Biodiversity and Bull Island.

Bull Island started to appear on the northside of Dublin city in the early 19th century, as a result of dredging work and the construction of the breakwater, the Bull Wall. In time, the shifting sands clung to organic effluence from the city, marram grass grew and held the shifting sands to form the island, a haven of calm within sight of the city centre.

Looking south towards the city

Looking south  from Bull Island towards the city and the Dublin Mountains

There is much history in this area. The waters around here were the site of a mighty battle in 1014, the Battle of Clontarf , which involved Brian Boru , Máel Mórda the King of Leinster and sundry Viking mercenaries. From the seashore, two squat round Martello Towers are visible, guarding the entrance to Dublin Bay, constructed by the British during the French revolutionary wars. In recent times, films such as “Michael Collins” and “Once”  have used the island as a location.


The view from Bull Island across Dublin Bay to  Sutton and Howth Head.

Today, on a chill but dry November day, I am visiting Bull Island with Green Communities/Dublin Community Growers at the invitation of Dublin City Council Parks & Landscape Service, where we all assemble at the Visitor Centre.


The Visitor  and Interpretive Centre

Niamh Ní Cholmain, Biodiversity Facilitator at DCC, explains the importance of  Bull Island’s rich biodiversity. Dublin is in fact the 10th most biodiverse city in the world and it is very fortunate that birdwatchers and local people campaigned decades ago to create Ireland’s first bird sanctuary here on the island, now a UNESCO biosphere reserve.


Looking across the marshland to the woodlands of St Anne’s Park.

So what is a Biosphere reserve? Simply put, it balances the needs of wildlife and humans, co-existing and enjoying the amenity in a sustainable way. A place where communities can come and learn and research.

Globally, biodiversity is in decline but in our own gardens we can offer a wealth of habitats to wildlife.

Learn more here about attracting wildlife to your garden.

Or about plants for pollinators here.

Bull Island has some unique habitats – dunes and slacks, mud flats and marshland. All within a stone’s throw of the city centre.


The 5km beach, Dollymount Strand, is a popular spot for Dubliners to take brisk walks or sit and watch the car ferries entering the harbour.


Dollymount Strand

On the mudflats, many types of birds feed alongside each other quite happily as they are specialist feeders, not competing for the same food. We gather with our binoculars along  the causeway, the biting wind all but forgotten.

Robert Moss pointing out the birdlife

Robert Moss pointing out the birdlife

We spot the feeding groups of our winter residents, the Brent geese, having made their trans-Atlantic journey from arctic waters, in northern Greenland and Canada.


Shelduck numbers also swell at this time of year with newcomers arriving from the Baltic. There are snipe and redwings and snowy white Little Egrets.


And we hear the plaintive call of the curlews, as they wade through the mudflats searching for crabs and molluscs with their distinctive curved beaks.



The island is also rich in insects, including the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly, fauna and flora, such as Marsh and Bee orchids.


Managing biodiversity on the island has its challenges, as Niamh explains. The dense thorny bushes of the Sea-buckthorn were planted to aid stabilisation of the soil but have become invasive due to the dispersal of the berries by birds. The berries are high in Vitamin C and in recent weeks, DCC organised the foraging of them by volunteers, which was made into jam and even flavoured ice-cream. Alongside us, Conservation volunteers were working with thick gloves and loppers to reduce the number of Sea-buckthorn bushes.

Niamh with the Sea-buckthorn bushes visible

Niamh with the Sea-buckthorn bushes visible on the hill behind her

As the sun started to sink and rain-clouds gathered on the Dublin Mountains,


… we were left with much to reflect on the delicate balance between man and nature and the need to nurture our environment.


(All photography mine; feel free to use any of Jardin’s images but please credit and link back)

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4 thoughts on “Biodiversity and Bull Island.

    • Yes, it’s amazing how wildlife will colonise once we give it a chance, even right down to a pond in the garden. We are lucky that Bull Island is almost in the heart of the city. Will check out your post, thanks!


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