Minister Noonan launches Grasslands Trail during National Biodiversity Week

Date Released: Thursday, May 23, 2024

  • Initiative showcases a network of nine diverse grasslands around Ireland
  • Research shows that semi-natural grasslands in Ireland are essential for biodiversity, but some types have declined by 30% in recent years
  • The Grasslands Trail allows people to visit and explore sites, learning through experiencing
  • The Grasslands Trail also shows that management for nature can happen alongside agriculture or public use, and helps prevent their further decline.

Today, Thursday May 23rd, Minister for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD launched the Grasslands Trail – a tour through the amazing diversity of Ireland’s semi-natural grasslands. The Trail features a network of nine sites around Ireland and more are 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.

Ireland has an amazing array of different grassland types, including dry, wet, coastal, hay meadows, farmland and woodland pastures. The grasslands included in the Trail are known as ‘semi-natural grasslands’ because they are not used for intensive agriculture, but they are still dependent on some human management. They are vital for our biodiversity, and can be some of the most species-rich habitats we have. Many wildflowers, orchids, insects such as grasshoppers and butterflies thrive in grasslands, and in fact many species need open spaces to survive. These habitats provide food and shelter for farmland birds such as Corncrakes, Yellowhammers, Barn Owls and Skylarks. They are an important climate resource as they can capture and store great quantities of carbon. They help to provide us with clean water in our streams and rivers, and can even prevent flooding as they hold water in times of extreme rainfall.

Minister Noonan said:

“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.

In addition to their biodiversity and climate benefits, they are hugely beneficial to our health and wellbeing. We all enjoy the sounds, sights and smells of our grasslands, and 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 NPWS showed that over a ten-year period, some of our most valuable semi-natural grasslands in Ireland 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.

Management is 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.

Dr Maria Long, Grassland Ecologist with NPWS 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 re-calibrate a little. They are often very important for nature, but may look a little under-whelming 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 out-wintered cattle, for example.”

The Grasslands Trail is a network of nine diverse grasslands spread around Ireland. More information about the Grasslands Trail is available on the Great Irish Grasslands website.