Walking The Cong Clonbur Isthmus

I have written before about Coillte’s native woodland restoration project at Clonbur Wood, on the Galway Mayo border. I’ve been walking down around Cong and Clonbur for maybe 14 years, often lamenting the overly dense conifer plantations on vast tracts of the old Guinness estate.

But with the advent of the woodland project, the area is already beginning to be even more attractive as a walking destination than it already was.

Cong boasts wonderful sights for walkers, including the (in)famous dry canal, a failed 19th Century engineering project. You can walk the ‘bed’ of the canal and take in small roadways between the village and Loughs Corrib and Mask. Find a lime kiln in excellent condition, or the various sinks in the highly porous limestone rock that provides the sponge linking the two lakes.

Good hill climbing in the area includes the formidable Maumtrasna mountain to the north, or the more easy going Benlevy, in between the two, which offers superb views over both huge lakes.

But the special walk here is the entirely off-road linear between Clonbur and Cong. It’s about 8 to 9 km long, but will take you up to 4 hours, at a leisurely pace. This walk, well sign-posted, will bring you through both conifer plantation and new regeneration areas, past the ruined Ballykine Castle, lost in a beech wood, alongside a beautiful little bay of Lough Mask, which Mute Swans share with Mallards, Tufted Duck and others and onto the amazing lakeshore limestone pavement. Visit Pigeon Hole sink and enjoy the wetlands of the Cong River. Here you might see some of the resident Grey Herons, or visiting Cormorants. Emerge into Cong at the Abbey and Monk’s Fishing House.

2010 sees me hosting three-day walking events in Cong and Clonbur, in association with a local B&B.


Postponement – Get Out & About 2010

Due to the continuing rough weather, myself and Lough Lannagh, my accommodation partner for this event, have decided to postpone next weekend’s planned walking event.

I will announce the altered schedule early this week.

A Nice Story from Poland

Cows tapped to protect rare birds in Poland. 

Lesser Spotted Eagle

Lesser Spotted Eagle


Twenty five cows are to be handed over to farmers in eastern Poland to graze in the open, creating an ideal habitat for the Lesser Spotted Eagle, Polskie Radio reported on January 5. 

This is part of a project aimed at protecting this large Eastern European bird of prey, launched in Poland with funding from the EU and the National Nature Protection Fund. 

“The farmers are expected to breed the cattle and hand over the young to other farmers in the region. The programme focuses on improving the habitat of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Bialowieza and Knyszynska Forests,” the radio said. 

The project, which costs about 4.6 million euro, also provides for erecting 300 wooden posts enabling the eagles to look out for prey in the open fields, mowing overgrown deserted fields and creating small water reservoirs. 

About 1,900 pairs of the Lesser Spotted Eagle nest in Poland. I’ve been lucky enough to see some on visits to Poland. 

This is a story quite reminiscent of the project underway for the last several years down in the Burren – http://www.burrenlife.com/ – Farming for Conservation. 

While it sounds like a nice project, I’d have two basic questions : 

1. How could 25 cows, 300 wooden posts and project management possibly cost € 4.6 m ? 

2. Won’t there be other birds and animals generally that will lose out by the mowing of overgrown, deserted fields ? 

[Original story from The Financial – www.finchannel.com]

Two Projects for 2010

1. Gunnera T. / Giant Rhubarb

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera tinctoria (Giant Rhubarb)

Gunnera Tinctoria continues to spread through certain parts of west Mayo, including Achill Island and the southern end of The Mullet peninsula.

Better known as Giant Rhubarb, this is a highly invasive introduced plant species from South America.

A project has been run by UCD, led by Spaniard Cristina Armstrong, the aim of which is to eradicate the plant from Clare Island. I attended a presentation she put on last year about the scale of the problem and the project’s progress. However, its spread is much greater on Achill and The Mullet. It is very prevalent around Blacksod (especially the Garda station) and is creeping over the hill towards Deirbhle’s Twist and up Termon Hill too.

Read this from The Botanic Gardens website.

I want to get involved in curbing its growth in 2010 and beyond. For this, I’ll need equipment but, more importantly, manpower. Get in touch with me if you’d like to spend a voluntary week on this work during late summer. If you don’t want to do the dirty work, but would be willing to sponsor the purchase of some equipment, or even provide materials as required, get in touch too please. I would be more than happy to acknowledge any contribution, whether monetary or of materials.

2. Inland Otter Observation

Otter (madra uisce)

Otter (madra uisce)

I’m fascinated by the otter. I think the animal is really one of our most interesting mammals. While those that live near the sea (for example, along brackish water lakes) have food from both fresh and sea water to fill their stomachs, those who live exclusively inland would appear not to have such choice. Why don’t they move to the coast (joking) ?

By the way, sometimes people erroneously believe we have two sub-species of otter – the ‘Sea Otter’ and the ‘Freshwater’. In fact, it’s the same animal in two habitats.

Otter spraint beside small river

Otter spraint beside small river

A chance encounter a few months back with two otters in a conifer plantation drainage ditch, no more than 1 m wide with water no more than 15 cm deep, has me even more intrigued. The nearest stream of consequence was 500 m away, with a reasonable sized river 1 km off. I want to ‘stake out’ some such locations in Mayo this year and learn more. If you would like to join me on one such excursion, get in contact. If you are an ‘otter expert’ or student of this wonderful creature, even better.

Ecotourism in 2010

Unspoiled mountain stream, County Mayo, Ireland.

Unspoiled mountain stream, County Mayo, Ireland.

At the end of the day and the beginning of this new year, is there really anything more to ecotourism than “more environmentally responsible nature tourism” ? 

The world and Ireland is full of nature tourism operators – walking, hill climbing, kayaking, cycling, surfing, rock climbing, abseiling, mushroom gathering, sailing, scuba diving, even fishing and, some would say, hunting. 

I know people who are involved in these activities and couldn’t give a damn about the environment. Last year, I met a guy involved in outdoors tourism who told me that he didn’t consider his food waste an issue – “It all goes into the ocean”. That’s a fact ! 

Shouldn’t we be delighted with a world where tourism providers care about and respect the environment, strive not to damage it and tell others about what they do and encourage them to do likewise ? Would that not be a seriously great step forward ? 

Now let’s build on that. It would be wonderful if every kayaker, cyclist, hiker in the countryside also left with more knowledge about the place and people they had visited. It would be great if they contributed to the conservation of the area, by not uprooting flowers or scaring animals. That’s a step beyond not littering. 

Let’s call that ecotourism. It ‘excludes’ those in the outdoors activity sector who don’t give a damn and those who might but don’t bother spreading the word and educating. But ecotourism should in no manner be exclusive. So if you’re involved, then try to get others in also. I told the guy above what I thought he should be doing with his food waste and it didn’t involve the ocean. 

The one thorny issue which always arises is the question of transport to the venue. If your ecotourism venture is extremely rural, then guests are most likely to come in cars. Yes, inform them of what public transport can be used, but in the end, if they’re travelling to furthest northern Scotland, the high Pyrenees or western Mayo, it’s most likely going to be by car. Get them out of it once they arrive ! 

So what do I consider to be the essential elements of ecotourism for 2010 ? 


Interest in the environment