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The Biodiversity of County Clare

The combination of wild places, breathtaking scenery, and beautiful wildlife makes County Clare a unique place. The Burren in the north clare with its unmistakable limestone pavement landscape and grassland habitats is home to many rare and unusual plants such as the dark-red Helleborine, autumn Lady's Tresses and the spring gentian; while pine partens, fungi and lichens inhabit hazel scrub and woodlands. On lower ground, turloughs empty and fill seasonally, providing important grazing for cattle and habitats for rare flowers such as the Turlough Violet. 

The sandstone strata of the sea cliffs in west Clare provide breeding platforms for sea birds such as the guillemot, kittiwake and fulmar. Resident choughs feed on insects living on the cliff top grasslands; migrant puffins burrow, rabbit-like, to breed on the Cliffs of Moher, and during the winter, barnacle geese fly in from north Greenland to feed on the rich grasses of Mutton Island.  

The mosaics of blanket bogs and wetlands on Slieve Bearnagh and Slieve Aughty in the east Clare are home myriads of dragonflies, damselflies and other insects, while the woodlands on the lower slopes are carpeted with bluebells, ransoms and wood anemones. Many rare fish are found in Lough Derg, including one of Ireland's most unique species, Pollan.  

The karstic limestone landscape in central and south Clare have been eroded and smoothed by glaciers and now form natural parklands, through which the River Fergus and its tributaries now follow. They provide ample opportunity for recreational users to encounter our many colorful birds such as goldcrest,blue-tits and chaffinches, butterflies such as the orange-tip, common blue and peacock, and many other creatures from ladybirds to red squirrels.

Biodiversity gives 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 Clare.

A wide range of economic and social benefits and services result from the protection of environmental quality and biodiversity, for example biodiversity forms the basis of our landscapes, provides for food and clean water supplies, opportunities for waste disposal, nutrient recycling, coastal protection, flood storage and regulation, among others. Furthermore inappropriate planning can lead to the need for costly engineering solutions to environmental problems.

The protection of the Natural Heritage is the responsibility National Parks and Wildlife Service at 7 Ely Place Dublin 2. 
Telephone: (01) 888 3242
LoCall: 1890 20 20 21 and 
County Clare: (065) 6822711

Invasive Alien Species

Invasive Alien Species are not native to Ireland and are expanding to compete with native flora and fauna. Invasive alien species are one of the biggest threats to biodiversity and the health of Natura 2000 sites in Clare. There are 3 invasive alien mammals, 11 terrestrial invasive alien plants, 7 aquatic invasive alien plants and 6 aquatic invasive alien invertebrates recorded in Clare to date, including the now widespread Japanese Knotweed and Zebra Mussel. Clare County Council has established a baseline on invasive alien species in County Clare and has developed a draft county level strategy for control.

In County Clare a total of 24 invasive alien species have been identified with a number of them established at high densities in specific environments, such as Zebra Mussels in Lough Derg and Japanese Knotweed throughout the County. While not all alien species have the potential to become invasive or cause problems, there are many that can significantly alter habitats and affect the associated biota, or result in a reduction in the quality of economic services.

A complete list of all invasive species in Ireland is available at the National Biodiveristy Data Centre.

 Global Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Global Climate Change will affect habitats and species. The reaction of species to climate change is complex and will depend on the species ability to resist the impacts and recover; this will depend on the health of the species, the strength of the impact and the species ability to move to more suitable locations. Species loss creates niche openings for alien invasive species. It is difficult to predict the impacts given the existing natural and man made pressures and their cumulative impacts on biodiversity and Natura 2000.

Species that are rare or on the edge of their range in Ireland, salmon for example is close to its southern range in Ireland, lesser horse bats, birds and marine mammals are also vulnerable. Fresh water pearl mussel, which is endangered in Ireland, is vulnerable to flooding and drying effect on rivers. In Ireland, there are 11 molluscs threatened by extinction and are further susceptible to global climate change.

The drier summers and wetter winters will affect peat bogs and the resulting drying out may make them more susceptible to peat slides. Coastal and fresh waters are the most vulnerable to global climate change, with loss of water quality, biodiversity, bio geographic shift and the establishment of alien invasive species. Wetland, blanket bog, rocky, mud, sand, and gravel shores, shallow inlets and bays, estuaries, lagoons and salt marsh are also very susceptible to climate change in Ireland. Saline inundation of coastal freshwater will alter the habitat. Turloughs will be affected by seasonal winter flooding and drier summers.

Sea level is predicted to rise by a half to one metre by the end of the century; this will have an impact on soft coastline, in particular the dune habitats of Bishops Quarter, Fanore, Lahinch, Spanishpoint, Quilty and Doonbeg. Salt marsh and other coastal wetlands are particularly vulnerable. The Shannon and Fergus Estuaries, including Ennis and Shannon and the coastal areas of south Clare are particularly highlighted.

Designated Sites 

Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designated in areas that support habitats listed in Annex I and/or species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive. Special Protection Areas (SPA) are of particular ecological interest and are of international importance for the species and populations of birds that they support. SPA's are designated in areas that support 1% or more of the all-Ireland population of bird species listed on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive; 1% or more of the population of a migratory species; and more than 20,000 waterfowl. Many of the SPA designations overlap with the SAC sites.

The Natura 2000 sites represent a diverse range of habitats ranging from lowland grassland, limestone pavement, coastal and inland waters, turloughs, petrifying springs, upland heath and blanket bog. The objective of these designations is to conserve protected species such as lesser horseshoe bat, bottle nose dolphin, otter, lamprey, freshwater pearl mussel, salmon, internationally important numbers of breeding sea birds, over-wintering wild fowl and waders and the habitats that support them. In addition the designations aim to protect and maintain the many rare and endangered habitats, which are identified as being of importance in European terms.

County Clare has a wide range of habitats, many of which have been altered by human activity, evolved over time and are now maintained by more traditional low input farming. County Clare hosts a wide diversity of rare and vulnerable Annex I habitats and Annex II species both within and outside of designated sites. This is reflected in the extent and number of nature designated sites in the county. These range from the Shannon Estuary, the Burren, Slieve Aughty and Slieve Bernagh, the mid Clare coast, Black head, Loop head and the Cliffs of Moher, the east Clare wetlands and a long list of woodland and bog sites.

As of 2012, there are 46 Natura 2000 sites in the county, that is 37 Special Areas of Conservation (SAC's) and 9 Special Protection Areas (SPA's). There are 14 natural heritage areas, which are designated to protect areas of relatively intact bog and 61 proposed Natural Heritage Areas. In addition, there is the Burren National Park, 1 Ramsar Site in Galway Bay, 5 Wildlife Sanctuaries and 4 Nature Reserves at Caher (Murphy) woodland, Ballyteigue, Dromore woodland and Keelhilla (Slieve Carron).

For a list of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Areas (SPA), Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) and proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA) in County Clare, please see Appendix 3 of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023, Written Statement, Volume 1.

Wildfowl Sanctuaries and Statutory Nature Reserves in County Clare

There are five Wildfowl Sanctuaries in County Clare:

  • Mutton Island
  • Islandavanna
  • Tullagher Lough
  • Ballyallia Lough
  • Inagh River (part of)

There are four Statutory Nature Reserves in County Clare:

  • Ballyteigue Nature Reserve
  • Caher (Murphy) Nature Reserve
  • Dromore Nature Reserve
  • Keelhilla (Slieve Carron) Nature Reserve

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has information on the above Nature Reserves in County Clare. 

The Burren National Park

The Burren National Park is located in the south-eastern corner of the Burren and is approximately 1500 hectares in size. The land was bought by the Government for nature conservation and public access. It contains examples of all the major habitats within the Burren; limestone pavement, calcareous grassland, hazel scrub, ash/hazel woodland, turloughs, lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs and fen.

Habitat Surveys Carried Out by Clare County Council

Wetland Survey Carried Out by Clare County Council

The Geological Heritage of Clare

The report 'Banner Rocks - The Geological Heritage of Co. Clare' placed Clare at the very forefront of geological heritage within Ireland.

In addition see Appendix 3 of the Clare County Development Plan 2017-2023 Written Statement, Volume 1 also for a list of Geological Heritage sites in Clare. 

Landscape Character Assessment of Co. Clare

This study built upon an earlier pilot study undertaken in 1999 that sought to investigate the suitability of using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) as a basis for landscape character assessment. The  pilot study essentially assessed the currently available digital data relating to landscape such as geology, land cover, natural and cultural designations. The  study sought to develop landscape types using only the GIS system.   

Coastal, Marine and Inland Waterways

At 366 km, Clare's coastline is the sixth longest in Ireland and there are approximately 100 islands off the Clare coast.

It is a coastline of marked contrasts, with the low-lying Fergus and Shannon Estuaries, the Galway Bay coast and associated coastal wetlands, the dune systems of Carrowmore Marsh/White Strand and Fanore which contrast sharply with the rocky sea cliffs at the Cliffs of Moher and Loop Head.

The often wild atlantic Clare coast is remote in places and on the edge of Europe. It has a rich and varied landscape and maritime heritage. 13 different Seascape types are described in the Clare Landscape Character Assessment.

The Clare coast is represented by our coastal communities, coastal buildings, the many piers and harbours and navigation aids, including light houses along the coast, archaeology such as the amazing fish traps in the Fergus Estuary from the 12 century, promontory and stone forts and Napoleonic towers, to name but a few.

The Shannon Estuary is home to a resident group of Bottlenose dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins can also be seen from many land-based sites around the county. The Irish Government declared the coastal waters off Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1991. This sanctuary declaration covered the state's entire exclusive fisheries limit (200 miles from the coast). To date 24 species of the world's whales and dolphins have been recorded in Irish coastal waters.

Celtic Mist, the yacht sailed by the late Charles J Haughey has been offered to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) for its research in Irish waters. The vessel will be used to provide sea experience and research opportunities for IWDG members, including offshore surveys and to promote marine conservation and awareness of the abundant marine life around the coast of Ireland both here and abroad.

Lough Derg is Ireland's third largest lake after Lough Neagh and Lough Corrib. It is the southernmost of three lakes on the River Shannon. The river connects Lough Derg to the Grand Canal and Royal Canal via Shannon Harbour and Lough Ree respectively. Lough Derg covers an area of approximately 118 km2. It is characterised by broad bays, numerous islands and a complex indented shoreline of some 179 km. The lake still retains a rich and diverse natural environment of reedbeds and woodland, with extensive environmental designations. At its deepest, the lake is 36 meters deep.

County Clare has three distinctive water-bodies, atlantic ocean, estuaries and inland waterways, all of which have influenced the type of traditional boats used in each area. Heritage boats are useful for keeping alive the tradition of fishing techniques, knowledge of the local sea and the oral tradition. Fishing has played an important part for the people of Clare down through the centuries. County Clare has a strong maritime heritage which can have a direct contribution to local communities in the continuance of its heritage, for example via local regattas. 

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