Ireland’s largest protected area for birds to be created along Co Wexford coast

National Parks and Wildlife Service says move ‘another determined step’ by Ireland to protect marine birdlife

A huge expanse of more than 305,000 hectares of marine waters along most of the coast of Co Wexford is to become Ireland’s largest protected area for birds.

The Seas off Wexford Special Protection Area (SPA) - which are special sites designated under the EU Birds Directive to protect vulnerable and migratory birds - will be bigger than the county itself.

Minister of State for Nature Malcom Noonan said it would be the largest area to be protected for birds in the history of the State. The new protection area adjoins eight other sites already designated in that area, four of which seek to protect breeding seabirds.

National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) director general Niall Ó Donnchú said the move was “another determined step by Ireland” to protect its marine birdlife.


“The 20 species protected at this site are some of our rarest and most threatened birds, and these waters are a valuable feeding resource for the seabirds that return every spring to Wexford’s coastal and island colonies to breed,” he said.

“Outside of the summer months, these relatively shallow coastal waters provide safe feeding and roosting opportunities for a range of marine birds overwintering here or on passage. These protections are vital in a time when the pressures on our nature and biodiversity have never been greater, and the challenges of the climate emergency have never been more pressing.”

The site will be a special protection area for species such as the common scoter, red-throated diver, fulmar, Manx shearwater, gannet, shag, cormorant, kittiwake, black-headed gull, lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, little tern, roseate tern, common tern, Arctic tern, Sandwich tern, Mediterranean gull, puffin, razorbill and guillemot.

The protection area will also have standards which wind farms will have to achieve or comply with, leading to questions around how the designation could impact on the development of wind farms in a large coastal area at a time when Ireland is trying to scale up renewable energy sources.

If developers can show compliance, this could help their chances of getting planning permission. The Irish Times previously reported, however, that clearing the designation hurdle will be very difficult.

Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that “protections for our wealth of seabirds is a vital component of Ireland’s offshore renewable energy transition and this Government is working hard to ensure that biodiversity action and climate action is progressed in lock step”.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing said that being located inside or outside a protected site does not necessarily preclude permission for any development.

“Prospective developers will always need to look carefully and conduct surveys and assessments to decide where best to site their projects, and applications for wind farms are dealt with through the planning process,” he said. “This applies to wind farms whether they are on land or in the sea. Clarity and certainty about the location and nature of protected sites is an important support that allows nature to be properly considered as part of the planning and development process.”

Meanwhile, Fair Seas, a coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental organisations, said there was “a lack of proper community engagement” and “no coinciding management plans”.

Fair Seas campaign coordinator Dr Donal Griffin said the new SPA is good news but that the Government had “failed to consult with local stakeholders in this instance”.

“It is not good enough to designate parts of the marine environment as conservation areas without talking to the people, groups and businesses who use and depend on the area for their livelihoods and recreation on a daily basis.”

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times