The lands of the Park are primarily designated for nature conservation. There is no dedicated national legislation for the government of National Parks in Ireland but nature conservation within the Wicklow Mountains is supported by other national and international legislation. This legislation requires that areas of high ecological value be designated and protected from damaging activities (e.g. industrial or agricultural pollution, overgrazing, etc.). Areas of high ecological value include those with rare or threatened communites of plants and animals.
Natural Heritage Area (NHA)
This is a newly established national designation for areas of high ecological value, made under the Wildlife (Amendement) Act, 2000. The legislation recognises that many of our most important ares for wildlife are in private ownership. Both privately and publicly held lands can be designated. Development is permitted in these areas where they do not negatively impact on the ecological value of the area. NHAs are in the process of being designated across Ireland. The Park will be part of the Wicklow Uplands Natural Heritage Area which will have an area of over 32,000 hectares. The boundary of the proposed NHA is the same as the SAC (see below) which is shown on the Designations Map.
This is a national designation in which nature is given priority over any other use, and is the most strict of all the nature designations. Within the Park there are two Nature Reserves which were designated before the Park was established. The adjacent Glendalough and Glenealo Valley Nature Reserves were established under the Wildlife Act, 1976.
Throughout Europe, wild nature has been pushed back into smaller and smaller areas. The governments of the European Union agreed to prevent any further declines by establishing a network of protected areas across Europe. The Irish government is required to designate areas for plants, birds and other animals that are of importance to Europe as a whole. Together, these areas are known as 'Natura 2000'.
Special Protection Area (SPA)
The process of protecting Europe's wildlife began with its birds. In 1979, the EU passed the 'Birds' Directive. The aim of the Directive is to protect a number of rare and threatened species of European birds, and the places where they feed and breed. One of the key requirements of the directive is that designated areas be established known as 'Special Protection Areas' or SPAs. Most of the Park is designated as an SPA (see Designation Map).
Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Another Directive passed in 1992 aimed to protect rare and threatened plants and animals and is known as the 'Habitats' Directive. Under the Directive the Irish government is required to designate and protect areas that are important for wildlife not covered by the 'Birds' Directive. These designated areas are termed 'Special Areas of Conservation' or SACs. SACs are designated to conserve a range of habitats such as bogs, woods and wetlands, and to conserve certain listed wild plants and animals. The Park is part of the wider Wicklow Mountains SAC which has an area of over 32,000 hectares.