The Burren area of the Republic of Ireland is an internationally renowned karst limestone area that supports a rich and diverse range of flora and fauna, archaeological monuments and traditional cultural practices. However, the pressures of tourism congestion and use of resources on the area are considerable. Its seasonal nature presents a particular challenge: 90% of tourism occurs in just three summer months. This concentration of tourists has serious implications for the environmental carrying capacity of the Burren. Some parts of western Ireland, such as the coastal fringe to the west and north of the Burren, attract a high number of visitors, while the main touring route from Corrofin to Ballyvaughan is also vulnerable. Yet, while the Cliffs of Moher (one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe) attracts up to one million visitors a year, only 20 km away, the Black Head Loop Walk (also a desirable tourism location) has fewer than 3 000 visitors annually.
Another main concern is that traditionally, the institutions in the region focused only on their particular interest area and found it difficult to relate to other areas of concern. What was good for one was not necessarily good for the other. This type of thinking was exacerbated by the centralisation of decision making which effectively prevented decisions being made at the local level and organisations deferred to central government, thus extending timelines and holding up developments.
The Burren Tourism project aimed to strengthen the integration of tourism and natural heritage, while reconciling the development of tourism with conservation of biodiversity and cultural features. It aimed to secure environmental protection and sustainable visitor management through the creation of an innovative methodology that is of value to local communities. It planned to demonstrate pilot actions that test the use of tourism for conservation in the Burren. The objective was also to improve the environmental performance of SMEs and promote strategic integrated planning approachesfor improving the use of land. The project would thus work with tourism SMEs on conservation actions, with the aim of contributing to EU biodiversity objectives through the integration of tourism and biodiversity. The project aimed to support the EUs promotion of sustainable, responsible and high-quality tourism. The project would also stimulate a heritage community within its local partnership and enrich the heritage of the area. Finally, it planned to support the European landscape convention through the tourism conservation actions carried out on the fragile landscape of the area.
The Burren Tourism project achieved its main objective of integrating tourism into environment and conservation. Although almost all the responsible institutions were beneficiaries of the project, with the exception of national parks and Wildlife, the main challenge was to encourage these organisations to work together. Before the project the institutions in the region focused only on their particular interest area and found it difficult to relate to other areas of concern. In this regard, the project conducted a policy review for the sector at local and national level and conducted a targeted questionnaire examining the issues faced by a variety of stakeholders in policy implementation at local level. The review and questionnaires revealed a number of policy conflicts that were addressed in the final policy report by outlining a series of recommendations that, if followed, would have an important impact on how tourism can contribute to improvements in environment and conservation.
The project's main goal was to get all the institutions thinking strategically about the region and its development needs, and then focusing activity around a common economic driver, namely tourism. For example, an associated beneficiary, Failte Ireland adopted the partnership approach to deliver its sustainable tourism strategies for other major destination in Western Ireland, such as the Skelligs, as well as nationally.
The project made little progress in its first year owing to the difficulties ofencouraging organisations to work outside their comfort zones. Also, all decisions were made by the steering committee (which met twice a year) and no one considered that they had the authority to make a decision, leading to lack of decision-making and the project went around in circles. The working groups established in year two offered a more streamlined approach with only those organisations participating in a particular action engaged on the working group. Additional external expertise to ensure that the groups worked very well.
Some fundamental design flaws in the project, however, meant that many project actions needed to be adjusted technically, and there were many unforeseen actions and expenditures that needed to be approved.
By the end of the project the beneficiaries had designed a toolkit for tourism companies that aims to improve their environmental, economic and social performance. Moreover, activities at all the demonstration sites had been carried out and management plans developed for remedial work and the case studies provided a good basis for future collaborative work with the communities.
The website is an excellent tool for continued collaboration and product development and will be maintained in the after-LIFE phase, while the three best practice guides could be beneficially replicated. The monitoring app and online heritage viewer were welcome additions to the original proposal and will all form an important part of the next five-year plan.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).