Working Visit in Ireland
Networking with other LIFE projects has been defined as obligatory by the European Commission. Interinstitutional collaboration and exchange of experience and information is aimed at acquiring valuable theoretical and practical knowledge, helping the beneficiaries to carry out planned activities effectively. Networking relates not only to national projects, but also international projects. Therefore, between 24 and 28 September, we took part in a working visit in Ireland, where we had the opportunity to learn the effects of as many as three LIFE projects.
Although Ireland is known for fickle weather, Dublin welcomed us with a beautiful and sunny aura. Our destinations were located at the other side of the island, so we spend our afternoon travelling. The first destination was Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. Our host was Patrick McGurn – the manager of the project LIFE12 NAT/IE/000995 Aran LIFE. The meeting began with a presentation of the effects of active protection of habitats:6210-1 Alpine swards and 8210 Limestone rock slopes with Potentilletalia caulescentis communities, which is carried out through such measures as grazing cattle based on a grazing economy management plan developed and implemented. Interestingly, the project was created thanks to a grassroot initiative of local farmers! They pointed out that fields densely vegetated with bushes have negative impact on the landscape values, which reduces the touristic potential of the island. Indeed, during the field part of the visit, we could clearly see the difference between the plots covered by the project and those out of its range. In some places, not only fields, but also boundary walls were completely covered with bushes. The last part of our meeting was a tour of the Dun Aengus hill fort dating back to around 700 BC. What we found interesting was that, as a result of water-induced erosion of the cliff on which the fort is situated, nearly half of the building had collapsed into the sea.
On the second day, we attended a working meeting with Brendan Dunford – the manager of The Burren Programme, which is a direct continuation of LIFE04 NAT/IE/000125 BurrenLIFE – considered by the European Commission the best nature-related project in the history of the LIFE financial instrument. Currently, it covers more than 160 breeding farms operating on the area of ca. 15,000 ha of protected land! The main goal of the meeting was to discuss the adopted strategy called AfterLIFE and its effective implementation. We also learned the core programme and financial assumptions, of which the most interesting issue for us was the method of settling the work of farmers via a protected natural habitat assessment form including a ten-point scale of their quality, developed for the purposes of the project. As on the previous day, we spent the afternoon in the field and saw one of the farms and the effects of many years of cow-grazing in the Burren National Park.
In the evening, we went to Galway – a city which, in the Middle Ages, served as the principal Irish port for trade with Spain and France. At present, it is famous for its strong Celtic traditions: music, songs, dance, and language, which is visible on the designations of buildings, streets, and places.
The last day welcomed us with the typical Irish weather, meaning rain, fog, and wind. Our first destination was the co-beneficiary of LIFE11 ENV/IE/000922 Burren Tourism for Conservation (GeoparkLIFE) – Cliffs of Moher Visitors Experience. Despite the weather, Cormac McGinley introduced us to the project. He described in detail the elements of the project the Cliffs of Moher are responsible for. They are one of the greatest tourist attractions in Ireland. The Cliffs are composed of limestones and sandstones, they stretch for around 8 km, and at the highest point reach the height of 214 m. Thanks to their scenic values, the Cliffs are visited by more than 1.5 million tourists a year! However, the vast majority of them come only to this place, spend there 2–3 hours, and then leave the county. The project LIFE is an attempt at addressing this problem. The project aims to develop highly qualified, high quality tourist industry of the entire region based on areas with particular natural and cultural significance. Carol Gleeson, the manager of the GeoparkLIFE project, told us about the methods of implementing the sustainable tourism development plan, its effects, and difficulties it involves.
Unfortunately, it was the last day of our trip. At 4:00 a.m., we started our trip back to Dublin.
We came back to Poland with a large dose of new knowledge, which will certainly help us carry out the current project, especially the programme assumptions of AfterLIFE, but – above all – we gained new partners, with whom we will be able to work on a joint project.