Nature Conservation in Howth

by Nadia Ten Hoeve & Sophie Jäger


In the north of the Dublin coast side there is a village and outer suburb named Howth. This name is assumed to come from Norse origin due to the colonialization of the Vikings. The area Howth exist of a peninsula, various Islands and a number of tourist sights. The Howth Head (the peninsula) forms the northern boundary of Dublin bay Howth is pretty famous in the eyes of recreation, tourism, fishing, research and academics. The mountains extend along the coast from the nose of Howth, in the north east  to the great Bailey, in the south east of the peninsula, with a separate area at Redrock (Barren and Perrin, 2020). The island of Ireland’s Eye, part of the Special Area of Conservation, lies about a kilometre north of Howth harbour.

 There is a management plan for nature conservation and recreation for the peninsula. There are circular pathways so people who travel from Howth can go to the summit, the beach and see the church without disturbing the breeding colonies of gulls, guillemots and razorbills from April to August (Thompsen, 2018). These pathways form together the Howth cliff walks. From the cliff walks you can spot the North bull island (an EU-designated SAC with nine significant habitats, including the dune systems and salt marshes), kittiwake colonies, common and black guillemots, shags, fulmars and puffins and gannets on Ireland’s eye, which is a protected bird sanctuary (Thompsen, 2018).

The management plan was part of A special amenity area order created in 1998 for Howth. A special amenity area order (SAAO) is an environmental designation made under the local government acts. A  SAAO provides the most secure type of planning protection for an area. The Howth SAAO made in 1998 was community led, granted by the minister of environment and made by Fingal county council. In 2015 a plan was made to deliver and maintain to the highest standards, the conservation management and development in the Howth SAAO area. The project included the facilitation of appropriate educational recreational and community interests and activities, consistent with the conservation imperative. This project had to be achieved in co-operation with local interest, and statutory agencies. the project consisted of four goals: Conservation and cultural heritage, recreation and tourism, planning and governance and communications. A big part of the project was the maintance of the Howth pathways part of goal number two. This included lowering dangerous cliff paths, Remedial works on boardwalks and safety signs to warn motorists and walkers about loop crossroads(Howth Special Amenity Order Draft Operational Plan 2015-2020, 2021).

The area at Redrock, located south west of the peninsula, is noted in several scientific reports as being rich in invertebrates, including ants, woodlice, grasshoppers, butterflies and moths.  The Location was noted at being species-rich grassland at the time, with scrub invasion being a threat. Recently the location indicates more covering of trees and no more recent records of these invertebrates.

The  same issue appears along the coast between Bellingham’s farm and the Great Bailey where 32 invasive plant species showed up. These species occurred on cliffs or alongside cliff paths rather than in heathland.

The heathland landscape at Howth Head can be considered to be composed of Dry Heath, Bracken and scrub (mainly Gorse), semi-natural grassland and woodland (Barren and Perrin, 2020). Lowland heathland communities are found below 300m and are characterised by sandy mineral soils of low nutrient status. The dominant plant species are heather, gorse and cross-leaved heath, but many heathlands have a mosaic of habitats including scattered trees and scrub and areas of bare ground as well as wet heath, mire and open water. Bryophytes and lichens are also important components of the heathland vegetation (Lowland heathland, 2021

European Dry Heath which on Howth Head is generally composed of Heather and takes up 131,2 ha in 2017. The research looked at the current status of heath compared to the conditions in Howth’s history. The research led to a Draft Howth Heathland Management Plan. 66% of the heath assessed was written down as being of good quality. This included much of the Dry Heath at The Ben of Howth. Only 10% of the assessed heath was considered poor quality. This sparked the conversation of improving the management of dry heath at Howth. Dry Heath is a plagioclimax community, a habitat where human influence prevents the  development of ecosystems. As such, management of the habitat is required to maintain it as Dry Heath (Barren and Perrin, 2020).

The conservation of the full variety of natural communities is to keep the quality of the landscape and the ecosystem while profiting of Howth’s knowledge and recreational opportunities. The objective of maintaining the favourable conservation condition still applies today (Conservation objectives supporting document Coastal habitats, 2016), while the county is open for tourists and Nature enthusiasts. Hiking the cliff walks is highly encouraged for the ultimate outdoor experience. If you are more interested in the animal and plant species you will be able to find on your trip check out the site synopsis put in the annex (SITE SYNOPSIS, 2013).


Barren, S. and perrin, P., 2020. Heathland Study, Howth Head, Co. Dublin. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 30 July 2021]. 2016. Conservation objectives supporting documentCoastal habitats. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 31 July 2021]. 2021. Howth Special Amenity Order Draft Operational Plan 2015-2020. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 30 July 2021].

Buglife. 2021. Lowland heathland. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 31 July 2021]. 2013. SITE SYNOPSIS. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 31 July 2021].

Thompsen, S., 2018. Bay watching with a biosphere lens. [online] The Irish Times. Available at: <; [Accessed 30 July 2021].

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