UCC study on Ireland’s natural heritage published

29th January 2014, 9am
By Elaine Murphy

A new study examining the history of iconic places in Ireland, identified
as potential nature reserves by conservationist Charles Rothschild 100
years ago, illustrates the considerable pressures that have been endured by
Irish wildlife and landscapes.

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland 1914-2014, published today, was compiled
by researchers from University College Cork’s Centre for Planning Education
and Research. Field visits to 17 sites identified throughout the country
by the Society for the Protection of Nature Reserves (SPNR) in 1914 were
combined with analysis of archive documents to assess the changes to the
sites over the past century.

The study identifies the present condition of the bogs, islands, mountains,
lakes, dune systems and a karst landscape and makes recommendations for
safeguarding them and their wildlife into the future!

Of the 17 sites identified as potential reserves in 1914, all except one
remain today and thirteen are now protected for wildlife by a form of
natural heritage designation. These include some of Ireland’s most iconic
natural heritage sites such as Mount Brandon, Ben Bulben, the Burren,
Killarney Lakes, the Saltee Islands and Bull Island in Dublin Bay. The
sites also included lesser known areas such as the Wicklow sand dunes.
While the majority of the sites survived, those which have been most
adversely affected are peatlands, one of which has been entirely lost whilst
three others have been partly lost or damaged.

Looking ahead, the report notes that the future of the Rothschild Reserves
cannot be considered in isolation of the wider countryside that surrounds
them. It notes that management of the adjoining land and landscapes, as
well as of the sites themselves will be needed if the sites are to survive
another 100 years.

The SPNR was an early nature protection group based in London, and which
later became The Wildlife Trusts (UK). It was led by the naturalist and
banker Charles Rothschild who, co- ordinated a survey of potential nature
reserves in Ireland which began in 1914 and concluded the following year.

The survey fed into a final report to the British government’s Board of
Agriculture which recommended that 284 wildlife sites in Ireland and
Britain – the so-called ‘Rothschild Reserves’ – should be protected as
nature reserves.

The Rothschild Reserves in Ireland 1914-2014 was funded by the Carnegie UK
Trust. A reference group helped to advise on the report consisting of
representatives from An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust, The Wildlife
Trusts (UK) and University College Cork.

Fintan Kelly, Irish Wildlife Trust Research Officer, said: “The Irish
Wildlife Trust is delighted to have been involved in the development of
this very timely report. Much has changed on these two Islands in the one
hundred years since Charles Rothschild’s survey of wildlife sites. In both
Ireland and the UK the continued existence of our wild places is under
threat from shared pressures such as agricultural intensification and
climate change. In many ways the history of the Rothschild sites is a
reflection of Ireland’s landscape at large.

“While much of Ireland’s rich and diverse natural heritage has persisted
the general poor conservation status of many of our protected sites cannot
be ignored. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of our vanishing
peatlands. We call on the Irish Government to take heed of the findings of
this report and the shortcomings that are highlighted in it. Moving forward
we hope that the cooperation and spirit of fraternity that this report
embodies will continue to grow in the future.”

Welcoming the publication of the report, An Taisce’s Natural Environment
office said: “One of the key messages here is that we need to think broadly
in seeking to conserve our wildlife, countryside and landscapes for the
benefit of future generations. Protected areas are a very important tool
for nature conservation, but the vast majority of our country remains
outside these areas. The new Rural Development Programme – part of the
Common Agricultural Policy – has enormous potential to help conserve the
wider countryside in Ireland, and we would encourage everyone with an
interest to participate in the Department of Agriculture’s ongoing
consultation exercise which ends on 19 February.”

Brendan O’Sullivan, Director at the Centre for Planning Education and
Research at University College Cork said: “We are proud to have been
commissioned to carry out research into these important aspects of
Ireland’s natural heritage. We were encouraged to see how, despite the
environmental pressures of the last 100 years the sites, which include a
remarkable range of landscapes and habitat, have shown remarkable
resilience. Whilst most are now formally protected, if they are to survive
and prosper in the coming 100 years more attention will have to be paid to
their management and that of the surrounding areas.”

Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust said: “Charles
Rothschild showed great foresight in 1914 when he compiled his list of
sites ‘worthy of permanent preservation’. In 2014 we hope that this report
encourages a new generation to consider again the value of Ireland’s
outstanding natural heritage and how this can best be safeguarded for our
own wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations.”

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“The compilation of this study has provided a great opportunity for our
organisations to work together for the future benefit of wildlife. We hope
the findings within the report will stimulate interest in the history of
these places – some of the most characteristic types of wild country in

The full report and an executive summary can be viewed and downloaded at:

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