River Shannon Callows

The River Shannon Callows is one of most remarkable wetland areas in Ireland and is protected as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). It begins immediately south of Athlone and stretches for 50km as far as Portumna in Co. Galway, making it the largest area of semi-natural grassland habitats in Ireland. The presence of small snail shells in the underlying white marl suggests that it was laid down at the end of the Ice Age in a freshwater lake.


The callows is renowned for its wild birds and diverse flora species. The biodiversity of the area is partly protected by the grazing of animals as this prevents of willows and alders encroaching on the callows.

Two different plant communities occur at the callows, depending on the land elevation, that support many native species. The low-lying grasslands areas where prolonged flooding and occasional alluvial deposits occurs have a relatively low variety of species. However, the higher grassland the hay meadows rarely floods and is species-rich. Typical callows species include: Cuckoo Flower, Water Mint, Marsh Bedstraw, Common Sedge, White Clover, Meadow Grass, Marsh Marigold, Creeping Buttercup, meadowsweet.

During the spring time, the callows provides feeding ground for migrating birds, while the summer time brings large numbers of breeding birds. There is also a large winter waterfowl population. The most common species include Whooper Swan, Black-tailed Godwit, Mute Swan, wigeon, and Golden Plover.

Whooper Swan
Copyright Mike Brown

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