A tour through the diversity of Ireland’s semi-natural grasslands - the Grasslands Trail - has been launched by Minister of State for nature Malcolm Noonan.

The trail features a network of nine sites around Ireland, with more expected to be added over time.

Minister Noonan launched the initiative at one of the trail sites, Slieve Carran Nature Reserve in the Burren National Park.

Grassland types in Ireland vary greatly and include dry, wet, coastal, hay meadows, farmland and woodland pastures.

A statement from the Department of Heritage and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) said that the grasslands included in the trail are known as semi-natural grasslands, because they are not used for intensive agriculture, but they are dependent on human management.

They are vital for our biodiversity and can be some of the most species-rich habitats we have.

It is widely recognised that farming in the Burren is vital for preserving the landscape, including through actions promoted by the former Burren Programme.

Climate resource

Many wildflowers, orchids, insects, such as grasshoppers and butterflies, thrive in grasslands.

They provide food and shelter for farmland birds such as corncrakes, yellowhammers, barn owls and skylarks.

Grasslands are an important climate resource, as they can capture and store great quantities of carbon, help to provide clean water in streams and rivers and can prevent flooding as they hold water in times of extreme rainfall.

Minister Noonan said: “Our natural grasslands act as reservoirs for biodiversity. All of the sites featured in this wonderful Grasslands Trail show that through careful, sensitive management, such as extensive grazing through a farming for nature approach, we can prevent the disappearance of these incredible places.

“In addition to their biodiversity and climate benefits, they are hugely beneficial to our health and well-being. I hope that this trail encourages people to visit, understand and appreciate their value over the coming months, when they are buzzing and humming with life.”


Recent research from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) showed that over a 10-year period, some of our most valuable semi-natural grasslands in Ireland declined by almost 30%, which Minister Noonan described as a “serious cause for concern”.

Factors contributing to these losses include conversion for intensive agriculture and abandonment.


The Department said management of grassland is essential to their survival and, without it, most of these grasslands would decrease in quality or turn to scrub or woodland.

Appropriate levels of management are essential and include extensive, rather than intensive, levels of grazing and mowing. Generally, the use of chemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides are low to none and ploughing or reseeding doesn’t happen.

All of these factors allow a diversity of plants and animals to thrive.

NPWS grassland ecologist Maria Long said: "We’ve put the Grasslands Trail together to help people gain a better understanding of endangered grassland and meadow habitats.

"It’s a great opportunity to invite people to visit these sites, to experience biodiverse grasslands and perhaps to recalibrate a little.

"They are often very important for nature, but may look a little underwhelming to our eye. Rest assured though – the myriad of creatures that rely on these open habitats get all they need once a sward is diverse and maintained by sensitive management.

"These can be productive areas for farming too, with the production of excellent-quality beef from outwintered cattle, for example."

More information about the Grasslands Trail is available here.