Cork City’s Natural Heritage includes our geology, landscape, flora and fauna. The variety of life is often referred to as biological diversity or biodiversity. Surprisingly for an urban environment, Natural Heritage has always thrived in Cork, no doubt due to its estuarine and wetland origins.
The city of Cork is built on a geology consisting of red sandstone and white limestone, which is said to influence the traditional Cork colours of red and white. The city has an attractive physical setting formed by the River Lee Valley and Estuary nestled amongst the ridges rising to the north at Shanakiel, Montenotte and Tivoli and to the south at Maryborough and Grange.
The River Lee, which is 65 kilometers long, runs from its source in Gougane Barra, from west to east through the heart of the city, splitting into the North and South Channels, before discharging into to the sea at Cork’s deep natural harbour. The rivers and waterways play an important role in the layout and structure of the City and are an integral element of the city’s landscape character.
Many mammals, birds, invertebrates and wild plants have adapted to life alongside humans in our urban landscape. Areas such as public open spaces and parks, walkways, golf courses, playing pitches, graveyards and the gardens of suburban houses all provide urban habitats and sanctuary for wildlife in the city.
Habitats and wildlife exist in the most unusual of places. The red, pink and white flowered Valerian (Centranthus ruber), the purple pink flowers of the Buddleia or Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) as well as the purple and white flowers of the Ivy Leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) occur in various parts of the city, including urban walls, waste ground and bridges.
The elusive Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) can be seen in the shady banks of the River Lee while the vulnerable Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) spend their winters under the protective bastion of Blackrock Castle. It is reported that over 30 types of birds visit typical city centre gardens, whilst the city is over flown by many other types of migratory birds.
Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have been seen slinking furtively in suburban back gardens while a number of species of bat e.g. Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) and Leisler (Nyctalus liesleri), hunt for insects around the Lough. The River Lee is home to fish species such as Salmon (Salmo Salar) and Grey Mullet (Crenimugil labrosus) with the occasional Harbour Seal (Phoco vitulina), Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and Orca Whale (Orcinus orca) making an appearance, much to the amusement and amazement of the human Cork City dwellers.
A range of sites within the Cork City area are protected under National and EU legislation. These include the proposed Natural Heritage Areas (pNHA) at the Lough, the western part of Lough Mahon, Douglas Estuary and Cork Harbour. The Lough also has an existing status under the Wildlife Act as a Wildfowl Sanctuary. The western part of Lough Mahon is also designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for wild birds due to the presence of the significant salt marshes and intertidal mudflats. Under the EU Freshwater Fish Directive the River Lee is designated as a Salmonid river from its source to the Cork City Waterworks, near the Lee Fields.
The Development Plan (www.corkcitydevelopmentplan.ie) for Cork City contains a number of policies for the protection of our natural Heritage. These include policies linking natural Heritage with recreation, producing a local biodiversity plan, protecting amenity views and prospects, landscape protection zones, ridge protections zones, river corridors, nature conservation designations, tree preservation orders and tree planting.
The Heritage Plan identifies key actions that will both add to and build on the body of work already taking place around the city in relation to protecting and enhancing the Natural Heritage of Cork. A number of Natural Heritage Projects are currently underway.