Botany of Bantry Bay

Large-flowered Butterwort © Fionn Moore

Bantry Bay and the flanking peninsulas are rich in biodiversity, with a wide range of habitats including offshore islands, rocky shores, high mountains, broadleaf woodlands, peat bogs and lakes.

Special to the area are the so-called Lusitanian species which only occur in south-west Ireland and the north western part of the Iberian peninsula. These include Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna), the insectivorous Large-flowered Butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora) and St Patrick’s Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis). On the Beara Peninsula there are several populations of Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum), a rare fern that is listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive. Other rare species of note include Kerry Lily (Simethis mattiazzii), Canadian St John’s Wort (Hypericum canadense), Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cephalanthera longifolia), Betony (Stachys officinalis) and Irish lady’s Tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana).

Coralline algae fragments © Wiki Commons

The predominantly rocky shores of Bantry are rich in seaweeds and lichens, with a huge diversity of species present.  The sub-tidal is also biodiverse, with large kelp beds and coralline algae or maerl beds.

A feature of the mountainous land around the bay is its peatlands with blanket bog and heath dominating the hills. These support typical peatland species such as sphagnum mosses, Purple Moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), Deergrass (Trichophorum germanicum), cotton grasses (Eriophorum spp), Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum), sundews (Drosera spp) and Black Bog-Rush (Schoenus nigricans). In terms of heathers, the wetter areas typically support Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix) and the driers areas Ling (Calluna vulgaris) and Bell Heather (Erica cinerea).

Recurved Sandwort © Clare Heardman

The mountain tops support some Arctic-alpine species such as Dwarf Willow (Salix herbacea), the very rare Recurved Sandwort (Minuartia recurva) and Stiff Sedge (Carex bigelowii). Also present in these areas is Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago).



Lichen-covered twigs © Clare Heardman

The most extensive woodland in the area is  Glengarriff Nature Reserve  which is dominated by Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea), Holly (Ilex aquifolium) and Downy Birch (Betula pubescens), with many other trees species also present including Scot’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Yew (Taxus baccata), Rowan (Sorbus acuparia) and Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo). A feature of the woodland is its rich bryophyte, lichen and fern flora, with many of the trees covered in these epiphytes.

Around Bantry Bay, a number of sites are designated as Special Areas of Conservation because they are of International Importance for certain habitats and species. Information on all these sites is available via the links at the bottom of the page.

Link and resources


The Marine Algal Flora of Bantry Bay:

Marine Communities of the Bantry Bay Area:

Website about Irish seaweeds:

Vascular plants

Distribution maps: and

Plant identification online resources: and

Field trips and other botanical resources:

Bantry Bay’s islands are also botanically rich as documented in this book:


Website about Irish lichens:

Lichens of Ireland (book):

Lichen Ireland website:


Ireland’s Red List:

Interactive map of rare bryophyte species in Ireland:

Rare and Threatened Bryophytes of Ireland (book):

New Atlas of British and Irish Bryophytes (book):

Nature Conservation Designations

Maps of all the protected nature conservation sites around Bantry Bay are available on:

Information on individual sites is available via the following links:

Special Areas of Conservation ( for habitats and non-bird species)

Sheeps Head SAC

Derryclogher (Knockboy) Bog SAC

Glengarriff Harbour and Woodland SAC

Caha Mountains SAC

Special Protection Areas (for birds)

Beara Peninsula SPA

Sheep’s Head to Toe Head SPA

The Bull and The Cow Rocks SPA

Natural Heritage Areas

Conigar Bog NHA

Leahill Bog NHA

Trafrask Bog NHA

Hungry Hill Bog NHA

Pulleen Harbour Bog NHA