Parks, Reserves and other protected areas in


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Protected areas in Ireland

The most important legislation underpinning biodiversity and nature conservation in Ireland is the Wildlife Act (1976), together with the Wildlife Amendment Act (2000) and the European Union (Natural Habitats) Regulations. The Wildlife Act provided a good legislative base for nature conservation. The species protection provisions, including those regulating hunting, were quite comprehensive, to the extent, for example, that they largely foresaw similar aspects of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. However, the habitat/site protection measures in the 1976 Act were relatively weak, and were almost completely limited to measures which could be introduced in agreement with landowners. There was very limited power to ensure protection, even in the case of outstanding habitats or sites, where agreement of landowners was not forthcoming. Nature conservation legislation was substantially enlarged and improved by the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 and the European Union (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997-2005. National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is the body in charge for nature conservation in Ireland, under the Ministry (Department) of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The basic designation for wildlife is the Natural Heritage Area (NHA). This is an area considered important for the habitats present or which holds species of plants and animals whose habitat needs protection. To date, 75 raised bogs have been given legal protection, covering some 23,000 hectares. These raised bogs are located mainly in the midlands. A further 73 blanket bogs, covering 37,000ha, mostly in western areas are also designated as NHAs.

A Nature Reserve is an area of importance to wildlife, which is protected under Ministerial order.  Most are owned by the State.  However, some are owned by organisations or private landowners.

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) are prime wildlife conservation areas in the country, considered to be important on a European as well as Irish level. Most of them are in the countryside, although a few sites reach into town or city landscapes, such as Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour. They are selected and designated under the EU Habitats Directive, transposed into Irish law in 1998 and 2005.  The Directive lists certain habitats and species that must be protected within SACs. Irish habitats include raised bogs, blanket bogs, turloughs, sand dunes, machair (flat sandy plains on the north and west coasts), heaths, lakes, rivers, woodlands, estuaries and sea inlets. The 25 Irish species which must be afforded protection include Salmon, Otter, Freshwater Pearl Mussel, Bottlenose Dolphin and Killarney Fern. These areas cover approximately 13,500 sq. km. Roughly 53% is land, the remainder being marine or large lakes.

Moreover, 121 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been designated under the EU Birds Directive as breeding, feeding, roosting or wintering areas for bird species which are rare, in danger of extinction or vulnerable to changes in habitat and which need protection.

There are six National Parks in Ireland, set up following the criteria and standards for National Parks as set by the IUCN.

Source: National Parks & Wildlife Service

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