Exploring Ireland’s Natural Heritage
Leave No Trace
Coasts, Cliffs, Sand dunes, Beaches and Estuaries
Bogs, Fens and Marshes
Rivers and Lakes
IRISH SPECIES Terrestrial Mammals
Whales, Dolphins & Other Marine Mammals
Bugs, Butterflies & More
SOME THINGS TO DO IN THE South East
Midlands & Borders
General Tips For Your Trip
Resources & Links To Help You Plan Your Visit
43 Bee Orchid
Natural heritage, wildlife, biodiversity, whatever you want to call it, Ireland has it in abundance. From the vast National Parks to the hidden wetlands, there is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. Ireland’s position at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean means our landscapes and wildlife differ from other countries. Ireland’s western coastal waters drop quickly to ocean depths, and the ocean current – the ‘gulf stream’– circulates warm waters to form Ireland’s milder
climate. This brings soft rain throughout the year adding to the lush, green landscapes that form the ‘emerald isle’. After the last great Ice Age, Ireland was separated from other European countries, so it does not have the range of plants and animals found elsewhere. Whereas tradition would credit St Patrick with banishing snakes from the island, the absence of snakes and many other species can actually be attributed to rising sea levels forming a natural barrier to their expansion to Ireland. And who would have thought that Ireland would be one of the best places in Europe for whale-watching? Or, that someone looking in the right areas in Ireland for plants, may find species whose main distributions occur in Alpine Europe, North America or the Mediterranean. The absence of a conclusive answer as to why the Irish flora should have this wide mix of origins merely adds to the fascination. Wherever your destination in Ireland, there will inevitably be places you will see interesting wildlife. And because there is so much still to be learnt about our native wildlife, you can help by reporting any sightings of unusual species.
Common Blue Butterfly
This brochure is intended to give you information to encourage you to put wildlife high up in your list, to give you ideas of what to look for, where to visit, and how to help look after wildlife. Sections are given on some of the main wildlife habitat and species groups and information also given on highlights in the different regions you may be visiting. The opportunities to see wildlife in Ireland are so varied that we canâ€™t give all the information here. We have provided ideas and resources to help you plan your trip, but donâ€™t forget that the best places are often found simply by casual exploration, and by keeping your eyes and ears open.....
LEAVE NO TRACE 05
Ireland has some of the most unspoilt, wildlife and landscapes in the world. To ensure it remains like this, it is important that it is kept special by all who enjoy it. Thus, you are asked to follow the principles of ‘Leave No Trace’. The ‘Leave No Trace’ message is all about helping outdoor enthusiasts to minimise their impact on the environment. It is based on a set of seven core principles.
1. Plan ahead and prepare: Know where you are going to get the most opportunities to see wildlife, and if travelling alone, let others know when you intend to return for your own safety.
2. Be considerate of others: Other visitors may also be looking out for wildlife too so quietly pass others and don’t block their views.
3. Respect wildlife and farm animals:
Visitors coming too close to wintering waders may spook a flock causing them to expend precious energy moving onto other feeding grounds.
4. Travel and camp on durable ground: Bogs, sand dunes, riverbanks, cliff edges are all potentially fragile and could give way underfoot. Not only could you inadvertently damage fragile ecosystems, you could do serious harm to yourself. Always take care where you are walking and stay on boardwalks when provided.
5. Leave what you find: By not picking wildflowers, others can also savour the scent of wild roses or enjoy the spectacle of wild primroses after you have gone.
6. Dispose of waste properly: Leather-back turtles have mistaken plastic bags as jelly-fish and swallowed them. The plastic then blocks their digestive tract and causes them to slowly die.
7. Minimise the effects of fire: A careless spark can cause many of the forest fires that have destroyed massive tracts of Ireland’s woodlands in dry summers.
For more information on Leave No Trace Ireland visit www.leavenotraceireland.org
HOLIDAYING ‘GREEN’ Want to help the environment while you’re on holidays? Well now you can! As a visitor in Ireland, we can help you make greener choices without compromising on your fun. You can now choose from over 250 certified green tourism and eco-tourism providers, including accommodation, attractions, activities, pubs and restaurants. Over the past few years our tourism providers have been going green, taking steps to protect and help you understand the most precious resource we have – our environment! Located in some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, it makes sense that these
businesses are helping to protect these special places. Thanks to their commitment, we are proud to take our place on the world map of greener places to visit. We guarantee that all green providers listed in this brochure have a recognised third party tourism operators also offer opportunities to get out into the natural surroundings by offering experiences that are nature-based.
Lough Gill From Dooney Rock
IRISH LANDSCAPE 07
The Irish landscape is underpinned by a rock skeleton, which is essentially the product of a prolonged period of erosion that relentlessly stripped away younger, softer, sedimentary rocks to reveal more resistant ancient geologies. These are most apparent on the periphery of the island, where they provide the mountainous majesty so beloved by residents and tourists. Rising to just over 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) in the Southwest, these uplands occur as a series of sharply defined units separated from each other by lowland corridors through which the rivers of the Central Plain trench their way across the structural grain to reach the sea. The gently undulating central lowlands, on the other hand, comprise about two-thirds of the island and are generally less than 120 m (400ft.) above sea level. Superimposed on all of this is a thick covering of glacial deposits and a layer of contemporary soils. On top of all this, the green mantle of flora thrives. The landscape reflects primarily the suitability of the Irish climate for grass growth. Pasture and grasses account for more than 60 percent of the land cover, a dominance particularly marked in the centre. (from â€˜Changing Shades of Greenâ€™; www.irishclimate.org)
Protected Areas Special Areas of Conservation (SACâ€™s) are areas that are of European Importance for plants, animals and certain habitats. Animals protected include lesser horseshoe bats, otter, salmon, seals, marsh fritillary butterfly and freshwater pearl mussel. Ireland is so important for wildlife and hosts so many special habitats, that nearly 20% of Ireland is designated as an SAC. There are also areas within Ireland that are very important for wildlife such as Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs).
National Parks Ireland has six different national parks. The first of these, Killarney National Park, was opened in 1932 where you can now see the reintroduced white-tailed eagle soar overhead. The largest national park is the Wicklow Mountains National Park with its upland lakes, glaciated valleys, bogs, woodland and wildlife.
Wildlife Sites of International Importance Ramsar Sites are internationally important wetland sites, designated under the 1971 Ramsar Convention. Wetlands includes open water, peatlands and fens. Forty-five have been designated in Ireland.
MOUNTAINS The foreboding nature of mountain environments may give the impression that they are not inhabited by wildlife. Far from it. The exposure and environmental conditions found within our mountain ranges means that they can support a range of highly specialised (and often rare) species of plants and animals. In our western hill ranges, the increased exposure to weather conditions means that some alpine plant species occur at much lower altitudes than elsewhere in Europe. The inaccessibility of mountainous areas means that habitats such as ancient woodland persist in the lower slopes when they have been lost elsewhere. The mixture of habitats such as blanket bog on the flatter areas grading into wet or dry heath on the slopes, inaccessible scree or rocky slopes, and steep wet gulleys can provide a diversity that is matched by the species found there.
What wildlife to look for in mountainous areas Many rare plants can be found in our mountain ranges by those with a sense of adventure. Species such as mountain avens and mossy saxifrage may be found in the exposed mountains of the north-west and west as well as on the limestone pavements of The Burren or south Mayo. Some mountain species only exist at a few sites in Ireland; fringed sandwort occurs on Benbulben in Co. Sligo, with the nearest other colonies of the species found in the European Alps, the Pyrenees and south-west Norway. Our mountainous areas are fantastic for a number of species of birds. These include peregrine falcons that may be nesting on cliff faces and can often be heard calling above your head if you pass through their territory in summer. Ravens also nest on cliffs and patrol the uplands in search of carrion. There is always the chance to glimpse a merlin as it dashes from one horizon to another, hugging the ground as it goes. You may even be lucky enough to see one of the golden eagles introduced at Glenveagh National Park in Co. Donegal or a white-tailed eagle in the Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry.
Because of the obvious dangers associated with mountains, the best way to see them is by visiting the National Parks or by following designated walking routes.
It is important that you are ready to see wildlife in mountainous areas and have your binoculars at hand â€“ the wildlife can be spectacular but opportunities to see it can often be brief!
Woodland In Limestone Gorge
For thousands of years Ireland was nearly all covered in woodland, made up of the naturally occurring species such as ash, oak, hazel and elm. Through the years, woodlands decreased, especially due to human activities such as farming and the cutting down of wood for ship-building. Now, old natural woodlands have become very rare (it is estimated only 1% remains). Old oak woodland, such as that found around Lough Gill in Co. Sligo, supports many important species including strawberry tree, ivy broomrape and purple hairstreak butterfly. There are many small woodlands dotted around Ireland and a visitor may be best advised to search out sites locally. Coillte has many trails that go through both native woodland and commercial forestry.
Some of Irelandâ€™s National Parks have extensive areas of woodland. Information on some of these is given below: Wicklow National Park has both native deciduous and coniferous woodlands. The woods here support a host of animals, plants and fungi including red squirrel and pine marten.
The Burren National Park allows visitors to experience a unique hazel scrub habitat. It provides for many species of fauna and flora. The canopy of the scrub allows enough light in to support a diverse range of plants beneath and some areas have dramatic carpets of bluebells in the spring.
Killarney National Park holds native oak and yew woods and evergreen trees and shrubs which provide a perfect habitat for the native red deer herd. Also lichens, ferns and bryophytes thrive in the humid climate.
Glenveagh National Park includes about 100 hectares of natural and semi natural woodland, the dominant trees being oak and birch. The best time of the year to visit is during the summer months, as the woods provide plenty of food for the bustling wildlife, with a chance to see and hear a wood warbler.
Woodland With Fern Understorey
COASTS, CLIFFS, SAND DUNES, BEACHES & ESTUARIES 13
Few coastlines can surpass the stunning scenery and beauty that Ireland’s has to offer. The highest sea cliffs in Western Europe, (Guinness Book of Records), fall 668m to the sea at Achill Island, Co Mayo. More easily accessible but equally stunning are those at Slieve League, Co. Donegal (601m), and the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare (214m).
Waiting for low tide to reveal rock
The west and South coasts of Ireland
pools gives an opportunity to explore
occasionally get species, blown ashore
after strong winds, that normally live out in
The coast is always a great place to
the oceans. Species such as the violet sea
view a wide variety of birds and marine
snail, the fantastically named by-the-wind
The coasts, cliffs, sand dunes and beaches of
mammals – see the relevant sections for
sailor and buoy-making barnacles offer a
Ireland can be visited at any time of the year
window into understanding how species
and there are many things that you can do
that live out in the Atlantic Ocean are often
washed up along the strand line.
Coastal cliffs provide important resting, roosting and nesting areas for seabirds. Seabirds of many kinds such as guillemots, razorbills, puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes, to name but a few, can be seen breeding on almost all sea cliffs.
Sand and shingle habitats, although apparently fragile, are highly effective in holding back the sea as they dissipate the energy of waves. On more exposed coasts, shingle builds up into high banks with pebble sizes graded up the beach. Plants such as sea campion and the very rare oysterplant have adapted to cope with this shifting substrate.
Sand dunes are hills of wind-blown sand that have become progressively stabilised by a cover of vegetation, the largest of which is located in Kerry at Inch at over 1000 ha. Most dune systems progress from the more mobile dunes near the sea to the fixed dunes towards the land. These fixed dunes can be very important for wild flowers, including species such as wild thyme, thyme broomrape and wild carrot as well as orchids such as bee and pyramidal orchids. The wetland areas behind the Inch dunes hold some of the only populations of Natterjack toad in Ireland.
Machair is a specialised coastal grassland found in the north and west of Ireland that can hold fantastic displays of orchids, notably in Donegal, north Sligo and west Mayo and Galway. Machair sometimes has associated coastal lagoons, water bodies that are separated from the sea by shingle or sand banks, or even whole dune systems. A fine example of a mixed coastal habitat in Sligo is the area around Mullaghmore and Bunduff Lough.
Estuaries, found around all parts of Irelandâ€™s coast, often hold extensive inter-tidal sand and mudflats that are fed by nutrients brought down by the rivers, on which billions of molluscs, crustaceans and invertebrates feed â€“ on these depend thousands of wintering waders and wildfowl. Irish estuaries are as productive as rainforests! Estuaries are also important sites for
many other species including common seals, grey seal and otter.
Ireland is covered in a network of bogs, fens and marshes, vital for our natural heritage, and providing important ‘ecosystem services’ such as flood control and filtering of water. The main habitats are blanket bog, raised bog, fens and marshes. Blanket bog is the result of deep and extensive peat formation in the wet Atlantic climate. It covers large areas of the west of Ireland. Blanket bog is largely associated with plant species such as heathers, cotton-grasses and bog mosses. It is also often mixed with other habitats such as wet heath and extensive systems of pools or small lakes. Important bird species such as wintering Greenland white-fronted geese, breeding golden plover and merlin are associated with this habitat.
Raised bogs are areas of deep peat habitat that have formed in areas where drainage has been impeded, often in glacial depressions left by the last Ice Age. The sponge-like attributes of Sphagnum, or ‘bog moss’, mean that it holds water and allows the habitat to grow upwards, even well above the water-table creating a dome shaped bog. These bogs have associated pools and hummocks and have many specific plant species associated with them. These include various sundews, bog rosemary and some of the rarer bog mosses. Raised bogs and blanket bogs are rare habitats in Europe and are protected across the EU.
Fens occur in river valleys, hollows, and on lake margins or floodplains, and can be rich in biodiversity.
Wet Grassland and Marsh are often connected to other wetland habitats and can have a high proportion of broadleaved herbs, as well as being important for breeding waders such as lapwing and snipe and for being the haunt of the threatened corncrake.
BOGS, FENS & MARSHES 16
bogs, fens & marshes Summertime is the best time to visit these wetland sites, when the plants are in flower, the dragonflies and butterflies are on the wing and the birds are singing. Flowering heather can be spectacular, with ling heather and bell heather flowering from July to September.
Slieve Beagh, Co. Monaghan
RIVERS & LAKES Ireland boasts over 12,000 ‘loughs’, or Lakes, and many thousands of kilometres of rivers.
These range from the great expansive lakes such as Lough Mask (Co. Mayo), Derg (Co. Clare, Galway, north Tipperary) and Ree (Co.’s Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon) to the small inter-drumlin lakes of the north midlands, the blanket bog pools and the urban recreational lakes. Irish rivers range from tiny mountain tributaries to the fast flowing spate rivers in the north and west, to the sedate, slow flowing rivers through midlands and coastal areas. From the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains in Co. Cavan, the Shannon River rises and becomes the largest river in Ireland flowing nearly 400km into the Atlantic. Like most Irish rivers, it hosts a wealth of wildlife and various habitats and provides stunning vistas along its length. Even at its mouth, boat tours in the Shannon estuary nearly always locate bottlenose dolphins which provide a fantastic spectacle.
VISITING rivers & lakes Rivers The slow flowing lowland rivers, such as the Shannon are often fringed with deep vegetation that holds breeding birds and dragonflies such as the banded demoiselle in the summer. Many species of coarse fish as well as salmon and trout lurk in the depths. Smaller, faster flowing rivers can be the home to sea trout and salmon, and birds like the dipper and grey wagtail. The dipper can be recognised as a stout dark bird with a white bib which feeds under water â€“ diving or walking on the bottom to find caddis and mayfly larvae. Grey wagtails are easily recognised by the slate grey upperparts contrasting with yellow underneath. Spate rivers are those that rise and run high very quickly after rain because they have small catchments. These rivers are often important for salmon and sea trout. They can often be seen from July to September and can run in great numbers in the first rains after a summer drought, creating a real spectacle.
Lakes The bog pools and lakes in many of the upland areas are often poor in nutrients. Such lakes will have some species of dragonfly such as black darter, and may have a population of small brown trout. Lakes on limestone, on the other hand, can be extremely productive, often being the most prolific fisheries as well as the most interesting sites in terms of wildlife. These lakes can have a real diversity of invertebrates, including dragonflies, and also often have a wonderful array of flowering plants growing around the margins. Some of the deeper and colder lakes in west and north-west Ireland harbour Arctic char, a species left in Ireland after the last Ice Age. The high quality of Irelandâ€™s rivers and lakes is reflected in the number of rare and protected species that they support. Ireland holds some of the best and least threatened stocks of white-clawed crayfish, Atlantic salmon and otter in Europe. It also has important populations of rare and threatened species such as the freshwater pearl mussel and lamprey species. All these species rely on a continued high water and habitat quality.
Red Deer Family
Terrestrial Mammals There are fewer land mammals in Ireland in comparison to other European countries due to the fact that the island of Ireland was separated from mainland Europe after the last period of glaciation. The 27 different species includes bats, red squirrels, pine martens, otters and the native red deer. Irish mammals are often shy and many are mostly nocturnal so spotting many mammals may be difficult. Many wild animals in Ireland are protected, as are their breeding and resting places. Many species on the protected list are mammals including bats, marine mammals, otter, badger and red squirrel, but protection is also given to species such as white-clawed crayfish and freshwater pearl mussel.
WHERE to see Bats Ireland has ten different species of bats, a number of which are found across the island. You may spot the earlier emerging species such as Leisler’s bat, flying at dusk, as they arrive to feed on insects. Look out along river banks and near barns or outdoor lights. A single pipistrelle bat can consume up to 3,000 insects per night. Bats hibernate in the winter in buildings, trees, caves, stone walls and bridges and the best time to look for them is between May and September. An organised bat walk provides the best opportunity to experience these wonderful and mysterious creatures.
Badger Badgers live in small groups, underground in a sett made up of caves and tunnels and a special nest area for sleeping. One sett could have any number from 2 to 20 badgers living there. Where there is a known badger sett, you may be able to sit quietly downwind, ideally before dusk, and watch badgers emerge.
Red Deer A visit in October to Killarney or Wicklow Mountains National Parks should afford great views of the mating rituals of red deer. During the breeding season, or ‘rut’, the males compete by clashing antlers and roaring to keep the females for themselves. The red deer is Ireland’s largest wild deer species. Its vibrant chestnut-coloured coat becomes grey-brown in the winter. Late Spring (May to June) is when red deer calves are born with their red–brown coats and white spots. At other times of the year, you may see red deer more active at dawn or dusk when they are feeding.
WHERE to see
Pine Marten One of Ireland’s most elusive mammals is the pine marten or ‘tree cat’ (from the Irish ‘crann-cait’). This largely nocturnal and solitary species has spread across Ireland in recent years, possibly helped by an increase in forestry. Some of the largest populations are found in The Burren, Killarney National Park, the Slieve Bloom Mountains, Co. Laois and in parts of counties Meath and Waterford. Pine martens are rarely seen, but the best chance are often had by those willing to get up early and spend time in mixed woodland during summer months.
The Red Squirrel Red squirrels are found in broadleaf, mixed and coniferous woodland. Once widespread in Ireland,
they have declined since the introduction of grey squirrels 100 years ago and are now rare but more commonly recorded in the southern half of the country. In general, squirrels are more active during dawn and dusk. The red squirrel does not hibernate during the winter; it merely becomes less active during the cold periods to retain energy, and stores food to help it survive through the winter.
Otter Ireland is a stronghold for this species in Europe and Ireland’s otter population is considered to be of international importance. They can be found along rivers, lakes, coasts and estuaries. Otters shun contact with people; often it is evidence of ‘spraints’ (droppings) that give them away. As with the pine marten, the likelihood of seeing them increases with the amount of time spent out in the field.
WHALES, DOLPHINS & OTHER MARINE MAMMALS 23
With their deep ocean basins and shallow continental shelves, Irish coastal waters are ideal for whale- and dolphinwatching and for spotting seals The Irish South coast, especially off counties Cork, Waterford, Kerry and Wexford, are in particular recognised as ‘’hotspots’’ for large marine mammals such as the Fin and Humpback whale. There are few places in the European North Atlantic to see Fin whales; Ireland is unique in that they can be experienced with relative ease for between seven and nine months of the year, the peak season being from September to February.
Seal and pup
WHERE to see
Sites along the south and west coast of Ireland such as the Shannon estuary offer the best opportunity to see species such as Common and Bottlenose dolphins. Other marine mammals that you may encounter on a boat tour are seals. Islands of the West Cork coast provide excellent opportunities to see mixed colonies of Grey and Harbour seals, lounging on rocks or floating in the water. For land-based watching, the best locations are bays, headlands and islands. Be advised there may be access issues at some landbased sites, such as The Old Head of Kinsale, and Galley Head, both in Co. Cork.
Fulmar on nest on Inishmurray
All wild birds in Ireland, their nests and eggs are protected by law. Over 450 different species of birds have been recorded. Many are migratory, others are rare or unusual visitors to Ireland. Ireland’s wetlands are extremely important for hundreds of thousands of species that migrate here for the winter months or those ‘en route’ to wintering grounds further south. This autumn migration is an amazing event in the calendar of the natural world. Thousands of ducks, geese, waders and swans come here from many countries across Northern Europe and further east - Russia, Iceland, Greenland, even the east coast of North America. For some, such as the light-bellied brent goose, almost the entire species’ population winters in Ireland.
Seeing birds in Ireland Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) are areas that are specifically for birds. They take into account the large distances that migrating birds cover across the EU. The network of around 150 SPA’s in Ireland includes important seabird colonies, wintering waterfowl sites and sites supporting rare species (e.g. corncrake).
Some Bird ‘Spectacles’ Over 10,000 Greenland white-fronted geese and thousands of other wildfowl species spend the winter at the Wexford Wildlife Reserve. This can also be a great site to see waders on passage in the late summer and autumn, as can Tacumshin lake in the same county. In spring, look out for the first swallows, swifts, house martins or numerous warblers that migrate north to Ireland from sub-Saharan Africa. These species come here in our warmer months to breed, before making the long trip back to Africa in autumn. Rockabill Island in Dublin is home to Europe’s largest breeding colony of the beautiful roseate tern. Ireland also boasts an important population of chough. These red-billed crows are spotted on many coastal sites, but are most numerous along the south west and west where they feed on short grassland. County Sligo holds a third of the national wintering population of barnacle geese (over 3,000 birds!). This spectacular flock can often be observed from October to April at the Ballygilgan National Nature Reserve ‘the goose fields’, Lissadell, Co. Sligo. Large flocks of this species can also be found in areas like Belmullet, Co. Mayo and Trawbreaga in Co. Donegal. Cape Clear Island lies 8 miles off the coast of Co. Cork and has always been famous for its passing seabirds and migrating songbirds. The Cape Clear Bird Observatory monitors birds during the peak migration months. A trip taken at the right time in August or September could reward the visitor with the spectacle of thousands of shearwaters, auks and skuas passing the southern tip of the island, plus the added possibility of seeing Minke, Fin or Humpback whales and dolphins. Summer is the time to head to the west of Ireland, where seaside cliffs and islands are an ideal place for large seabird colonies, some in staggering numbers such as: puffin, guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake, fulmar, gannet, shags and cormorants. Details are listed in the Coastal section. Other species to be found breeding along the coast include peregrine falcon, chough and raven. Ireland has only a few areas where the corncrake still breeds. Some of the last remaining locations include north west Co. Mayo, Tory Island in Co. Donegal and Inishbofin Island, off Connemara, Co. Galway.
Sea-watching The best locations for sea-watching are on the west coast and include: •
Bridges of Ross and Loop Head. Co. Clare
Kilcummin Head. Co. Mayo
Downpatrick Head. Co. Mayo
Brandon Head. Co. Kerry
Galley Head. Co. Cork
Cape Clear Island. Co. Cork
Mizen Head. Co. Cork
Helvic Head, Co. Waterford
Recent re-introduction programmes have provided opportunities to observe species that have been absent for many years. See the Golden Eagle Trust for more information, or visit the National Parks.
BUGS, BUTTERFLIES & MORE 28
Many butterflies, moths, dragonflies and beetles are closely linked to habitat types and quality. Some have specific needs such as individual food plants and water quality that mean their existence in an area can tell a story about what plants may be found there, how healthy the environment is, etc. Others are poor at dispersal and can indicate how old a habitat is or how well it is connected to other wildlife areas. Invertebrates deserve far more attention than they get and, in many cases all you need to do to get to see them is to slow a little and look down.
For the tourist interested in seeing butterflies and dragonflies in Ireland, the season is really from May to September with the best time being July to September for peak diversity of species.
Irish damselfly, a species first recorded in
Ireland in the 1980â€™s, does not occur in Britain and can be found at a number of sites in Ireland. The species is sensitive to water quality change and, although more surveying is resulting in the species being found at new sites, there is a concern that it is disappearing just as quickly in other areas.
dragonflies can be seen throughout the summer,
with the four-spotted chaser, one of the more common species, found at almost any wetland around Ireland. Other species have more limited distribution, such as the black-tailed skimmer which is more restricted to limestone lakes.
Butterflies can be found in many habitats in Ireland from woodlands to bogs, grasslands and coastal dunes. Green hairstreaks can often be found early in the season in bog habitat. Speckled wood butterflies can often be seen throughout the summer and late into the season on a woodland walk. The marsh fritillary is a species that, despite its rarity, is increasingly being recorded at new sites as people become more aware of what to look for.
Four Spotted Chaser Dragonfly
Moths may not attract everyone’s attention, but they are a spectacular group of invertebrates, providing interest for anyone who wishes to look at something ‘’different’’ in the natural world. Many moths can be seen in the day, and a visit onto the bogs between April and July could provide sightings of male Emperor or Fox moths buzzing around looking for a female. The same habitat in the Midlands, west or north, could produce a sighting of the scarce narrow-bordered bee hawk moth as it flies between lousewort plants looking for nectar. There is always a chance of seeing something like the beautiful Elephant hawk moth - even in a garden!
Rarer moths have brought a number of ‘enthusiasts’ on holiday to Ireland in recent years. The rediscovery of the white prominent moth near
Caragh Lake in Co. Kerry in 2008, after it had been thought to be extinct from Ireland for 70 years, resulted in a number of people coming over from Britain.
Aquatic invertebrates, such as white-clawed crayfish and freshwater pearl mussel occur in a number of rivers. These species are protected under Irish and European law and neither species can be seen without potential impacts. Both rely on extremely good water quality and highlight the importance of Ireland’s natural environment as well as its potential fragility and susceptibility to damage.
WILD FLOWERS The wide ranging nature of Irelandâ€™s habitats, from bogs to fens, to limestone grasslands and coastal dunes, brings with it a great diversity in wild flowers. Some of these can be found near areas where people traditionally take holidays and some may need to be searched out. Those who are willing to make a little effort may be rewarded by fields of orchids or bog cotton waving in the wind. Timing is important for those who wish to see wild flowers in Ireland, but there is much to be seen throughout the spring, summer and autumn holiday season. You should not pick or collect wild flowers or their seeds. Indeed, some species are protected and it is an offence to cut, pick or collect seeds or to uproot the flowers and mosses listed under the Flora Protection Order.
Seeing wild flowers
Wildflowers can be seen in almost all months in Ireland and people visiting woodlands in January or February may, for example, see snowdrops. Most of the real wild flower spectacles, however, are likely to be observed between June and September. Many of those who visit Ireland to see wild flowers will aim for The Burren in the summer. This area of limestone hills in Co. Clare has a well-deserved reputation for an astonishing array of flowering plants from March to August.
The Burren holds three quarters of
Ireland’s native plant species including most of its orchids. Although the main season would be May to July, early season visitors should search the south facing slopes for budding flowers and late season visitors check the northern slopes for late blooms.
Coastal areas hold a variety of habitats that contain specialist wild flowers. The more stable, grassed parts of dune systems around the coastline can hold many orchid species among other characteristic species such as seaside pansy and lady’s bedstraw. The specialised coastal grassland known as machair in the north and west of Ireland can hold fantastic displays of orchids, notably in Donegal, north
Sligo and west Mayo and Galway. In these habitats, calcium in the shell fragments that make up the soil helps to mimic rich limestone grassland habitats.
Bogs and wetlands hold magnificent and often specialised wildflower species. The raised and blanket bogs found throughout the country are home to species such as sundews which, because they live in a habitat poor in nutrients, have adapted to feed on insects. These and other species such as bog asphodel, or ‘bonebreaker’ (so named because it was wrongly thought to affect the bones of grazing animals), can be found flowering in July and August.
There are many other
habitats to explore for wild flowers, including
the fens in Monaghan, the grasslands in north Cavan and Leitrim, hills in Wicklow, eskers in Offaly, saltmarshes and cliffs around the entirety of Ireland’s coastline, and even local verges and hedgerows.
Rare and unusual plants can be found in a number of areas. Blue-eyed grass, a species which can be found in wet meadows in the west of Ireland is a species largely found in America. Fringed sandwort, found on Benbulben in Co. Sligo occurs in parts of Europe, but not at all in Britain. Wild asparagus has a very limited range in Ireland, found in some sand dunes in the south east.
Visit in the summer months and seek out-of-the-way places such as sand dunes, wetlands, and grasslands. Although many of the big wildflower spectacles are highlighted above, exploring a hidden fen in Co. Monaghan, raised bog in Tipperary, or even hedgerow in Donegal could bring rewards. The key is to take time and look closely.
SOME THINGS TO DO THE SOUTH EAST Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Carlow
Some things to do in… If you’re visiting a particular part of the country, here are a few specific things to watch out for in addition to those already mentioned. THE SOUTH EAST Wicklow Mountains National Park:
• Take a walk around Glendalough, or go wildlife spotting
• A visit in October should offer great views of the mating
• Red Kites have recently been reintroduced into Ireland.
in the mountains. rituals of red deer. The reintroduction project is based in Co. Wicklow and this is considered to be one of the best locations to see this majestic species.
Take a walk around the boardwalk trail at
Co. Waterford to find out about wetland habitats.
Wexford Wildfowl National Nature Reserve (www.wexfordwildfowlreserve.ie) or Visit the
‘slobs’ for wintering bird spectacles.
Whale-watching from a south coast headland or on an organised boat trip. Humpback and Fin whale (the second largest mammals on the planet) can sometimes be seen from headlands in Waterford and Cork (and occasionally Wexford).
These whales visit the south coast from September to February. During the spring and summer months, breeding seabirds can be seen at numerous locations around the coast. Some of the
biggest breeding seabird colonies in the region are located at the Great Saltee Islands (www.salteeislands.info), 5km off the coast of Co. Wexford. In summer, the beaches along the south east coasts attract many visitors for a variety of coastal activities.
SOME THINGS TO DO CLARE THE SOUTH WEST Ennis
Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick
Kinsale Bantry Castletown
THE SOUTH WEST Killarney National Park:
• October is the start of the rutting season.This can be the best time of the year to see red deer in the park as the stags are at their most vocal.
• White-tailed eagles have recently been reintroduced into Ireland. The reintroduction project is based in Killarney National Park and this is considered to be one of the best locations to see this majestic species in Ireland.
View the large
Fin and Humpback whales
off the south coast. There are very few places in European North Atlantic where fin whales in particular can be seen with such relative ease for seven to nine months of the year and inshore. Bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon also offer a rare opportunity with a massive success rate in locating dolphins inshore. Other species that may sometimes be seen along the west coast include basking shark, sunfish and leatherback turtle. The peak season for watching these species is September – February.
During the spring and summer months, thousands of
breeding seabirds can be seen at numerous locations around the coast. Some of the biggest breeding seabird colonies are located at the Skellig Islands off the coast of Co. Kerry. This magnificent spectacle is well worth the trip. From August through the autumn months, during westerly winds, one can sometimes see large numbers of
birds migrate to and past Ireland. Species to be seen may include manx shearwaters, great skuas and storm petrels as well as rarer species such as great shearwaters, soft
plumaged petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel and albatross! Cape Clear has always been famous for its passing seabirds and they are monitored on a daily passage during peak the peek migration months. During the autumn and winter months many
wintering bird species such as light-bellied brent geese, black-tailed godwits, dunlin, sanderling and knot can all be easily seen along the entire coastline of Ireland, but large estuaries provide the greatest numbers and spectacles.
SOME THINGS TO DO THE WEST
Glenties Ballybofey Ardara
Clare, Galway, Mayo
Grange Drumcliff Easkey
Leenaun Cleggan Letterfrack
THE WEST The
highest sea cliffs in Western Europe, (Guinness
Book of Records), fall 668m to the sea at Achill Island, Co. Mayo, while more easily accessible, but equally stunning, are those at the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare (214m). Look out for breeding seabirds and choughs at the Cliffs of Moher.
Ballcroy National Park in Co. Mayo to see the
dramatic Nephin Mountains, blanket bog and associated wildlife.
Burren National Park in Co. Clare for the
amazing diversity of plants and butterflies.
Visit some of the
fantastic lakes in the area, such as
Loughs Corrib, Mask, Carra or Conn. Take a boat trip or hire a boat for the day to see the lakes from a different perspective. Many of these lakes are on limestone and some, such as Lough Mask, are surrounded by limestone pavement and calcareous fen habitat which contain orchid species and butterflies such as marsh fritillary.
spring and summer months,
Cliffs of Moher
thousands of breeding seabirds such as puffin, guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake, fulmar, gannet, shags and cormorants can be seen at numerous locations around the coast such. Some of the biggest breeding seabird colonies in the region are located at the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare; Loop head, Co. Clare and Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo.
Annagh Head and Kilcummin Head in Co. Mayo also provide excellent sea-watching.
Burren National Park
SOME THINGS TO DO THE NORTH WEST
Ballyliffen Carndonagh Portsalon
Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Donegal
Glenties Ballybofey Ardara Glencolmcille
Grange Drumcliff Easkey
Leenaun Cleggan Letterfrack
Rossaveal Carraroe Inveran
THE NORTH WEST Some of the
highest sea cliffs in Western Europe are
located at Slieve League, Co. Donegal reaching heights of 601m.
Glenveagh National Park at any time of the
year. Golden Eagles have recently been reintroduced into Ireland and the project is based here so it is considered to be one of the best locations in the country to see this majestic species.
County Sligo also holds a third of the national wintering population of barnacle geese (over 3,000 birds!). This spectacular
flock can easily be observed from October to April at the Ballygilgan National Nature Reserve (known locally as â€˜The Goose Fieldsâ€™) Lissadell, Co. Sligo.
Take a trip down the
Shannon on a cruiser and make a point
of slowing down and looking for wildlife.
Glenveagh National Park
SOME THINGS TO DO THE MIDLANDS AND BORDERS Offaly, Westmeath, Kildare, Laois, Longford, Cavan, Monaghan THE MIDLANDS AND BORDERS The
Irish Peatland Conservation Council has its base
and activities organised throughout the year. You can also
Dromore West Ballysadare
visit Clara Bog, Co. Offaly visitor centre, where there is a new
boardwalk trail. Or simply take a walk at a bog site with good
at the Bog of Allen in Lullymore, Co. Kildare where there is a Nature Centre and walks across the bog. There are many events
access walkways such as The Corlea Trackway or Edenmore
Bog, in Co. Longford, and Scragh Bog in Co. Westmeath.
Lough Boora Parklands allows you to enjoy
the peatlands of the Midlands and has amenities for family
activities including cycling, fishing, sculpture trails and
Visit places like
Cormeen Lough in Co. Monaghan
or other wetlands to look for Irelandâ€™s rarest insects such as
Tuam Mount Bellew
the beautiful Irish damselfly. June is the main month that Irish
damselflies are on the wing. Athenry
SOME THINGS TO DO THE EAST Dublin, Meath, Louth THE EAST Watch
terns and other seabirds
from east coast beaches. Five species of tern can be found on the east coast in the summer. Ireland holds very important breeding tern colonies. Of particular importance in this respect is the Irish breeding
population of roseate tern, with very successful
Carrick-on-Shannon breeding colonies at Rockabill Island, Co. Dublin.
bird watching on the estuaries at
Rogerstown, Co. Meath, Dundalk Bay, Co. Louth or on Strokestown
Bull Island Co. Dublin. Roscommon
TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP 43
Most mammals in Ireland are shy and Midges These tiny biting insects are not known to spread disease but they many are nocturnal only. If you walk can cause severe skin reactions and intense itchiness. Not everyone slowly, and approach quietly, you may is affected but it can be unpleasant for those whose blood the insects have a better chance of noticing nature as find particularly tasty in the Summer months especially on calm, damp days. Cover up exposed parts of your body, or use insect you enjoy the magnificent landscapes. repellent available from chemists. ‘Of the 29 species of midges in Ireland, only 6 species bite humans!’ Look out for footprints, tracks, and if you are not sure what you are looking at, maybe take a photo of it with your phone. www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/wildbritain/field_guides/animal_ tracks.shtml www.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/how-identify-animal-tracksand-trails
What to Wear? ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes’. No matter what time of year in Ireland, you will probably be guaranteed some sort of rain – soft, wet, lashing or maybe just a drop. Thus – be prepared for rain at some stage. If you are planning to stay in the West, the Atlantic influence means the weather may well be wetter and cooler than the South East. Suggestions – waterproof jackets and shoes. Wetsuits can be hired in most coastal resorts and activity centres.
Travelling When parking in remote locations, ensure your car is locked and any valuables are hidden. Be safe when walking outdoors. Walking Safety: Make sure someone knows when you expect to be back. Always carry a mobile phone.
Camera Always have one handy for those close encounters or when you are not sure what you are looking at! You can always check on-line later.
RESOURCES & LINKS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR VISIT
Invasive Species Ireland – Provides advice and
National Parks and Wildlife Services - Information on
Irish Peatland Conservation Council – National body
important sites and species, wildlife legislation and
concerned with the protection and promotion of
biodiversity plans. Includes an interactive mapper
peatlands of Ireland; www.ipcc.ie
resources in relation to invasive species; invasivespeciesireland.com
with information on designated sites and important species; www.npws.ie
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) – Organisation dedicated to the conservation and
For listings of Ireland’s Blue Flag and Green Coast
research of cetaceans; www.iwdg.ie
Award beaches, see www.beachawards.ie Irish Wildflowers – Details over 800 native and Wildlife/Biodiversity Organisations and Information
introduced wildflowers; www.irishwildflowers.ie
Services Irish Wildlife Trust – a conservation charity that is An Taisce, The National Trust for Ireland – holds in
committed to raising awareness of Ireland’s rich
trust some 10,500 acres and 47 structures in 12
natural heritage; www.iwt.ie
counties of Ireland; www.antaisce.ie Moths Ireland – Moth information and studies in Bat conservation Ireland – If you would like to learn
more about bats, visit; www.batconservationireland. org/php/bats.php
National Biodiversity Data Centre – A fully interactive database on wildlife records in Ireland;
BirdWatch Ireland – An NGO committed to
conservation of Ireland’s birds; www.birdwatchireland.ie/IrelandsBirds/tabid/541/
Notice Nature – Ireland’s public awareness
campaign on biodiversity; www.noticenature.ie
Butterfly Ireland – Butterfly distribution maps in
Tree Council of Ireland – A voluntary organisation
concerned with trees in Ireland; www.treecouncil.ie
Crann – An NGO dedicated to planting trees and
Wetlands of Ireland – www.irishwetlands.ie
protecting Ireland’s woodlands; www.crann.ie Wild flowers of Ireland – A database of wildflowers; Enfo – A public information service on environmental
matters; www.enfo.ie Woodlands – www.coillteoutdoors.ie The Golden Eagle Trust Limited; www.goldeneagle.ie It manages reintroduction programmes for Golden
Activity and Recreational Information
Eagles in Glenveagh National Park, Co. Donegal, White-tailed Eagles in Killarney National Park, Co.
Discover Ireland – information on tourism in Ireland;
Kerry and Red Kites in Co. Wicklow, in partnership
with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. National Parks – Information on National Parks; Heritage Council – Independent, grant-aided body
advancing both built and natural heritage in Ireland; www.heritagecouncil.ie
Mountain Views – A Hill walking Resource for Ireland; www.mountainviews.ie
Natural heritage, wildlife, biodiversity, whatever you want to call it, Ireland has it in abundance. From the vast National Parks to the hidden wetlands, there is a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
Amiens Street, Dublin 1 Tel: 00 353 1 8847700 Fax: 00 353 1 8556821 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.failteireland.ie
Natural heritage, wildlife, biodiversity, whatever you want to call it, Ireland has it in abundance. From the vast National Parks to the hid...
Published on Jul 31, 2012
Natural heritage, wildlife, biodiversity, whatever you want to call it, Ireland has it in abundance. From the vast National Parks to the hid...