Stark assessment points to continued decline of key habitats

Published by Niall Sargent on

August 22nd, 2019

The majority of EU-protected habitats in Ireland are in bad condition, a detailed analysis by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has found, with almost half continuing to decline.

The stark finding is outlined in the State’s latest assessment report to the European Commission that must be completed every six years outlining the status of EU-listed habitats and species in Ireland.

The assessment shows that 85 per cent of habitats are in an unfavourable status, of which 46 per cent are demonstrating ongoing declines.

The report points to continued poor status for native woodlands, sand dunes, bogs, uplands, lakes, rivers, and marine habitats, with little to no improvement since the last report was published in 2013.

Dr Deirdre Lynn of the NPWS said that the ongoing declines of many of our habitats are “of concern”, particularly in our peatland, grassland, woodland, and marine habitats.

She said that unsuitable agriculture practice is the main driver of habitat decline in Ireland, negatively impacting over 70 per cent of habitats. Ecologically unsuitable grazing and environmental pollution are two key impacts from the sector, she said.

Almost one-third of the 60 EU-listed species in Ireland assessed also have an unfavourable status (inadequate and bad) and 57 per cent are assessed as favourable.

The report indicates that there has been little change in the status of Atlantic Salmon, Freshwater Pearl Mussel or the White-clawed Crayfish, all of which are threatened with extinction.

‘Colossal failure’

The Irish Wildlife Trust’s Pádraic Fogarty said that the overall findings in the assessment point to a “colossal failure” by repeated governments to seriously examine the “implosion of our natural heritage”.

While acknowledging the work carried out for the assessment by scientists working for state bodies, Mr Fogarty said that conservation itself has failed as the State has failed to provide proper resourcing to implement “urgently needed” management measures.

The total budget for the NPWS in 2019 is just under €14 million. In comparison, combined funding for the Greyhound Racing Bord and Horse Racing Ireland this year is €84 million.

At the same time, Mr Fogerty said, a vast amount of public money is also spent on sectors that “drive extinction, pollution and climate change”, namely agriculture, industrial fishing, commercial forestry, and peat extraction.

“It is clear we need a new approach to move towards nature-friendly farming, rewilding to creating large native woodlands and restore boglands, and effective marine protected areas,” he said.

The Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan TD said that the report highlights the challenges to conserve biodiversity in Ireland and the need for all sectors of society to work together to address it.

She pointed to “positive actions” such as a national management plan to restore and conserve almost 3,750 hectares of protected raised bog and the recent ban on inshore trawling by large boats.

Ms Madigan also pointed to the Native Woodland Scheme to support the restoration of existing native woodland, although numbers taking up the scheme has been very low.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London