Ireland's wildlife is wonderful, abundant and it's free to enjoy for all! Ireland's biodiversity stems from the exceptional diversity of its geology which has shaped our landscape with its mountains, rivers and very varied coastline.
As a result of this variety, we have an exceptional diversity of habitats given the size of the island. The other factor influencing our biodiversity is our mild, moist climate which is facilitated by the North Atlantic Current, allowing unusual combinations of plants and animals to survive. For example, in the Burren, County Clare, arctic-alpine plants are found side-by-side with species that are otherwise more common in Mediterranean countries.
The rest of the island is also teeming with life - Ireland is home to over 31,000 different species living in 117 different habitats and experts estimate that more than 7,000 species remain to be discovered! Perhaps surprisingly, the groups we are familiar with - birds, mammals and plants account for less then 10% of species. Invertebrates - such as insects, bees, snails, crabs, lobsters, octopus and worms account for more then 60% of our biodiversity. These small animals are integral to the island's ecosystem and undertake many important functions - Bees are the main pollinators of crops in Ireland and are worth €53m to the economy each year.
We also have lots of wildlife in the waters that surround the island - Ireland’s ocean environment covers 90% of our country’s territory as we have rights to over 220 million acres of designated Irish Continental Shelf stretching westwards into the Atlantic ocean. One quarter of all the identified species of whale and dolphin in the world can be found in Irish waters - that's 24 different species of whale and dolphin! 563 species of fish have been recorded so far in our oceans, lakes and rivers, including 39 species of shark - the largest of which is the Basking Shark, which can grow up to 12m in length.
threats to ireland's wildlife
- Direct habitat destruction through human activity is proving to be the primary threat to wildlife globally. Activities such as infrastructural development, wetland reclamation, water pollution and the unsustainable exploitation of resources such as over-fishing and peat extraction are having a significant impact on many species living in Ireland's habitats.
- Invasive, non-native plant and animal species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity worldwide, in Ireland only 42% of the island's plant life is native. Invasive species can negatively impact on native species, transforming habitats, threatening whole ecosystems and causing serious problems to the environment and the economy. According to recent research, the Irish Hare, Red Squirrel and Red Deer are all in danger of becoming extinct on the island because of the introduction of invasive species.
- Climate change is also having a significant impact on species and ecosystems around the world. In Ireland, climate change is predicted to lead to warmer and drier summers, milder and wetter winters and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events - such as those we have recently experienced. Such dramatic changes to the climate may disrupt the natural habitats and lifecycles of our wildlife disturbing the delicate balance of the island's ecosystems. Evidence of these changes has already been identified in the international migratory patterns of birds and some insects.