The term 'Natural Heritage' covers wildlife (plants and animals and their habitats) and also includes geological and geomorphological sites. Wildlife sites are identified and surveyed by staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (since April 2011), while the Geological Survey of Ireland is responsible for identifying earth-science sites.
Wildlife sites can be important at the local, regional, national or European (or other International) level. There are no official protective designations for wildlife sites which are important at a local of regional level only. Wildlife sites that are of national importance (and, in practice, many sites of regional importance) can be designated as Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000. Sites that have been identifed but not yet designated as NHAs are known as 'proposed Natural Heritage Areas' (pNHAs). These sites are protected from development only by the relevant development plan (e.g the County Development Plan).
Wildlife sites that are of European importance will usually be designated as NHAs too but also qualify for designation under two different European Union Directives. Sites which are of Community Importance for wild birds will be designated as Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive of 1979, as revised in 2009. Sites of importance for all other (non-avian) species or which support important habitats are protected under the EU's Habitat Directive 1992. These Directives were transposed into Irish law as the Habitats Regulations 1997. These two different types of sites (which often overlap) are known collectively as Natura 2000 sites (referred to as 'European sites' in the Planning and Development Act). Any project or plan that is being proposed must be 'screened' to see if an 'Appropriate Assessment' is required.
Sites of importance for geology and geomorphology are being identified, on the basis of 'themes', by a geological heritage project run by the Geological Survey of Ireland. These sites will also be designated as NHAs.
Landscape Quality. There are also many scenic routes and viewpoints, all of which are listed in the County Development Plan.