A new Grasslands Trail initiative was launched last week during National Biodiversity Week, with the aim of showcasing how valuable semi-natural grasslands are to biodiversity in Ireland. Launched by Malcolm Noonan, Minister for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, the trail includes nine sites across Ireland that people can visit and explore.

The trail also aims to act as an educational experience, showcasing how “management for nature can happen alongside agriculture or public use, and helps prevent their further decline”. Minister Noonan outlined recent research carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS), showing that some of Ireland’s most valuable semi-natural grasslands have declined by almost 30%.

“This is alarming, and highlights the fact that these habitats are often somewhat invisible – species-rich and biodiverse grasslands are not as obvious in our landscape as our woodlands and bog. Factors contributing to these losses include conversion for intensive agriculture and perhaps surprisingly, abandonment.”

With regard to abandonment, active management of grasslands was highlighted at the launch as being essential to their survival: “Without it, most of these grasslands would decrease in quality or turn to scrub or woodland. Woody habitats are valuable, but we must take care not to lose our biodiverse open habitats. 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.”

Minister Noonan outlined: “Our natural grasslands act as reservoirs for biodiversity. Their decline in recent years is a serious cause for concern because of the variety of beautiful birds, insects and flowers that depend on them for survival. 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.”

Dr Maria Long, grassland ecologist with NPWS, said that these areas can be productive areas for farming, citing an example of producing excellent quality beef from out-wintered cattle used to manage these habitats.

The Grasslands Trail sites are as follows Ballycastle Golf Club, Co Antrim; Castletown House, Kildare; Doneraile Estate, Co Cork; Farmland at the Rocks, South Roscommon; Glengarriff Nature Reserve, Cork; Newbridge House and Farm, Kildare; Sheskinmore Nature Reserve, Donegal; Slieve Carran / Keelhilla Nature Reserve, part of Burren National Park and Tymon Park, Dublin.

More information about the Grasslands Trail is available at www.greatirishgrasslands.ie.

€600,000 funding for peatlands scheme

Applications are now open for a new community-led Peatlands and Natura Community Engagement Scheme 2024. The scheme, which has €600,000 funding available, covers up to 80% of project costs and offers grants of up to €40,000 for Natura 2000-designated sites and grants of up to €20,000 available for non-Natura peatland sites.

The scheme was first established in 2018, with the aim of providing funding to support the conservation and revitalisation of raised bog and blanket bog Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) and other peatland areas.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) explains that to align with the priorities and objectives of the NPWS and meet Ireland’s obligations under the nitrates directives, this scheme is now being expanded to include communities that wish to foster better engagement with other designated and protected habitats, as well as peatland habitats.

Applications are invited across a diverse range of initiatives, with a community benefit including:

  • Events, education programmes, promotions, publications, exhibitions.
  • Development of conservation management plans, public amenity and recreational measures, maintenance measures that support conservation measures.
  • Monitoring or surveying work to inform of restoration/conservation projects.
  • Invasive species and fire control measures.
  • Anti-littering initiatives to local environmental improvements in the area of the designated sites and other peatland areas.
  • Further details are available at www.npws.ie.