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Assessing the Conservation Status of Turloughs

Turloughs are topographic depressions in karst which are predominantly flooded by groundwater on an annual basis. Key characteristics of turloughs include a dynamic flooding regime, lack of surface outflow and substrate and/or ecological communities characteristic of wetlands. In general terms, turloughs are flooded to maximum levels between October and April and are often dry during the remainder of the year. Turloughs contribute to Irish biodiversity by providing both aquatic and terrestrial habitats within an often intensively managed landscape. The greatest global density of this habitat is found in the western third of Ireland (see Map below) and they are recognised nationally and internationally for their conservation value.


The restricted distribution of turloughs has lead to their designation as a priority habitat under Annex 1 of the EU Habitats Directive (94/43/EEC). Turloughs are also protected under the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), under which they are designated as Groundwater Dependent Terrestrial Ecosystems. Both of these Directives demand the assessment, monitoring and reporting of turlough conservation status, where conservation status includes the the influences acting on turlough structures and functions.

There is an urgent need to establish a national turlough conservation assessment strategy which must be based on an improved understanding of turlough ecohydrological and management relationships, at both the catchment and within-turlough level. The development of such a strategy will be facilitated by integrating information from this multidisciplinary project, which includes four PhD projects and two Post-doctoral subprojects, focussing on a range of interconnected aspects of the turlough habitat: Hydrology, vegetation, soils, aquatic invertebrate communities, algae and hydrochemistry and catchment-scale and within-site management.

Overall project objectives:

  • Describe and classify the biological communities of turloughs.
  • Describe the conditions and processes that determine turlough biological communities.
  • Develop a monitoring strategy to assess the conservation status of turloughs.

Map showing the distribution of the 304 turloughs within the Geological Survey Ireland Karst Database.


Last updated: Nov 22 2009.