(All Images Source: Burrenbeo Volunteers)
Hi, everyone, firstly, I’d like to apologise for not posting in so long (not a great thing for a beginner blog!), just a lot of life stuff got in the way! Second of all, this is not an opinion piece. This is an account of my experience volunteering in the Burren, which is a karst region in County Clare, Ireland.
The location was Cappagh Tower, which is a medieval site, though the only obvious ruin there is the tower itself. It is a little off the roadway, and there were plenty of grassy back-roads involved in getting there! It is amazing how wild the area is, despite there being a lot of farmland, and it being in close proximity to Father Ted’s house (virtually every Irish person will be familiar with Father Ted!). There was a lot of hazel scrub around the improvised parking area just inside the gate to the land upon which the site is located. We came across a pine marten as we made our way up to the tower, which I confused for a red squirrel, as all I saw was a bushy tail.
The group I was volunteering with was Burrenbeo Conservation Volunteers. Last September, the People’s Climate March volunteers collaborated with them on a beach clean in Fanore on Clare’s Atlantic coast and also in the Burren. A huge amount of plastic and other debris had been thrown up by the storms of the 2013/14 winter, and it highlighted to me how much of our waste goes right to the oceans. On that occasion, it had been an unseasonably hot and sunny day, so much so that I got sunburnt! This time around I’d have been more likely to get frostbite!
An exaggeration, of course, the weather was cold, though not subzero, though we did catch a few snow showers! We hoped to get most of the way to the site by jeep, but the mud proved too much with the load of passengers and equipment. No sooner had we exited the jeep to make the rest of the trek on foot than we were surrounded by the landowner’s horses. They proved unusually friendly, but I think they thought we were bringing them food! We then made our way up to the site and on the way, I had a close encounter with a hare that jumped right past my face whilst I was tying my shoe laces.
The setting for the tower is quite stunning. It sits on a rise in a valley flanked by rocky hills in almost every direction. There was once a settlement there centred on the tower. There is an abandoned mine in the hills above the tower, and it would once have guarded the way to fertile lands with better soil cover further up the valley. Given the abundance of brush and patchy grass, the area itself is probably only good for horses!
(Me at the beginning of the day with my clippers!)
The volunteer work involved clearing some of the brush from the site. There is archaeological interest in what ruins may lie around the tower buried in the soil and a tangle of blackthorn and briars. Although the Burren is a sensitive ecological region with a mixture of native, alpine, and Arctic plants, black thorn is common throughout the country. It is, however, a source of food for the caterpillars of the local butterflies, so a few bushes that weren’t covering the site were left standing.
The work went fairly quickly until the end when the briars at the core of the patch of brush had to be tackled. The weather held for most of the day until a particularly heavy snow shower blew in. I had the misfortune of being up on the hill where we were dumping the cut brush. When the wind picked up, I lost the bag we were packing the brush into and had to chase after. I was fortunately travelling with the wind while I went after it, but then had to trek back against the stinging hail and snow blowing in my face! It was rather stunning to see the snow flurries drifting on the wind against the backdrop of the rocky hills. I only fully appreciated that once I got under the shelter of a tall white-thorn tree, though!
(Another image of the volunteers at work with the hills in the background.)
By the end of the clearing, it was hard to believe how much we’d done, and we revealed what might be the ruins of a house that once stood there. Once the rest of the brush is removed, the experts can move in to better evaluate the site, and it’ll also be easier to get aerial surveys done. Burrenbeo volunteers tend to a lot of important sites in the Burren for clean-ups and general maintenance. The event prior to the one I attended was to clear brush from an important bat roosting site, and there was also a Valentine’s Day event to clear brush from a butterfly breeding spot. I wasn’t able to go to either of these events myself, but I’ll definitely be attending others in the future, which I, of course, will be blogging about.