The Gobbins ASSI

Protected area type: Areas of Special Scientific Interest
Feature type: 
  • Habitat
  • Species
  • Earth Science
  • Antrim
Council: Mid and East Antrim
Guidance and literature: The Gobbins ASSI

The Gobbins cliffs are of importance for their geological interest, breeding seabird colony and a range of maritime plant communities and notable species. The Gobbins is an area of basalt sea-cliffs, up to 60m in height, on the eastern coast of Island Magee, County Antrim.

The basalts at Hill’s Port at the south end of The Gobbins cliffs are amygdaloidal (bubbles, or vesicles, in lava that have been filled with minerals) and contain various zeolite minerals; analcime, chabazite, cowlesite, gmelinite, gobbinsite, gonnardite, heulandite, levyne and mesolite have been found here. Some vesicles also contain calcite and travertine.

Of particular note is the occurrence of gobbinsite and gonnardite; both are restricted in their occurrence elsewhere and the former takes its name from The Gobbins cliffs. The basalts are Palaeogene in age and date from some 60 million years ago, a time when this area was subject to the massive fissure eruptions which formed the Antrim plateau.

Older rocks occur at the southern end of the site with an Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic series found on the beach. These marine sedimentary rocks are some 200 million years old and are of importance as they contain information on the environment at this time. When assessed with other sites of this age in the east Antrim area, a very detailed picture of sedimentary basin form, contemporary tectonic activity and the range of life forms present during this fascinating geological time, becomes apparent. 

At the time of the Seabird 2000 survey The Gobbins held 1.6% and 1.1% respectively of the all-Ireland populations of kittiwakes and razorbills. The site also supports the only mainland nesting Atlantic puffins in Northern Ireland and significant populations of fulmar, cormorant, shag and common guillemot. Peregrine falcons also breed within the designated area.

The Gobbins is also notable for its maritime cliff plant communities. The diversity of these communities is influenced by a number of factors, including exposure to salt spray, soil depth, aspect, slope and degree of water-logging, in addition to nutrient enrichment from breeding sea-birds.

Much of the area consists of steep vertical cliffs, where the vegetation is restricted to rock ledges. Less vertical slopes include occasional scree deposits and tend to have a more continuous vegetation cover.
The most common species over much of the area is the grass red fescue, which achieves high cover values. Some of the less steep slopes are dominated by bracken. Other prominent components in the sward include thrift, common bird’s-foot-trefoil, sea campion and kidney vetch.
To the south of the area, the cliff vegetation is influenced by the presence of the nesting seabirds, which provide enrichment to the soils through their guano. Additional species such as hogweed, sea mayweed and sea campion occur here. Notable plant species include sea spleenwort.

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