordinary composition of flora. It is these grasslands, found in a mosaic with limestone pavement, which attract botanists from all over the world to study this unique mixture of plants growing together.

Hazel Scrub


Hazel scrub is a common habitat within the Burren and occurs anywhere there is enough soil and shelter. Large tracts of the southern Burren are completely blanketed with hazel scrub, from knee height to 5 metres. The hazel provides shelter for many species of fauna (badgers, pine martens, foxes, red squirrels, mice and shrews), and also for plant and tree species such as blackthorn, hawthorn, brambles, ash, holly and willow.

Deciduous Woodland


Mature deciduous woodland is not common within the park, but there are some excellent examples of ash/hazel woodland, pine forest and oak/ash woodland. Scrub will turn to mature deciduous woodland with time, given adequate depth of soil and shelter. These woodlands tend to be found in dry valleys that have steep sides where the wind sweeps across the top, or in the shelter of cliffs.

Turloughs


The word turlough comes from the Irish word ‘tuar loch’ meaning ‘disappearing lake’. Turloughs are areas that flood in winter or during times of heavy rain. They are fed from groundwater, as opposed to rivers, either through swallow holes or through cracks in the lakebed. The turloughs in the National Park generally have very low nutrient levels and their oligotrophic status means that they are of great botanical interest. Shrubby cinquefoil, a rare and protected species, is one of the plants found in the high flood zone. Also present is the dark moss, Cinclidotis fontinaloides.

Calcareous Fen


In certain areas that are liable to periodic or seasonal flooding, such as the margins of Lough Gealáin and in the townland of Ballyeighter, a calcareous peat has developed. These areas support a rich fen vegetation characterised by species including black bog-rush, purple moor-grass and bogbean, as well as a range of orchid species. While similar wetlands elsewhere in the country have been lost through drainage, the Burren has extensive, intact areas of fen.

Permanent Lakes


There are a number of lakes, both semi-permanent and permanent, within the National Park. Some behave partly as turloughs and are fed from the groundwater through springs and sinkholes on their peripheries. They vary from Lough Bunny to Travaun Lough, which is nearly empty in the summer. The most extensive area of reed swamp occurs in the Ballyeighter Lough area. This forms part of an extensive wetland encompassed in the catchment of the upper Fergus River and is probably the most important oligotrophic calcareous system of freshwater lakes in Western Europe.

Cliffs and Scree


The architecture of the Burren uplands is that of terraces divided by cliffs. The debris that has fallen from these cliffs forms small scree areas. The vegetation on the cliffs is almost identical to that on the limestone pavement areas. However, trees that get a foothold on the cliffs often grow larger than their counterparts on the flat pavement, as grazers cannot reach them. On the southern slopes on Mullaghmór, large yew trees can be seen growing out of what seems to be pure rock.


Flora


The Burren region is internationally famous for its landscape and flora. During the summer months visitors will see a colourful diversity of flowering plants living together within one ecosystem.

Botanically, the Burren is one of the most fascinating regions in Western Europe: plants normally found in widely separate parts of the continent grow alongside each other. For example, mountain avens, a species usually found in sub-arctic and mountainous areas, can be found alongside such southern European species as bloody cranesbill and the dense-flowered orchid, whose distribution is centred around the Mediterranean.

Plants ordinarily associated with acidic conditions, like heathers, also grow abundantly on the Burren limestone, and plants typical of woodland grow in open conditions.

Heather

above: Heather

Noteworthy Species

Among the many varied and beautiful flowers which have come to symbolise the Burren are spring gentian, mountain aven, shrubby cinquefoil and bloody cranesbill and, on the higher terraces, the hoary rock rose.

Orchids of the Burren

Orchid species flourish here. In fact, 23 of Ireland’s 27 orchid species can be found in the park. The first to flower each spring are the early purple orchid and the dense-flowered orchid. Other species here include fly orchid, bee orchid, butterfly orchid and four species of helleborine, including the rare sword-leaved helleborine.

Flora

Conservation


Three quarters of the plants found in Ireland are represented in the flora of the Burren. Some of the rarer plants are protected under European Legislation, more under the 1999 Flora Protection Order.



By leaving the plants where you see them, you are helping to protect the ecosystem, and leave it for others to appreciate. Hopefully, if the plants are appreciated in their natural habitat, they will be there for future generations, too.

Fauna


The nature of the terrain and the traditional farming methods employed in the area have left the Burren relatively unspoilt and undeveloped. Except on the deeper glacial till soils, there has been little disturbance or intensified farming, creating undisturbed habitats for wildlife to thrive.


Ninety five species of bird have been recorded within the Burren National Park, at least 50 of which have used the park for breeding. Among the most dramatic of the birds in the park are ravens, peregrine falcons, kestrels, merlin and hen harriers.
There is also a good representation of the smaller birds like finches, tits and warblers. In winter, when the lakes and turloughs are full, there is a healthy population of over-wintering wildfowl like curlew, lapwing and golden plover. Whooper swans and mute swans are also common, the whoopers only arriving for the winter months.


The Burren National Park hosts a wide range of mammals. Most of the mammal life of the park is nocturnal, but hares, foxes, feral goats and pygmy shrews may be encountered during daytime. Stoats may also be seen weaving their way in and out of stone walls in search of prey. Other mammals found in the park are the field mouse, brown rat, bank vole, rabbit, red squirrel, badger, otter and mink. The mink was introduced into the Irish countryside as escapees from fur farms.


Both of Ireland’s reptile species are found in the Burren National Park; the native common or viviparous lizard and the introduced slow worm. The former may be seen on sunny days warming itself on the limestone rock.
The common frog and the smooth newt are both found in the wetland areas of the park.
Eels and three-spined sticklebacks occur in some of the turloughs, perch are known to exist in Lough Gealáin, pike in Lough Bunny and salmon, tench and pike in the Ballyeighter Lough system.

Butterflies & Moths

The Burren National Park is rich in butterfly species; in fact, the area around Mullaghmore is considered to be the richest butterfly site in Ireland. Twenty-seven of Ireland’s 33 resident and regular migrant butterflies have been recorded here. Five are considered to be endangered or vulnerable and a further four are considered to be near threatened.


Brown Hairstreak

Thecla betulae


Transparent Burnet Moth

Zygaena purpuralis


Pearl Bordered Fritillary

Boloria euphrosyne



Management of the Park’s Habitats

The Burren National Park is managed primarily for nature conservation. The park is unique among the Irish national parks as it is a managed landscape, and the unique flora and fauna rely on farming and ongoing maintenance.

Cow

The park comprises a mosaic of important habitats, and the conservation aim is to maintain and enhance these habitats. In order to achieve this, a diverse range of management techniques are employed: from grazing to mechanical intervention. In some cases the key is to have no intervention. Scree slopes and cliffs, for example, are loose rocky habitats which are left alone.

The majority of the park is covered by a mosaic of limestone pavement, calcareous grassland and ash/hazel woodland, with occasional neutral meadows as well as turloughs, springs, fens and lakes.

A number of walking trails are marked within the National Park. The trails are to guide visitors through the park, giving a sense of the unique landscape while aiming to deter footfall in the more sensitive habitats. We manage these trails so they are sustainable and with minimal impact on the environment, both physically and visually.

The limestone pavement, calcareous grassland and woodlands are all managed through grazing by cattle, and in some areas, by horses. The grazing is managed through agreements or licences with local farmers. The majority of these agreements specify grazing in the winter months, so that the grass is short in springtime, allowing a diverse range of species to flower. This practice of putting the cattle on the hills over the winter is referred to as ‘winterage’ or reverse transhumance.

Some of the low-lying areas and turloughs are grazed in the summer time as they are too waterlogged in winter. The meadows are grazed in the winter time and in some cases a late cut of hay is taken off the meadow at the end of the summer. This enables the meadow species to flower and set seed before being removed. The grazing in the winter returns nutrients to the ground through dunging but occasionally a light addition of nutrients is needed to maintain the meadow.

Mechanical intervention is also used, in the form of strimmers, chainsaws and brushcutters. These are used to control the hazel and scrub that is encroaching onto the species-rich grasslands.

The farming community has had an enormous influence on the region: farmers and their land management techniques have managed to preserve and enhance the unusual flora and habitats  in the region.

The Burren covers 1% of the land surface of Ireland and is approximately 350 km² in size. Most of the Burren is designated a Special Area of Conservation to protect its extremely unusual habitat.