Government has announced the establishment of the largest national park in the State, as it unites a series of recent land acquisitions, sites already under public ownership and protected sea areas into an Páirc Náisiúnta na Mara Ciarraí.

The park encompasses the newly acquired landmark Conor Pass, as well as the Owenmore River Catchment, sand dunes at Inch and Mount Brandon, to form the first marine national park.

The marine park covers 70,000ac, with under 10,000ac of this being land.

The combined cost of the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s (NPWS) land acquisitions for the park came to approximately €12m, with just under half of the spend going to acquiring Conor Pass.

Skellig Michael is one the national parks included in the 70,000ac national park. / Valerie O’Sullivan

Skellig Micheal, Little Skellig, Puffin Island and land on the great Blasket Island are among the island areas included in the park. These island sites are already managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) or BirdWatch Ireland.

Restoration focus

Minister of State for nature Malcolm Noonan stated that the initiative brings together a range of habitats, which will be the focus of restoration works to improve nature on the sites.

These habitats include mountain, blanket bog, heath, rivers, coastal dunes, limestone reefs and sea cliffs, which harbour species such as the peregrine falcon, the otter and the freshwater pearl mussel.

“Alongside its seven sister parks, Páírc Náisiúnta na Mara Ciarraí will be a flagship for the protection and restoration of these incredible places and the globally important array of wildlife that they are home to,” Minister Noonan said.

“The Páirc will also honour the island and coastal communities who live alongside it by ensuring that their unique tapestry of cultural and natural heritage is central to the future story of this special place.”

A spokesperson for Minister Noonan stressed to the Irish Farmers Journal that no new land designations will result from the establishment of the national park.

There is to be no additional regulatory burden on farmers in these areas or restrictions placed on farming activities as a result of the park.

Years of work

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien commented that the park’s establishment had been “years in gestation” and made possible by renewed Government focus on national parks.

“Bringing the Conor Pass and the lands at Inch into public ownership has enabled the creation of a wonderful marine national park, the first in Ireland’s history,” the housing minister said.

Under 10,000ac of the 70,000ac national park is on land. / Valerie O'Sullivan

“This was a key commitment in the programme for government and today’s announcement delivers that commitment.”

Minister for Education Norma Foley welcomed the recognition of the “astounding beauty” of the area.

“This will be an incredible amenity. It is a transformative moment for west Kerry and the entire county, allowing us to showcase the very best of our natural environment locally, nationally and internationally,” she said.

Director general of the NPWS Niall Ó Donnchú added: “Our new park is a celebration of heritage in all its forms. Our biodiversity and natural heritage sit layered in harmony alongside monuments and historic wrecks from many periods.”

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