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Back to hare’s corner: ‘When you fence off land from livestock, nature will just take over’

Farmers and landowners are putting in ponds and planting small woodlands and orchards with supports from a landscape charity, with a resulting bloom in biodiversity

It’s easy to feel despondent about the decline in habitats and plant, insect and bird species across Ireland but initiatives such as the Hare’s Corner run by the Co Clare landscape charity Burrenbeo Trust offer a gleam of light for the natural world and its biodiversity.

Over the past three years, what started as a pilot project for farmers and landowners in Co Clare has grown into a larger scheme that offers farmers, landowners and community groups across Mayo, Galway, Meath and Leitrim expert support and funding to build wildlife ponds and plant mini-woodlands and orchards on their land.

Karen van Dorp, Burrenbeo field technical officer, says, “The Hare’s Corner is designed to be a simple, hassle-free way to support our farmers and landowners to take actions for biodiversity and increase our collective resilience against the effects of climate change.”

The term “hare’s corner” is an old farming expression for an awkward section of a field which couldn’t be intensively farmed and was therefore left to nature. Wetland specialists, ecologists, foresters and native orchard specialists, the Irish Seed Savers Association row in to give advice on projects.


David Kerr is a dairy farmer in Ballyfin, Co Laois who recently put in a wildlife pond on his farm as part of the scheme. “My late father, George, had a huge interest in nature and the environment as well as being a good farmer, and I am striving to continue his legacy,” says Kerr, who is one of a small number of conventional farmers and now a Farming for Nature ambassador in Burrenbeo’s sister scheme, Farming for Nature.

In memory of his father, who died at the peak of the Covid pandemic in January 2021, David put in a large wildlife pond that is now attracting migratory teal ducks, little grebes and swans from the nearby Ballyfin demesne. The area around the pond has been planted with Scot’s pine, mountain ash and a game crop of linseed, wheat and kale to attract birds.

About 12 per cent of the farm is non-commercially productive land but I value it for its biodiversity and wildlife value

—  David Kerr

“It has taken on a life of its own. When you fence off land from livestock, nature will just take over,” says Kerr. Wildlife ponds are recognised as being one of the quickest ways to invite nature on to farms. But because the fish in the pond (whose water comes from a tributary of the river Barrow) were eating the frogspawn, Kerr put in three smaller ponds around the perimeter of the fenced-off land. He is hoping over time that his new “hare’s corner” pond on the edge of another sloping field will attract more wildlife to that area of the farm.

Other areas of the farm have been planted with ash (which due to ash dieback are being felled at the moment), oak and Sitka spruce. “Fifty years ago, when we joined the EU, we were encouraged to clean fields and reclaim land but now it’s the other extreme. In the 1980s my father planted trees, hedgerows and wildlife corners and now about 12 per cent of the farm is non-commercially productive land but I value it for its biodiversity and wildlife value,” says Kerr.

Clive Bright, a Sligo beef farmer, says that a pond can be like a campfire – a place to gather around or stare into and contemplate. “They can add greatly to the aesthetics and quality of life on a farm. That cursed wet corner that took so much work for so little gain while it was part of the farm production then becomes a place of no work and peace. With the pace of farming today, measures that break the landscape’s productive monotony and create a place of mental respite should not be undervalued,” says Bright.

Sharon Parr works with landowners with various sized parcels of land to make a “Plan for Nature” as part of the Hare’s Corner initiative. She says that often people are frightened to do the wrong things. “I give them advice on where to plant trees so that they don’t destroy other habitats. It’s about adjusting expectations and finding the low-hanging fruit as well as showing them what they have got already.”

Maeve and Des Ryan, landowners in Co Clare, received a visit from Parr to help them decide what to do with their land. “She recommended that we keep a buffer of 1-1½m around the hedgerows in our hay meadow to get a diversity of plants. She also flagged habitats that we didn’t realise were of value. In total, she identified eight areas of our land where we could make small and very manageable changes to enhance biodiversity,” says Maeve.

The Ryans planted 200 young saplings of Burren pine, hawthorn, oak, alder, hazel, birch and spindle. “The Plan for Nature is an education on your own land – to open your eyes to see things that you might not have seen otherwise,” says Maeve.

The ponds are draining what is very wet land and I’m planning to add two more ponds in other fields to encourage more wildflowers and wildlife

—  Kate Meleady

“You start to notice the layers of life surrounding you, and the more you look, the more you see,” says Des. The retired couple have about 10 hectares, about half of which has trees and the rest is used for grazing a couple of horses.

Kate Meleady put in a mini-woodland, a pond and a small orchard with support and funding from the Hare’s Corner initiative in her west Clare smallholding. “We had no knowledge of biodiversity when we moved here in 2020. Being able to speak with specialists and experts on what is appropriate has meant that we could go ahead and develop it, confident that we were doing the right thing for the land and putting the right kind of plants in place that will encourage Ireland’s native woodlands,” she says. Since 2020 Meleady has noticed a huge increase in birdlife, including wild ducks, pheasants and lots of smaller birds. “The ponds are draining what is very wet land and I’m planning to add two more ponds in other fields to encourage more wildflowers and wildlife,” she says.

Féidhlim Harty is an environmental consultant who works with The Hare’s Corner initiative. “Putting in ponds is very addictive. When people put in one, they want to put in more, and a mosaic of pond habitats is really good for wildlife. The ponds can be shallow and they don’t need to hold water the whole year round,” he says.

In 2024, the Burrenbeo Trust will offer more than 600 more hare’s corners across Mayo, Galway, Leitrim and Meath. “All we ask in return is that they act as stewards for their own special hare’s corner,” says Lee Worrell of Burrenbeo Trust.