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Code of Conduct for visiting seabird colonies

Gannet breeding colony
A gannet in flight with breeding colony in the background

Every year the Irish coastline plays host some of the most important breeding seabird colonies in Europe. Many of these sites are surprisingly accessible to people along coastal paths or on off-shore islands like the Skelligs and the Saltees.

Thousands of people visit these sites to enjoy the awe inspiring spectacle of thousands of gannets, cliff ledges crammed with guillemots and razorbills, the comical and endearing puffins and much more.

This unique proximity to the birds offers a wonderful opportunity for people to get “up close and personal” with some of our amazing wildlife , but that proximity can also present problems for the birds.

To help minimise the risk of disturbance for breeding birds the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) and Birdwatch Ireland have developed a  “Code of Conduct” for visitors to seabird breeding colonies.

You’ll find it in its entirety below. Please read it, and follow it, if you’re heading out to an Irish seabird colony this breeding season.

1. The Wildlife Act of 1976, as amended in 2000, (section 22 and others) prohibits the disturbance of wild birds, their nests and their eggs. Visitors must therefore maintain an appropriate distance from any bird, even if it seems tame.

2. Birds that are sitting on nests should not be approached.

3. Nests and eggs should not be touched or handled in any way. Getting near a nest can result in people being dive-bombed by protective gulls, something that can result in injury to the observer.

4. Young birds should not be approached. Parent birds frequently leave their fledglings while foraging for food and so young birds are highly unlikely to have been abandoned.

5. Do not feed birds or leave food where it can be reached.

6. Photographers should note that while it is acceptable to take pictures of birds from an appropriate distance, birds should not be approached even if they seem tame. It is an offence to walk among nests, e.g. at Gannet colonies, or to seek close up shots without a zoom lens.

7. Children should be supervised at all times.

8. Please don’t litter and follow the ‘Leave no trace’ campaign guidance.

9. Enjoy your visit and come again!

Photo Credit: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Paul O’Donoghue via the Ireland’s Wildlife Flickr Group


  • Perhaps the OPW should put these rules up on the path on the Skelligs. Especially number 5, since the gulls are actually stealing any food not tied down and drive the guides nuts when the tourists have left.

  • I have witnessed some appalling misbehaviour in relation to seabird colonies and wholeheartedly welcome these guidelines. I suggest that you ask the Irish Photographic Federation to post the guidelines on their website. All genuine nature photographers will be more than willing to endorse it.

    • Avatar photo

      Good idea Bill… I’m sure the IWT and Birdwatch Ireland are on the case… but I’ll forward a link on to the IPF and ask them to either link to the guidelines here or on the IWT site and / or post them on their own website.

      Thanks for the suggestion.

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