'Farming in places like the Burren is more than just about food production'
It's a mild October morning in Fanore on the west coast of Clare where Burren farmers, neighbours and day-trippers prepare to do the reverse of the Alpine process and take their animals up to higher ground for the winter.
Farmer Patsy Carrucan is standing on a picnic table outside O'Donohue's pub welcoming all and sundry to walk with his cattle to the limestone uplands. The event is part of the annual Burren Winterage Festival, a weekend of seminars, talks and walks hosted by the Burren Beo Trust.
"Taking cattle to the higher ground has been done here for thousands of years," explains Patsy. "The rank grasses and flowers such as orchids and others that bloom in summer on the higher ground are not palatable then but in winter the cattle love them."
Dr Brendan Dunford, the driving force behind the Burren Life Project, has been working on the project for 20 years.
"Farming in places like the Burren is more than just about food production," he says. "Farmers in this area have been minding this sensitive environment for thousands of years, and we work with them to continue that while also making a living."
This is echoed by Michael Davoren, chairman of the local IFA who says: "It's the farmer who knows every corner of his own fields. We are all passionate about what we do here."
Up to 400 farmers with a total of 25,000ha participate in the Burren Life Project and are rewarded with an average annual top-up of about €6,000 to €7,000 per farmer.
The talking is over and it's time to hunt cattle. For a registration fee of €5 we get a drover's stick, a cup of tea and a helping of local home cooking.