Biodiversity in County Clare
County Clare is bursting at the seams with biodiversity, from the common daisy found in nearly every back garden, to the rarest and most beautiful of orchids hidden between the vast limestone pavements of the Burren, which attract thousands of visitors to County Clare each year.
Biodiversity can be full of grace and agility like the choughs at Loophead, or slow but steady like a garden snail. It can come right up close like the ducks at Lough Derg, or be as elusive as the pine martens in Dromore Woods. It can be big and strong like the Brian Boru Oak, or as fragile as a butterfly on Tullaher Bog. It can inspire us, make us smile, or simply take our breath away. In any event, it is ours. No matter what part of County Clare you may find yourself in, you'll find rich and wonderful biodiversity all around. You only have to look.
The limestone landscape of the Burren in North Clare is unmistakable, with its annual display of spring gentians, bloody cranesbills, mountain avens, and early purple orchids, but on closer inspection, the Burren can also be found hiding such botanical gems as the dark-red helleborine, autumn lady's tresses, and Irish orchid.
The wetlands of the east Burren are equally special, with turloughs which empty and fill seasonally, providing habitats for rarities such as the turlough violet and scarce emerald damselfly, while Lough Bunny is regarded as one of the most nutrient poor (oligotrophic) lakes in Europe.
Around New Quay and the Flaggy Shore, the waters are rich in shellfish, with spider crabs, velvet crabs, lobsters, oysters and mussels, while the shoreline is carpeted with seaweeds, periwinkles and limpets. In the wider bay, the not-so-common, common seal can regularly be seen out fishing.
The 'twisted rocks' of Blackhead, immortalized in the Luke Kelly song, are home to peregrine falcons and kestrels, while further south, razorbills, choughs and puffins can be seen from the famous Cliffs of Moher.
The sandy beaches and dune systems of Lahinch, the White Strand, Spanish Point and Quilty draw thousands of holidaymakers each year, while the mudflats and sandflats which stretch further south towards Lurga Point support hundreds of wading birds like purple sandpipers, dunlins and turnstones.
Further inland, where the bedrock becomes shale, the extensive springs of Mount Callan provide the source water for the Inagh, Annageeragh, and Annagh Rivers, while its peak overlooks several lakes including Doo Lough, Cloonmacken Lough, Drumcullaun Lough, and Lough Keagh.
To the South and East of Doo Lough, the landscape softens into peatland habitats. Cragnashingaun bog and Lough Acrow Bogs are home to the carnivorous sundew plant, bog-building sphagnum moss, hares, frogs and red grouse.
Sponges, corals, sea-fans, jewel anemones, purple sea urchins, and starfish populate the reefs around Kilkee, while the sandstone strata of the sea cliffs stretching down towards the Bridges of Ross and Loop Head provide excellent breeding platforms for sea birds such as the guillemot, kittiwake and fulmar.
The lower reaches of the Shannon Estuary are home to Ireland's only resident population of bottle-nosed dolphins, while Carrigaholt and Poulnasherry Bay are important shellfish waters for oysters and scallops, with the rare freshwater pearl mussel making its home in the Cloon River.
Together, the Shannon and Fergus estuaries are one of the most important sites in Ireland for overwintering wildfowl and waders, with rare birds such as whooper swans, golden plovers, and bar-tailed godwits being regular visitors, while dunlins, black-tailed godwits, and redshanks often reach internationally important numbers.
In mid Clare, from Corofin down towards Ennis, the karstic limestone landscape has been eroded and smoothed by glaciers into limestone pavements and natural parklands, through which the River Fergus and its tributaries now flow. The environs of Ennis are hugely important for bats, and particularly for the rare lesser-horseshoe bat.
Ballyallia Lake is a sanctuary for wild ducks such as wigeons, teals, gadwalls and shovelers, while pine martens, stoats, and rare lichens inhabit the hazel woodlands of Dromore.
The landscape between Newmarket-on-Fergus and Broadford is littered with lakes, including Fin Lough, Rosroe Lough, Lough Cullaunyheeda and Doon Lough. Fish in these lakes, such as pike, perch, breem and roach feed on the abundance of mayflies and other water invertebrates.
The mosaics of blanket bogs and wetlands on Slieve Bearnagh are home to myriads of butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other insects, while the woodlands on the lower slopes are carpeted with bluebells, ramsons and wood anemones.
The high numbers of fish in Lough Derg, including pollan, Ireland's most unique species, and a landlocked population of sea lamprey, have recently attracted white-tailed eagles (also known as sea eagles), in addition to its resident cormorant population.
Hen harriers and merlin soar above the old red sandstone of the Slieve Aughties, overlooking forestry, lakes, blanket bogs and heath in search of small birds and mammals. This is one of the top two sites in Ireland for these birds of prey.
In gardens, hedgerows and green roads all across the county, there is ample opportunity to encounter our many colourful birds such as goldcrests, blue-tits and chaffinches, butterflies such as the orange-tip, common blue and peacock, and many other creatures from ladybirds to hedgehogs.
Our woodland and scrub resounds in Spring to the calls of chiffchaff, willow warbler and whitethroat. These tiny warblers fly here from Africa to breed, while County Clare also provides an important stronghold for that harbinger of summer, the cuckoo. Of course, the cuckoo itself relies on a plentiful population of meadow pipits and dunnocks, to utilize their nests, and trick them into raising its own young.
The houses and barns of towns and villages support breeding swifts, swallows and house martins, all species which migrate thousands of miles from their wintering grounds in Africa so that they can use the long summer days to catch sufficient insects to raise their young here.
While many fields now support only a rye grass sward, our road-side verges still support wild flowers, bees and butterflies which once flourished here in great abundance, but which are becoming much less common in County Clare, and in Ireland as a whole. In many cases, our roadside verges are the last refuges for many species.
Biodiversity gives County Clare its character and charm. It adds colour and sounds to our towns and villages, and is the life-force of our rural landscape. It is at the core of the affinity which Clare people have for their county and the essence which attracts tourists to County Clare.