The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark – An Atlantic Edge Geopark
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark joined the European and Global Geopark Network in September 2011. The Burren is located on Ireland’s western, Atlantic coastline. Located at 9.2°W 53.1°N, the Burren is located further west than most of mainland Europe. The Burren is an ancient landscape that has evolved from its origins in a tropical Carboniferous marine environment located south of the equator, through a series of glaciations and warm periods, to its present location on Europe’s north-western frontier.
The climate in the Burren is mainly influenced by its location adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. The Burren enjoys a relatively warm temperate climate, with average annual rainfall values of 1500mm.
The Burren comprises a geological landscape of fossiliferous Carboniferous (Visean) limestone, overlain by a Namurian shale and siltstone (Shannon Group), succeeded by a series of Namurian mudstone, siltstone and sandstone cyclothems (Central Clare Group). The siliclastic Cliffs of Moher exhibit two of the five Central Clare Group cyclothems. Synsedimentary deformation (recumbent folds, faults, thrusts) is visible in the Fisherstreet Slide at the Doolin Cliffs.Limestones include an abundance of coral, brachiopod, crinoid, and gastropod fossils. Goniatite and brachiopod fossils are present in the Namurian shale. Abundant ichnofossils can be seen in the Namurian flagstones quarried near the Cliffs of Moher. In the east, folded limestone strata crop out on the side of Mullaghmore Hill in Burren National Park.With over 100km2 of Atlantic coastline, the effects of coastal erosion (cliffs, arches, stacks, sea-caves) and deposition (dunes, storm-beaches) are clearly evident along Burren’s western margins. The famous Cliffs of Moher stand over 200m above the wild Atlantic waves that are crash against the coast – some of which reach over 30m, and a regularly attract the world’s best surfers. The landscape around the Cliffs of Moher is famous for the trace-fossil covered flagstones quarried there.
A Glacio-Karst Landscape
A glacio-karst landscape, the Burren exhibits vast expanses of limestone pavement, hundreds of dolines and poljes (enclosed depressions), deep limestone gorges, springs, swallow-holes, dry valleys, turloughs (‘disappearing lakes’, karren, and hundreds of kilometres of caves. The Burren is home to NW Europe’s longest stalactite – the 7m long ‘Great Stalactite’ in Doolin Cave. The legacy of the ice age is evident in the abundant glacial striae, erratics, drumlins and moraines.
The Natural and Cultural Landscape
This natural landscape is peppered by a multitude of archaeological monuments that date back over six thousand years to the Stone Age. With over 2700 recorded monuments, the Burren has the most abundant and dense distribution of archaeological monuments in Ireland. The unique assemblages of flora include Arctic/Alpine species (mountain avens, spring gentian) that may be found growing alongside Mediterranean species (maidenhead fern, dense-flowered orchid). 75% of the plants found in Ireland may be seen growing in the Burren, many of which contribute to the annual explosion of colour across the landscape in May and June.
In the wide valleys that dissect some of the limestone uplands and plateaus of the Burren, thick deposits of glacial till are blanketed with fertile grasslands, which have long produced the succulent beef and lamb that is so famous to the part of Ireland. The Burren’s farming traditions are unique, particularly in the practice of ‘wintering’, whereby cattle are grazes the hillsides in winter, where they enjoy a relatively warm, dry, source of calcium-rich fodder and water. As early as 1651, Edmund Ludlow noted that the Burren ‘is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him;… and yet their cattle are very fat; for the grass growing in tufts of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing’.
There is an active group of environmental and geo-education centres and learning environments in the Burren & Cliffs of Moher Geopark, such as at the Burren Outdoor Education Centre, Burren National Park, Burrenbeo Trust, Burren Centre Kilfenora, Kilnaboy XPO, Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre, and a network of geosites.
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark is managed by Clare County Council and Burren Connect, with the support of Shannon Development and the Geological Survey of Ireland. A range of stakeholders and regional partners play an active role in the operations of the Geopark.
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark comprises:
- A network of geosites
- A network of natural, archaeological, historical and cultural sites of interest
- A network of specific visitor centres, education centres, and public amenity areas
- Burren Ecotourism Network
- A Farm Heritage Tours Co-operative
- The Burren Way Walking Trail
- Regional Walking and Cycling Trails
- Burren National Park
- An active group of local community development groups
- Education programmes in schools and community centres
- Volunteer landscape conservation initiatives
Burren & Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark
Clare County Council
Tel: +353 (0)65 7072295