New Special Protection Area designated in Ireland to protect seabirds

'Seas off Wexford', Ireland's largest Special Protection Area for seabirds, will cover over 305,000 hectares of marine waters to improve the protection of 20 bird species off the coast of Wexford.

Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Vincent Bradley

The announcement of the ‘Seas of Wexford’ Special Protection Area (SPA), an addition to Ireland’s Natura 2000 network, increases the percentage of protected marine waters around Ireland to almost 10%, in line with European commitments. The new SPA, which is to be designated under the EU Birds Directive, will cover more than 305,000 hectares of important marine waters for a range of bird species throughout the year.

Surpassing the Northwest Irish Sea SPA that was designated as the largest site for marine seabirds in 2023, the Seas off Wexford SPA, at more than 3,000 square kilometres, becomes the largest Special Protection Area in Ireland.

The new SPA adjoins eight existing SPAs already designated in this area, four of which are designated for breeding seabirds, and the publication of detailed information and maps for the site brings certainty and clarity to a long-mooted proposal for protections for marine birds in this area.

Director General of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Niall Ó Donnchú, commented: “This designation of the Seas off Wexford is another determined step by Ireland to protect our 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. 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 list of protected species in the area includes 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.

A coalition of Ireland’s leading environmental organisations says the creation of Ireland’s largest Special Protection Area for seabirds off the south east coast should be a cause for celebration. However, Fair Seas says a lack of proper community engagement, no coinciding management plans and no sign of the promised Marine Protected Area bill is risking public trust in the process. 

Fair Seas says, although the news is welcome, proper consultation with local fishers, industry, communities and other stakeholders is vital to ensure its success. The group is campaigning for strong and ambitious Marine Protected Area (MPA) legislation to be introduced as a matter of priority. 

Dr Donal Griffin, Fair Seas campaign coordinator,  said: “It is not good enough to designate parts of the marine environment as conservation areas without talking to the people, groups and businesses which use and depend on the area for their livelihoods and recreation on a daily basis. The effectiveness of Ireland’s management of SPAs has already been called into question by the European Commission which is why proper consultation and the implementation of conservation measures are so badly needed. Out of 10 countries, Ireland scored lowest in planning, implementation, site management, monitoring and conservation outcomes. We need proper management, monitoring and enforcement for these areas to truly protect nature.”

Fair Seas communications officer, Jack O’Donovan Trá, added: “In August 2023 we met with many coastal community members in this Wexford area while shooting for our upcoming film ‘Fair Seas: The Celtic Sea’ and it was clear that everyone wants to ensure that the health of our seas and wildlife and restored, but local communities want to be a part of this process. This new SPA designation is a positive sign of the government’s intent to protect wildlife, but consultation with coastal communities must be a central part of this process to ensure local support for new measures.”


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Written by Oceanographic Staff
Photographs by Vincent Bradley

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