Heritage and Conservation

Natural Heritage

Biodiversity in Cork

County Cork hosts a diversity of wildlife reflecting its geographical position on the southern coast of the country, with its geology dominated by sandstone ridges and limestone valley floors. Our natural heritage includes our native wild plants and animals, natural habitats, geology and landscape. Much of this heritage can be found in bogs, wet fields, rough grasslands, uplands, mudflats and salt marshes. These are areas of significant biological diversity where native plants and animals live.

Our marine waters, offshore islands, and intricate coastline with its cliffs, inlets and estuaries are important areas for marine plants and animals.  Coastal habitats include mud and sand flats, or river estuaries, which stretch from the Blackwater Estuary at Youghal to the Rosscarbery Estuary. They support great numbers of wintering wildfowl with a broad range of species. Over 20,000 birds visit Cork Harbour each winter, escaping the harsh conditions of their northern breeding sites.

The rugged coastline and islands of the western part of the county support reefs, sea cliffs, rocky inlets and bays, as well as dunes and coastal heaths to the landward side of some of these areas. There are rare plant sites along the coast in addition to important sites for breeding sea birds; such as the Chough, Arctic Tern, and Common Tern. 

More marine species such as Storm Petrel, Gulls, Guillemot, Fulmar, Gannet and Rozorbill breed on off shore islands. Common and Grey seals are also found along the coast. 

Lough Hyne, near Skibbereen, was formerly a freshwater lake that is now marine in nature as a result in a rise in sea levels. It is an internationally important site with a unique habitat and rare marine plant and animal species.

The great rivers, the Bandon, Lee and Blackwater and their valleys dominate the central part of the county. They host rare and important fish and invertebrates including salmon, trout, lamprey, freshwater pearl mussel and crayfish. Habitats of the valleys and floodplains include woodlands, marshes, fens and species-rich limestone grasslands. These areas are abundant in biological diversity and host many native plant and animal species. There are otters and other mammals, including a number of species of bats and many kinds of birds living along these river channels. 

The Gearagh, near Macroom, on the River Lee is a site of international importance where the most extensive alluvial woodland in Western Europe is found. This unusual area has formed where the River Lee breaks into a complex network of channels weaving through a series of wooded islands.  The alluvial woodland, which remains today, is of unique scientific interest.  It has probably been wooded since the end of the last Ice Age and frequent flooding has served to enhance its character. The site is important for wintering waterfowl including Whooper Swans, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Golden Plover.

The upland areas of the Nagle, Ballyhoura, Boggeragh, Derrynasaggart and the Mullaghareirk Mountain ranges add to the range of habitats found in the county. Important biomes in the uplands include blanket bog, heath, glacial lakes and upland grasslands. Some of these sites also support notable plant communities and rare plant species. They provide breeding and feeding grounds for some of our resident birds of prey including Merlin and Hen Harrier.

Protected Sites and Species

The most up to date list of all protected sites and species within County Cork is available here. Such sites include Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs), Natural Heritage Areas, Ramsar Wetlands, and the types of habitat which are of special conservation importance.

By accessing Cork County Council's Planning Enquiry System it is possible to see digital maps of the County's Special Areas of Conservation (SAC); Special Protection Areas (SPA), Natural Heritage Areas (NHA) and Proposed Natural Heritage Areas ((pNHA). Please click here to access the Planning Enquiry System.

Tree Protection Orders

A Tree Preservation Order (TPO) enables Local Authorities to preserve any single tree, or group of trees, and brings them under planning control. TPOs are only made if it appears that a tree, or group of trees, need to be protected in the interests of amenity in the environment.

The permission of the planning authority must be sought before any tree with a TPO is lopped, topped, or felled. When the authority proposes an order they have to publish a notice in one or more newspapers. Observations and submissions can be made to the Planning Authority within a period of not less than 6 weeks. TPOs are only made after careful consideration of all submissions and observations by the Local Authority.

Trees of heritage interest in County Cork are featured on the Tree Council of Ireland's website. 

Invasive Species

The presence of invasive species in Ireland is becoming a major issue. Currently in Ireland there are almost 100 recorded invasive species which collectively pose a significant threat to the well being and welfare of our country's biodiversity, and consequently on the biodiversity of County Cork.

Invasive species (which include non native plant and animal species) have been defined on the Invasive Species Ireland website as follows:

Invasive Species are species that have been introduced (deliberately or accidentally) by humans and have a negative impact on the economy, wildlife or habitats of Ireland.

Invasive Species Ireland has set up a list containing more than 30 of the most unwanted species in Ireland and Northern Ireland. This list and details on each individual species can be accessed here. Included on this list, and previously recorded in Cork, are a number of animal species such as the New Zealand Flatworm, Muntjac Deer, and American Mink as well as plant species such as Giant Rhubarb, Japanese Knotweed, and Rhododendron.

The National Biodiversity Data Centre is also an excellent source on Invasive Species and includes the National Invasive Species Database. This website also provides a number of identification sheets in respect of numerous invasive species.

Links to a few of the ID sheets available through the National Biodiversity Data Centre are now provided here in respect of some of the invasive species previously recorded in Cork. Select one for further information:

If you encounter an invasive species you are encouraged to contact either Invasive Species Ireland or the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

The Heritage Unit and Wildlife in Cork

The Heritage Unit has been continuously involved with the natural heritage and wildlife of Cork. In addition to the habitat survey and mapping project which has been ongoing on a yearly basis since 2005, the Heritage Unit has also been involved with a number of different projects and initiatives in this field over the years, such as the Lough Hyne Conference.

Relevant Legislation:

For more information on wildlife designations and the law go to www.npws.ie (National Parks and Wildlife Service).

Other relevant legislation, conventions and agreements include: