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Management of Vegetation on High Nature Value Farmland in Connemara

The beautiful Connemara landscape is the product of the interaction between landscape, farming & the natural environment. Farming has played a crucial role and so Teagasc Athenry is organising a Webinar on Upland grazing and control of vegetation to assist farmers as Marion Fox, Advisor outlines.

Farming has played a crucial role in the natural and cultural heritage encountered today, from flower rich grasslands to the network of stone wallsThe farming systems of these areas are characterised by extensive mixed livestock grazing and little agro-chemical inputs combined with labour-intensive management practices.

As production and output from farming in these areas tends to be lower, they have long been called marginal. However, more recently, this has been gradually replaced by the term ’High Nature Value’ (HNV) farming which emphasises the pivotal role of traditional farmers as custodians of unique and highly valued biodiversity rich landscapes.

Webinar: Upland grazing & the control of vegetation

Teagasc Athenry will be holding a Webinar on how farmers in the Connemara Region manage vegetation. It will be broadcast on Wednesday, 9th December at 8.00pm sharp through the Galway/Clare Teagasc Facebook page and YouTube. There will be a series of videos and presentations on the subject followed by a panel discussion.

The speakers on the night will be:

Teagasc Advisors Mícheál Kelly, Marion Fox, Keith Fahy, Joanne Masterson,

farmers Brendan Joyce, Matt Casey, John O’Toole, Joseph Mannion and

Cathy Connelly from the North Connemara Locally Led Agri – Environmental Scheme EIP will also be participating. 

The control of the following vegetaion will be discussed: 


Bracken is a species of the fern family. Bracken grows best on good drainage sites, usually on mountain slopes or upland. Bracken (Ferns or Raithneach) are inedible to cattle and sheep. They emerge annually in early summer and start to die off when the first frosts arrive in autumn. Where ferns have grass underneath, it will result in the land being in a grazeable state, consequently the area is eligible for BPS declaration. Ferns with no grass underneath will not be grazeable by animals and is therefore not eligible.

Bracken is poisonous in the green state and the young green shoots are particularly so if stock are forced to eat it. It is an excellent tick habitat and it harbours the early life stages of sheep ticks, which can transmit diseases such as Louping ill to sheep, as well as Lyme disease to humans.

The different methods to control bracken are cutting, burning, crushing/tramping, spraying and soil fertility.


Heather is a problem if it is not grazed correctly and if it becomes too strong it is undesirable for animals, therefore mechanical cutting is an option that suits most sites. It can only take place outside the bird nesting season. Younger heather less than 10 years regenerate more from stem than from seed, so it will recover quicker after cutting than burning. Controlled burning may be used but it needs to be done with caution and the right advice.


Soft rush, the most common type of rush, is characterised by an erect mode of growth with no leaves and a very tough outer skin, making it difficult to control with herbicides. Also, the plant is deep rooted with large root reserves of food. They can produce 8,500 seeds per fertile shoot per year.

Seeds from rushes only germinate if conditions are favourable. Maintaining a fertile, dense, leafy grass sward is the best method to prevent rushes establishing and spreading, this can be difficult in an upland situation. The mulcher will remove rush and therefore encourage grass growth. On a lowland situation the soils can be drained and well fertilised to help reduce the amount of rush where this is not possible on a hill situation.


Rhododendron thrives on well drained acid soils with a preference for mild damp climates. Its thick leaves and evergreen nature mean that it casts deep shade and thus inhibits growth of ground flora. It thrives both in sunshine and shade and can grow in low light levels. Young plants grow slowly, with only a single stem present for approximately 10 years. After about 10 years (or earlier if the plant has been damaged), the plant becomes multi-stemmed.

Rhododendron has a preference for acidic soils with a pH of 3.6-6.6 and is not affected by drought or frost. Seeds are deposited from December onwards and can spread up to 1km away from the parent plant. Mature plants can produce 1 million seeds annually. Seedlings need a water source and therefore will not survive on dense leaf litter or dense vegetation. Low moss carpet, bare soil and dead wood are ideal germination grounds for seedlings. It is poisonous to livestock.

The North Connemara Locally Led Agri Environmental Scheme advises guidance from NPWS when removing Rhododendron which will be discussed on the night

See Webinar Promotional Poster for Webinar 9th December