Habitats of the Burren
The Burren is sometimes referred to as a ‘lunar landscape’, and many people’s image of the Burren is of a massive sheet of bare rock intersected by deep fissures. However the reality is much different and more interesting. A wide variety of habitats exist in the Burren, everything from bare limestone pavements to some of the most fertile improved grasslands found in the country. Sometimes these diverse habitats are found within the same field, where a single step may take you from a limestone pavement, across a heath and into an orchid-rich grassland.
But the significance of the Burren is the presence of so many relatively rare habitats over so large an area, offering excellent ‘connectivity’ in contrast with the fragmented nature of such habitats elsewhere. The major habitats in the Burren, described below, are limestone pavements, orchid-rich calcareous grasslands, limestone heaths, scrub and woodlands, wet grasslands, turloughs, calcareous springs and fens. Over 30,000ha of the Burren has been designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), under the EU Habitats Directive, a reflection of the importance of these habitats.
Although not directly covered by the EU Habitats Directive, the flora of neutral grasslands in the Burren has similarities to that of the priority habitat ‘Fennoscandian lowland species-rich dry to mesic grasslands’ (6270). Neutral grasslands occur on deeper glacial soils in the Burren including drumlins. Many of these areas were meadowed in the past and can be species-rich with many orchids. Although dominated by plants associated with neutral soils the flora also contains species typical of both acid and base-rich soils. The majority of these grasslands have been agriculturally improved; consequently, unimproved and semi-improved neutral grasslands are not common in the Burren.