Special Protection Areas (SPA)

Every summer 24 species of seabird, numbering over half a million individuals, seek out suitable breeding habitat principally on mainland cliffs and on marine islands. These breeding sites are in close proximity to the rich foraging habitat of continental shelf waters. Ireland is particularly important for its breeding populations of Manx Shearwater and Storm Petrel.

Ireland is situated along the east Atlantic flyway for waterbirds that breed in more northerly latitudes. It is our typical mild and wet winters that make the wetlands of Ireland such an important resource for over three-quarters of a million of these waterbirds each year. Over 50 species of waterbird migrate here either on passage to more southerly resorts or to spend the entire winter here. They seek out the relatively undisturbed wetland areas for ice-free feeding conditions and for safe roosting opportunities. In some cases significant proportions of the biogeographic populations of waterbirds overwinter here (e.g. Light-bellied Brent Goose, Black-tailed Godwit, Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Ringed Plover).


Ireland’s obligations under The EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC)

Ireland is required under the terms of the EU Birds Directive (2009/147/EC) to designate Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the protection of:

  • Listed rare and vulnerable species
  • Regularly occurring migratory species
  • Wetlands especially those of international importance

A programme to identify and designate SPA sites has been in place since 1985 and Ireland’s SPA Network now encompasses over 597,000 hectares of marine and terrestrial habitats.

The marine areas include some of the productive intertidal zones of our bays and estuaries that provide vital food resources for several wintering wader species including Dunlin, Knot and Bar-tailed Godwit. Marine waters adjacent to the breeding seabird colonies and other important areas for seaducks, divers and grebes are also included in the network.

The terrestrial areas of the SPA network include inland wetland sites important for wintering waterbirds and extensive areas of blanket bog and upland habitats that provide breeding and foraging resources for species including Merlin and Golden Plover. Coastal habitats including Machair, which are important for species including Chough and breeding Dunlin, are also represented in the network. Agricultural land represents a share of the SPA network ranging from extensive upland areas where hedgerows, wet grassland and scrub offer feeding and/or breeding opportunities for Hen Harrier to the intensively farmed coastal polderland where internationally important numbers of swans and geese occur.

A list of Ireland’s SPAs, with links to site-specific information can be found by accessing the following:

SPA datasheets (Excel)

Protected Sites map-viewer iconView and download Protected Sites spatial data through the NPWS Protected Sites map-viewer.