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Coastal and Heritage Conservation Clare County Council

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Running up to the LGIU and VLGA Rural and Coastal Issues Global Executive Panel, this blog posts looks at coastal and heritage conservation in Clare County Council.

On December 1st, the LGIU and the Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA) is hosting a Global Local Executive Panel of Chief Executives from rural, coastal and island councils in Ireland, the UK and Australia to talk about their experiences facing the unique challenges presented to rural, coastal and island communities and how they’ve dealt with certain issues. Click here to find our Chief Executive lineup and to sign up.

County Clare has a rich and diverse heritage. From the renowned Burren in North Clare to the beach at Fanore, Clare County Council is responsible for one of the most distinctive landscape regions in Ireland and arguably one of the best-preserved agricultural landscapes in Europe.

Whilst Clare County Council’s conservation projects are set to go under the spotlight this evening (24th November) at Chamber’s Ireland Excellence in Local Governance awards, this blog post takes a broader look at conservation in Clare. In doing so, this post understands conservation in Clare through the broad aims outlined in County’s Heritage Plan,

  • Raise awareness through education initiatives
  • Collect and make available heritage information
  • Promote best practice in heritage conservation and management
  • Acquire knowledge through survey and research

Raise awareness through education initiatives: Reading the Local Landscape

Clare County Council’s Reading Your Local Landscape is a proven and effective approach to heritage training. Entailing a 15-week heritage course held throughout County Clare, and delivered in association with the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, the programme has involved to include more than 80 community members from Scariff, Miltown Malbay, Kilrush and Killaloe. Between 2018 and 2022, seven Reading Your Local Landscape training courses were delivered in County Clare. It enabled participants to identify, examine and record the heritage features in their local area through dedicated field work.

This was achieved using various training techniques, including audit and survey templates, case studies, group exercises and field mapping. Delivered through class-based lectures, workshops and an introduction to practical fieldwork recording techniques (field based), the course prioritises the participation of early school leavers, community advocates and heritage enthusiasts in local communities.

Through this process, local community members are empowered to discover, recognise, promote and conserve their unique local heritage resources. Each participant applies the learned techniques through practical group and individual heritage studies. You can find more information here.

Collect and make available heritage information: Clare’s Holy Wells Project

The Clare Holy Wells Project, supported by Clare County Council and funded by The Heritage Council and Creative Ireland, was formally launched on St Brigid’s Day, February 1 2022.

Celebrating the efforts to survey and document 237 holy wells in Clare, surveyors Michael Houlihan and Tony Kirby have undertaken a labour of love, documenting hundreds of Clare’s holy wells. The result is a fascinating survey of a part of Clare’s heritage that holds a special place in the hearts of many Clare people.

The aim of this project is to create awareness of the many holy wells of County Clare and to celebrate their built, natural & cultural heritage significance. It also aims to encourage the continuation of the holy well visitation traditions and their ongoing conservation, preservation and enjoyment.

You can view the interactive map here.

Promote best practice: Burren Winterage Walk

With more than 90 heritage events featured as part of the Heritage Week 2022 programme in Clare, local ecologist Bernie O’Connor led a biodiversity walk in the Burren uplands. For thousands of years, Burren farmers have marked the end of summer by herding their cattle onto ‘winterage’ pastures in the limestone uplands where they spend the winter grazing. This ancient ‘reverse transhumance’ tradition is synonymous with the Burren and is key to the survival of the region’s famous flora and fauna.

This walk, across winterage grazing, took in species-rich grasslands and limestone pavement, as well as springs and fens. The farm practices and culture of the Burren were discussed, as the walk descended through the temperate rainforest to the more productive modified grasslands at lower elevations.

The Burren’s famous biodiversity continues to be maintained through this tradition of winterage. Celebrating the unique farming practice of out-wintering cattle remains at the heart of the annual Burren Winterage Weekend festival which takes place over the October bank holiday weekend every year.

Figure 1: Site monitoring at Fanore, from Fanore Monitoring Survey 2021

Acquire knowledge through surveys and research: Site Protection at Fanore beach 

Close to the Burren, the Fanore dunes and beach are a popular tourist destination, with a peak of over 19,000 visitors visiting the site in June 2021.

 

Encompassing a mix of private and county-council owned lands, the monitoring programme described is designed to record changes in the dune vegetation that may be attributable to coastal erosion, visitor impacts and inappropriate grazing regime.

 

Figure 1 depicts how since the early 2000’s, management actions have been implemented at Fanore to improve and maintain the conservation value, improve visitor access and limit the impact of visitors on the protected habitats of the site.

 

The ongoing threats to the dune habitats include; trampling by pedestrians and recreational misuse, such as lighting fires while camping, compaction of the habitat and substrate from pedestrians and vehicles, with these issues exacerbated by the intensity of rabbit grazing. Constant management and regular monitoring are required to ensure that these threats do not permanently impact the site’s conservation value.

 

Fencing Soft dune protection measures such as post and rail fencing and sand fencing have been successful in reducing pedestrian access to embryo and marram dune vegetation as well as trapping sand and promoting sand accretion in these areas after storm events. Recently, the impacts of the erection of a post and rope fence, which encompasses a large area of dune habitat, has kept vehicles away from the main body of the dunes as well as deterring pedestrians from traversing the dunes and creating tracks.

 

Car Parking Previously, all parts of the dunes were accessible by vehicles. With the recent installation of the new fence, part of the former fixed dune habitat is outside the fence line and available as an overflow car park in times of heavy visitor usage. Even though the vehicle use of the fixed dune is limited to the short periods of good weather during the summer, the impact of habitat compaction from vehicles is reducing the species diversity of the fixed dune vegetation.

 

Drone monitoring The bare scars from fire pits and tracks through the dunes can be mapped using high-resolution drone footage. Repeating this over a number years enables long-term monitoring of the impacts and loss of habitat from damaging activities. Moreover, drone footage could be used as a base map for future monitoring work using WayWyser, the Geoparks online monitoring app to aid the mapping process.

 

Summary

Overall, as Clare’s conservation and heritage nears the end of its third heritage plan, this post serves as an introductory highlight of how Clare County Council and the Heritage Office have progressed on the four broad aims.

  • Raise awareness through education
  • Collect and make available heritage information
  • Promote best practice in heritage conservation and management
  • Acquire knowledge through survey and research

Looking forward, you can find out more about Rural and Coastal issues on December 1st by signing up here to hear from Niall Healy, Director of Municipal Districts and Rural Operations, Cork County Council and other Chief Executives in the UK and Australia.

Global Local Executive Panel – December 2022: Rural, Coastal and Island issues



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