THREATS posed to limestone landscapes in Killarney National Park and other areas could lead to their designation as natural heritage areas, it has emerged.
Environment Minister, John Gormley, has warned that the endangered limestone pave-ments were a priority under the EU Habitats Directive and that he would move to protect them.
"In many places farming is still the main force shaping the landscape of limestone pavements and indeed it is essential to maintain the variety of habitats and their associated biodiversity.
"The direct destruction of limestone pavement is another serious cause for concern," the minister stressed.
"This is occurring as a result of housing development and the removal of surface rocks for landscaping and the garden trade," he added.
The minister highlighted the importance of the Killarney limestone pavements and the habitat they provide to a wealth of biodiversity and he noted that Ireland has the most significant area of ice-sculpted limestone pavement in the EU.
"In order to protect this very important habitat I may consider heretofore undesignated areas for their suitability for designation as natural heritage areas under our Wildlife Act," Minister Gormley revealed.
Killarney's limestone pavements are geological features formed during the last ice age, during which the ice sheets removed much of the overlying material to expose the bare rock.
The pavements were created by rainwater falling onto the rocks or percolating through the soil enlarged the faults and cracks in the rock to produce a landscape of fissures and blocks, known as grykes and clints.
The result is a unique and spectacular landscape and over 36,000 ha, has the most significant area of ice-sculpted limestone pavement in the EU.
The vast majority of this occurs in the Burren region of counties Clare and Galway, although smaller areas occur elsewhere, as far apart as Fermanagh, Donegal and Killarney National Park.