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Buaile Bó Ballyloughane - New Biodiversity Pilot Project for Galway City

20 February 2024
Type Media Article

By Joanne Masterson – Soils & Environment Advisor – Teagasc Galway/Clare

A new biodiversity pilot project which is being run by Galway City Council is bringing eight Dexter cows to graze the headland east of Ballyloughnane Beach in Renmore until March 2024. The name ‘Buaile’ means cattle enclosure and is sometimes referred to as a booley which is a very fitting name for the project. Ballyloughane Beach was identified as a prime area for the project that will promote the growth of native wildflowers that are already within the wider area, and also safe nesting and feeding areas for coastal birds. The project is working with a local farmer who is providing the Dexter cattle for the pilot. An information event was held recently at the Connacht Hotel to inform people about the project.

Why Dexters? - Dexter cattle are a native Irish breed and are believed to be one of the oldest cattle breeds in Europe. They are hardy, dual-purpose cattle, producing excellent beef and milk, an ideal suckler cow for conservation grazing. Using cattle and a conservation grazing system aims to improve the habitat by breaking down the pasture and opening up the vegetation, which will help to establish more of a variety of plant species. Dexters are also relatively small so are not as severe on land. Cattle are especially good at 'conservation grazing', because of the way in which they graze: instead of nibbling with their teeth, cattle wrap their tongue around a tuft of grass and rip it off. This leaves behind a varied, tussock structure to the sward, with some short areas and some long areas. A varied sward provides more opportunities for insects and other fauna to thrive in.

Grazing the long grass in Ballyloughane over winter will help to provide good conditions for wildflowers such as Knapweed, Red Clover, Birds-foot trefoil and Meadowsweet to establish in the spring - as the grass is kept low, and the cows are removing thatch and creating small patches of bare ground for wildflowers. Without grazing to remove the grass growth each year, grasses begin to out-compete the wild flowers within the sward. After a few years, this is worsened by a build-up of dead, un-grazed grass. The wild flowers are smothered, and cannot compete for the space and sunlight which they need to flower and set seed. Eventually, slower-growing scrub species begin to take over, and the wildflowers and grassland are lost.

When the Dexter cows move to other pastures in the summer, it is hoped to see a species-rich meadow establish in this area, with a diversity of native Irish flora, in turn attracting pollinators such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects and wildlife such as frogs and hedgehogs. 

Dexter Cattle are used for conservation grazing in many parts of Ireland. Their grazing habits support meadows to establish, with a variety of species, sizes and shapes of leaves. The headland near Ballyloughane Beach is ‘No Mow’ land that is only mowed once or twice a year. There is very rich soil in the area and grassland is heavy, the cows will create patches of bare ground to help provide good conditions for wildflowers.


Above is a picture which was taken last summer at the headland, as you can see there is little variety of species in the sward, overtime, with this pilot it is hoped to see an increase in wildflowers and grass varieties in the area (like below).

Ballyloughane 2

The projects progress will be monitored by Galway City Council who have also engaged with independent ecologists and students from ATU for this project. They will record species diversity and carbon sequestration within the paddocks prior to grazing. The wildflower meadow development will be monitored when the cattle have been removed to assess the project effectiveness.

The project will also give a chance for local schools and community groups to get involved in an ambassador programme to share information about this native Irish breed, agriculture, and its relationship to Irish biodiversity which is an excellent way to learn more about Irish agriculture, cattle breeds and biodiversity. If you would like to get involved in the project you can contact Parks.Department@GalwayCity.ie or call 091 536 400.