Believing in the Burren, it’s people and the beauty of its land is part and parcel of BurrenBeo Trust’s philosophy.
Beginning almost 20 years ago through the vision of Dr. Brendan Dunford and his wife Ann O’Connor, the goal has always been to tell the story of the people of the Burren. “Not only is there a wonderful landscape, archaeology and geology here but a place where people make their living,” Brendan states.
Brendan was conducting research on farming in the Burren for his PhD at the time, whilst his wife Ann was a web developer. With the scale of the passion project outgrowing both Brendan and Ann, BurrenBeo Trust officially became a registered charity in 2008, having previously operated as a website called ‘The Living Burren.’ A board of directors, staff and volunteers subsequently came on board. “The passion and capability of staff really helped push us. This great, positive energy here is why we have been around for the last 20 years,” Brendan admits.
Five years previous, Brendan and Ann decided to bring the Ecobeo initiative into local schools. It aimed at investing in the upskilling of the future guardians of the Burren. After 20 weeks schoolchildren became experts in their local environment, Brendan states. Since then, the organisation has held monthly walks, talks throughout the winter and festivals of learning such as the Burren in Bloom festival, which comprises of a fortnight of talks to “celebrate the arrival of the unique summer flora in the Burren region.”
Conservation plays a key role in how Brendan and communities within the Burren sustain what he describes as “an immense sense of place.” By daytime, Brendan runs the Burren Programme, which is separate to the BurrenBeo Trust. Whilst the latter is all about education, information provision and events, the Burren Programme is all about working with farmers in conserving the Burren landscape and farming sustainably. The programme now works with over 300 farmers, covering more than 70 per cent of the Burren landscape. “Each landowner is rewarded for improving their land environmentally,” Brendan imparts.
Brendan maintains that the Burren is a special place that deserves energy and investment. He states: “We would always find working with farmers and members of the community that there is a huge sense of place here. They are proud of where they come from. There is real recognition of just how special the place is. There is huge evidence of environmental decline in Ireland and in Europe but in the Burren, things are holding well. In fact, a lot of our data has shown that we are improving. Our whole model here is about helping the local community look after their own place.”
BurrenBeo Trust has its own dedicated team of conservation volunteers who help with digs, picking rubbish and removing scrub from the local land. Brendan himself recently made headlines, having been featured on RTÉ News where he and his family can be seen planting 400 native pines in three days. He explains that the native ‘Pinus sylvestris’ was thought to be extinct for the last 1,500 years but scientists from Trinity College Dublin found the sequestered species tucked away in an isolated region in the Burren. Brendan and his children have enjoyed the little restoration project which has given some reprieve to the constraints of COVID-19.
The registered charity is now asking the public to invest in a pine in the region, in order to help fund BurrenBeo Trust. The intention is to continue planting the native pine in the months and years to come. “Every cent invested goes back into the community,” Brendan states. Interested individuals also have the opportunity to become a member of BurrenBeo Trust. Membership is priced at €40 for an individual, €50 for a couple and €60 for a family. Members enjoy a welcome pack, monthly e-newsletters, discounted attendance fees at events as well as the opportunity to meet like minded people. New members are always welcome, Brendan informs.
“I think that the Burren potentially has a bright future. I think it’s about farmers who are continuing to produce great food but are also managing a wonderful environment. People are coming here to learn what sustainability looks like. They come to learn about the native archaeology and geology stored within the Burren. It’s about thriving local communities as well. It’s important that we have tourism, but the right type of tourism, that’s sustainable.”