Special Protected Areas

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Special Protected Areas (SPAs) apply predominantly to the bird life of Ireland. Mainly based around marine islands and cliffs, these areas provide nesting sites for the 500,000+ individual seabirds from 24 species.

Almost 600,000 hectares of Ireland have been designated as SPAs by the NPWS under the Birds Directive (EC, 2009). The coastal areas include productive intertidal zones of bays and estuaries that provide vital food resources for several wintering wader species including Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica).

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) (Image Credit: APHOTOMARINE)

Marine waters close to the breeding colonies and other important areas for seaducks, divers and grebes are also included with SPAs. The majority of the wintering and breeding seabirds are considered to be regularly occurring migrants. Over 60% of 25 Annex I species that are found in Ireland regularly belong to these two groups. This has been a major factor of the situation that more than 80% of Ireland’s SPAs are designated for these two bird groups.

Of the 154 SPAs around Ireland, three coastal areas of South West Cork have been designated as Special Protected Areas: Clonakilty Bay, Gallyhead to Duneen Point, and Sheep’s Head to Toe Head.


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