Skip to main content

Ní scairteann grian anseo
Ó Luan go Satharn
Le gliondar a chur oraibh”
A dúirt na blatha craige:
“Is cuma linn, a stór,
Táimid faoi dhraíocht
ag ceol na farraige.”

Liam Ó Flaithearta

Nature & Conservation


This is one of the last intact active blanket bog systems in Ireland and Western Europe and is an important scientific and scenic feature of the National Park. The National Park is itself part of the Owenduff/Nephin Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).



The Park also protects a variety of other important habitats and species. These include alpine heath, upland grassland, heath and lakes and river catchments. Greenland White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris), Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria), Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus hibernicus) and Otters (Lutra lutra) are just some of the important fauna found within the Park.

Protect Nature

Protecting nature is the main aim of a National Park. Conservation work goes hand in hand with responsible outdoor recreation and visitors can help play their part by following these useful tips.

Useful Tips

Plan Ahead

Think about the best time to visit and how you’ll travel here, to minimise your environmental impact. Check the weather and make sure you have everything you need to bring.

Be Considerate

Be aware of how your activities and behaviour can impact nature, the experience of other visitors and those working here. Be mindful of any noise you make and how you interact with others along the way.

Respect Wildlife

Dogs are very welcome but must stay on the lead. If you can, avoid sensitive times for wildlife nesting and breeding.

Travel and Camp on Durable Ground

The marked trails let you take in all the best parts of the Wild Nephin wilderness. Only experienced hikers should venture into the hills. Only Wilderness Camping is permitted: review the guidelines here.

Leave What You Find

Do take photographs of the landscape and plants, but please leave even the smallest details untouched, so others can enjoy the Wild Nephin wilderness just as you did.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Litter is a huge threat to nature. By bringing your waste home, you help protect the park and its wildlife, and keep Wild Nephin healthy.

Minimise the effect of fire

Campfires are only permitted in fire pits in designated campsites. Please read and be familiar with the Wildfires Prevention Advice: Wildfires Prevention Advice


Ireland does not have a large range of flora for a European country and this is for a couple of reasons – it is not a large island and it has been isolated from Britain and the rest of Europe for about 7,500 years. Ireland’s image as the Emerald Isle is due to the mild winters and damp summers that are experienced here.

Historically; the natural landscape of Ireland was predominantly a wooded one. Despite the significantly reduced areas of woodland that now exist; many of Ireland’s plants found in the open countryside are characteristic of woodland.

There are specialised plant communities occurring in Ireland too which can be found in various habitats to include salt-marshes, sand-dunes, cliffs, lake-shores, limestone pavement and mountains. These communities only represent a small fraction of the land area of Ireland. Today the majority of Ireland’s semi-natural vegetation is a combination of three dominant habitat types: grassland, heath and bog. It is these habitats that prevail in Wild Nephin National Park.

For visitors the Ballycroy Visitor Centre; the Daithí Bán Nature Trail offer a good opportunity to see some of the plants typical of the peatland ecosystem which is comprised of various habitats including wet heath, dry heath and bog.

Bog Asphodel

Pollinators in the Park

We monitor species visiting wildflowers across the National Park but particularly at the Ballycroy Visitor Centre. We also carry out biodiversity monitoring surveys for the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Our General Operative team have improved our flower beds and included pollinator-friendly plants and we have introduced a reduced mowing regime on the grounds of the Visitor Centre. We only mow our meadow in September, which allows plants growing there to flower each year providing an important food source for pollinators. We also have a LINNET (Land Invested in Nature Natural Eco-Tillage) plot sown with wildflowers and cereals for birds, which has also benefited many pollinators.

Read more about the park’s pollinators below and in our guide.

Pollinators Guide

Conservation Projects

Project 01: FIT Counts

Above: Common Blue Butterfly, Polyommatus icarus

Project 01: FIT Counts

National Park Guides carry out Flower-Insect Timed Count (FIT Count) surveys to collect new data on the numbers of flower-visiting insects. FIT Counts are a very simple survey and anybody can take part in this citizen science project: just watch a patch of flowers for 10 minutes and count how many insects visit. You can then submit your data online.

The scheme runs from April to September. Doing this across various habitat types in the National Park (and repeating the count through the year and future years) will show you the impact of conservation management measures on insect numbers and diversity within the National Park.

Project 02: Butterfly Monitoring Scheme

Above: Brimstone Butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni

Project 02: Butterfly Monitoring Scheme

In Ireland we have 35 resident and regular migrant species of Irish butterfly, 20 of which have been recorded in the National Park. Butterflies are significant indicators of the state of Ireland’s environment. Taking part in the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme is another great way that our National Park Guides measure changes in biodiversity.

Although butterflies are less efficient pollinators than bees, they are an excellent group of pollinators to monitor as they are very active during the day and are easily spotted. Flowers that are red or yellow in colour or have a strong scent and produce a large amount of nectar are often pollinated by butterflies.

Project 03: Pollinator Monitoring Scheme

Above: Garden Bumblebee, Bombus hortorum

Project 03: Pollinator Monitoring Scheme

Our National Park Guides take part in the Bumblebee Monitoring Scheme: They record the diversity and abundance of bumblebees in the park along a 2km fixed route of the Daithí Bán Nature Trail, from March until October.

This provides essential data on bumblebee populations, which the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) uses to track changes in wild pollinators across the Irish landscape. Bumblebees you may see along this walk are representative of the community in the National Park.

Why Bumblebees?

Bumblebees are Ireland’s most important wild pollinators. Many of our rare bumblebee species are threatened with extinction across Ireland, but it is also important that we understand how the abundance of our more common species is changing.
Of the 21 different bumblebee species in Ireland, below are some you might spot in the National Park. Be sure to check out our dandelions (Taraxacum officinale agg), heather (Calluna vulgaris) and devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) which are some of the bumblebees’ favourite food plants.

Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum

White-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum

Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris


Wild Nephin National Park provides a home for at least 80 different species of bird, as well as many mammals, fish, insects and amphibians. Species such as the otter, Irish hare, red deer, and badgers are also resident in the National Park.

There has been a high number of bird species recorded in Ireland with over 450 species now on the Irish list, but as an isolated island for over 7,500 years, we have fewer breeding birds than our nearest neighbours. Many of these birds are migratory, either wintering from Scandinavia or breeding summer migrants from Africa.

Wild Nephin National Park provides a home for at least 80 different species of bird. The bird species of Wild Nephin National Park include some common species such as skylarks, meadow pipits and dippers and rare species including sandpipers, woodcock, dunlin, ravens, and whooper swans. Birds of prey found in the park include kestrel, sparrowhawk, merlin, peregrine falcon and hen harrier. Red grouse are resident in the park and rely on a mix of different heights of heather for shelter and food. Greenland white-fronted geese are winter visitors from Greenland and are found within the park from October to April. The main winter population of Greenland white-fronted geese are found down in Wexford at the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve. Golden Plover is a rare breeding bird that only breed in the northwest of Ireland with Wild Nephin National Park being one of their breeding sites.

There are a wide variety of mammals also present in Wild Nephin National Park. Species found in the Park include the fox (Vulpes vulpes), badger (Meles meles), Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus), otter (Lutra lutra), red deer (Cervus elaphus), pine marten (Martes martes), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus) and bat species including the most widespread bat found in Ireland, the soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus).

From the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and common frog (Rana temporaria) to Ireland’s only native reptile, the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), Wild Nephin is teeming with a diverse wildlife. Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), among other fish species, are also resident in the National Park. When they are ready to breed, their innate homing instinct brings them back to the very same river in which they spawned to repeat the breeding cycle. If you’re lucky you may spot a salmon on its way upstream.


Although the predominant habitat is Atlantic blanket bog, Wild Nephin National Park supports a number of important habitat types ranging from grasslands, heathlands, shingle shores, pristine rivers (that include the Owenduff and Tarsaghaun), corrie lakes and some of the most remote mountain peaks in Ireland. These habitats are home to plants and animals of both national and international importance. Our aim is to conserve, and if necessary, enhance the quality of these habitats.

Blanket Bog

Bogs are areas of waterlogged ground where dead plant material can’t fully decompose, and forms a brown substance called peat. Plants that are tolerant of the waterlogged conditions such as sphagnum mosses grow on the surface of the peat. As these plants die off they add to the peat, which continues to accumulate. This process has been taking place over thousands of years and has resulted in an extensive blanket of peat over lowland areas and mountain slopes. This blanketing phenomenon is what gives blanket bogs their name.

Conifer Plantation

Conifer plantations are large uniform stands of non-native evergreen trees such as Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), that were planted on a commercial basis for their timber. They support a smaller diversity of plant and animal species compared to native forests, but they provide shelter to red deer, and are important habitat for pine marten. Conifer plantations are also important to birds, such as tits, woodcock, crossbill, and merlin.


Grasslands are dominated by grass species but flowering broad-leaved herbs and dwarf shrubs do also occur. Grasslands occur in areas where the soil is relatively free draining, usually on slopes where the soil doesn’t become waterlogged. Grasslands are dependent on a certain amount of grazing to prevent them from developing into heath and scrub.

Fens and Flushes

Fens are peat-forming wet areas, which differ from bogs in that they are mostly fed by water flowing through the ground or flowing on its surface rather than by rainfall. This water picks up additional nutrients on its way which enables certain plant species to survive.

Flushes are usually smaller features that are maintained by the movement or seepage of water and occur on slopes. One very rare species of flower, the marsh saxifrage, can only be found in such flushes.


Heath derives its name from heather which is a group of small woody shrubs, the most common species being ling, bell heather and cross-leaved heath. Found commonly on slopes where the soil doesn’t become waterlogged, heather can dominate whole mountain sides. Heath is an extremely important habitat for red grouse, a bird which is almost completely dependent on heather as its primary food source.

Lakes and Ponds

Lakes and ponds are enclosed bodies of freshwater, varying in size from small pools out on the open bog to large lakes which have formed high in the hollows of mountain corries. Corries are hollows found on mountainsides which were carved out by the action of glaciers during the last ice age. The water in the lakes comes from rainfall, either falling directly into the lake or as a result of percolating through the brown peat of the surrounding bog. As it percolates, the water becomes acidic and acquires a dark colour.


Due to high levels of rainfall in Wild Nephin National Park the slopes of the mountains are lined with mountain streams. The steep gradient and high water levels cause the streams to be highly erosive, cutting valleys into the mountain slopes. On lower ground these streams converge into the larger rivers in the Park such as the Owenduff River and the Tarsaghaunmore River which meander their way through the bog.

These rivers are relatively shallow but their levels rise quickly after rainfall and can be extremely treacherous to cross. The water is dark coloured as a result of rainfall percolating through the peat of the bog. This dark colour is what has given the Owenduff its name, Owenduff being an Anglicisation of the Irish Abhainn Dubh, which means “the black river”. The rivers are particularly important as a breeding ground for Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), which migrate from the open sea back to the river in which they were originally spawned, to repeat the breeding cycle.


North Mayo is formed partly of rock from the Precambrian period, laid down over 600 million years ago. The Dalradian group from this period, which underlies the National Park, were laid down in a marine environment of current-swept shallows with sandy shoals, calcareous lagoons and deeps with muddy floors.
Shell on rocks
The western side of the National Park is underlain by schist and gneiss rocks, hardened and crystallised by burial and folding. Quartzite is dominant to the east and southern ends.

Glacial activity over the past 2.5 million years has created some of the most scenic features. These include the many corrie lakes such as Corryloughaphuill Lough. Glacial till (boulder clay), found at the southern edge of the Nephin Beg mountain range, is further evidence of glacial activity.

Old Head Nature Reserve

Old Head Wood Nature Reserve is located approximately 2.5 km north east of Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, on the north-facing, south coast of Clew Bay. It covers an area of around 27 ha (66 acres) and occupies much of the north-east face of a small hill, ranging in altitude from a little above sea level to about 150m.

It also forms part of a larger area (now c. 86 ha) designated as a candidate SAC. The Nature Reserve is wholly owned by the State and is designated a Nature Reserve through Statutory Instrument No. 333 of 1984, having been identified as an Area of Scientific Interest in 1979. The woodland is probably less than 200 years old, and has become established through a combination of planting, grazing, felling, coppicing and natural ecological succession.

Most of the Nature Reserve comprises mixed broadleaved woodland, but there are also small areas of scrub, heath and dense bracken. There is a mosaic of woodland types, of which sessile oak (Quercus petraea) woodland is the most important and the main justification for its designation as a Nature Reserve. The woodland canopy comprises mainly sessile oak, beech (Fagus sylvatica), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), grey willow (Salix cinerea), sycamore, horse-chestnut and downy birch, with occasional specimens of other species, including common lime, Scot’s pine and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis).

There is a rich understorey of trees and shrubs including abundant holly, hazel, rowan and occasional hawthorn, grey willow, downy birch and saplings of the canopy species, especially beech. The shrub layer is variable, but often consists of dense stands of bramble, as well as honeysuckle and bilberry. The herb or ground layer is also variable. In places, it is dominated by great wood-rush, but elsewhere there is abundant ivy, lesser celandine, wood sorrel, bracken, buckler ferns, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage and occasional patches of bluebell.

Clew Bay, Co. Mayo

Oak Woodland

Old Head Nature Reserve