National Parks and Wildlife Service.



SITE CODE: 004006

This site covers all of the inner part of north Dublin Bay, with the seaward boundary extending from the Bull Wall lighthouse across to Drumleck Point at Howth Head. The North Bull Island sand spit is a relatively recent depositional feature, formed as a result of improvements to Dublin Port during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is almost 5km long and 1 km wide and runs parallel to the coast between Clontarf and Sutton. Part of the interior of the island has been converted to golf courses.

A well-developed and dynamic dune system stretches along the seaward side of the island. Various types of dunes occur, from fixed dune grassland to pioneer communities on foredunes. Marram Grass (Ammophila arenaria) is dominant on the outer dune ridges. Species of the fixed dunes include Wild Pansy (Viola ricolor), Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) and, in places, the scarce Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). A feature of the dune system is a large dune slack with a rich flora, usually referred to as the 'Alder Marsh' because of the presence of Alder (Alnus glutinosa) trees. The water table is very near the surface and is only slightly brackish. Sea Rush (Juncus maritimus) is the dominant species, with Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) being frequent. The orchid flora is notably diverse in this area.

Saltmarsh extends along the length of the landward side of the island and provides the main roost site for wintering birds in Dublin Bay. On the lower marsh, Glasswort {Salicornia europaea), Common Saltmarsh-grass (Puccinellia maritima), Annual Seablite (Suaeda maritima) and Greater Sea-spurrey (Spergularia media) are the main species. Higher up in the middle marsh Sea Plantain (Plantago maritima), Sea Aster (Aster tripolium), Sea Arrowgrass (Triglochin maritima) and Thrift (Armeria maritima) appear. Above the mark of the normal high tide, species such as Common Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis) and Sea Milkwort (Glaux maritima) are found, while on the extreme upper marsh, Sea Rush and Saltmarsh Rush (Juncus gerardi) are dominant.

The island shelters two intertidal lagoons which are divided by a solid causeway. These lagoons provide the main feeding grounds for the wintering waterfowl. The sediments of the lagoons are mainly sands with a small and varying mixture of silt and clay. Tasselweed (Ruppia maritima) and small amounts of Eelgrass (Zostera spp.) are found in the lagoons. Common Cord-grass (Spartina anglica) occurs in places. Green algal mats (Enteromorpha spp., Ulva lactuca) are a feature of the flats during summer. These sediments have a rich macro-invertebrate fauna, with high densities of Lugworm (Arenicola marina) and Ragworm (Hediste diversicolor). Mussels (Mytilus edulis) occur in places, along with bivalves such as Cerastoderma edule, Macoma balthica and Scrobicularia plana. The small gastropod Hydrobia ulvae occurs in high densities in places, while the crustaceans Corophium volutator and Carcinus maenas are common. The sediments on the seaward side of North Bull Island are mostly sands and support species such as Lugworm and the Sand Mason (Lanice conchilega). The site includes a substantial area of the shallow marine bay waters.

The site is a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the E.U. Birds Directive, of special conservation interest for the following species: Light-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Turnstone and Black-headed Gull. The site is also of special conservation interest for holding an assemblage of over 20,000 wintering waterbirds. The E.U. Birds Directive pays particular attention to wetlands and, as these form part of this SPA, the site and its associated waterbirds are of special conservation interest for Wetland & Waterbirds.

The North Bull Island SPA is of international importance for waterfowl on the basis that it regularly supports in excess of 20,000 waterfowl. It also qualifies for international importance as the numbers of three species exceed the international threshold - Light-bellied Brent Goose (1,548), Black-tailed Godwit (367) and Bar-tailed Godwit (1,529) (all waterfowl figures given are average maxima for the five winters 1995/96 to 1999/00). The site is the top site in the country for both of these species. A further 14 species have populations of national importance - Shelduck (1,259), Teal (953), Pintail (233), Shoveler (141), Oystercatcher (1,784), Ringed Plover (139), Golden Plover (1,741), Grey Plover (517), Knot (2,623), Sanderling (141), Dunlin (3,926), Curlew (937), Redshank (1,431) and Turnstone (157). The populations of Pintail and Knot are of particular note as they comprise more than 10% of the respective national totals. Species such as Grey Heron, Cormorant, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Greenshank are regular in winter in numbers of regional or local importance. Gulls are a feature of the site during winter, especially Black-headed Gull (2,196). Common Gull (332) and Herring Gull (331) also occur here. While some of the birds also frequent South Dublin Bay and the River Tolka Estuary for feeding and/or roosting purposes, the majority remain within the site for much of the winter. The wintering bird populations have been monitored more or less continuously since the late 1960s and the site is now surveyed each winter as part of the larger Dublin Bay complex.

The North Bull Island SPA is a regular site for passage waders, especially Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank. These are mostly observed in single figures in autumn but occasionally in spring or winter.

The site formerly had an important colony of Little Tern but breeding has not occurred in recent years. Several pairs of Ringed Plover breed, along with Shelduck in some years. Breeding passerines include Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Reed Bunting. The island is a regular wintering site for Short-eared Owl, with up to 5 present in some winters.

The site has five Red Data Book vascular plant species, four rare bryophyte species, and is nationally important for three insect species. The rare liverwort, Petalophyllum ralfsii, was first recorded from the North Bull Island in 1874 and its presence here has recently been re-confirmed. This species is of high conservation value as it is listed on Annex II of the E.U. Habitats Directive. A well-known population of Irish Hare is resident on the island

The main landuses of this site are amenity activities and nature conservation. The North Bull Island is one of the main recreational beaches in Co. Dublin and is used throughout the year. Two separate Statutory Nature Reserves cover much of the island east of the Bull Wall and the surrounding intertidal flats. North Bull Island is also a Wildfowl Sanctuary, a Ramsar Convention site, a Biogenetic Reserve, a Biosphere Reserve and a Special Area Amenity Order site. Much of the SPA is also a candidate Special Area of Conservation. The site is used regularly for educational purposes and there is a manned interpretative centre on the island.

The North Bull Island SPA is an excellent example of an estuarine complex and is one of the top sites in Ireland for wintering waterfowl. It is of international importance on account of both the total number of waterfowl and the individual populations of Light-bellied Brent Goose, Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit that use it. Also of significance is the regular presence of several species that are listed on Annex I of the E.U. Birds Directive, notably Golden Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit, but also Ruff and Short-eared Owl.

NPWS 22.5.2008
Birds of North Bull Island - Dublin Bay (2021) All Rights Reserved.