Heritage Minister's biodiversity plan lacks aspiration, focus and strategy

The Government’s latest biodiversity action plan lacks aspiration, focus and strategy, Ireland’s leading environmental coalition has said on the verge of the plan’s launch this morning.
The 2017-2021 National Biodiversity Action Plan is set to be launched by Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys this morning.
The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of 26 national environmental organisations – finds, however, that the proposals in the Plan fall short of what is required to bring us closer to the goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2020. [1]
The Pillar stands ready to help the Minister to rise to this challenge if she is willing to engage with us, however, to date; this has not been the case.
The Pillar has attempted to directly convey its fears over current biodiversity policy to the Minister; however, all meeting requests have been refused over the past two and a half years.
Many of the Pillar’s members organisations have also tried and failed to set-up meetings with the Minister to share their expert opinion about how best to deal with biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity protection and enhancement are at the forefront of achieving Sustainable Development, and can only be achieved with community and NGO partnership. [2]
Pillar representative groups made recommendations to the Plan which were not taken on board. The Plan relies too heavily on rehashed biodiversity requirements under existing departmental actions to comply with biodiversity legal requirements.
While there is a significant requirement for increased surveying and monitoring of threatened species, there is already well-founded data on the threats to, and pressures on, our biodiversity.
We need to act on this data and ensure better implementation of policies that already exist to protect biodiversity and enforcement of environmental laws.
Coherence within policies is also critical. If this was taken seriously, the Heritage Bill which threatens breeding birds and other biodiversity would not be before the Dáil. [3]
We need greater ambition, coordination and resources, such as establishing a dedicated ring-fenced annual fund for priority species and habitat conservation projects and awareness raising with the public, a coordinated, structured and systematic national programme of monitoring hedgerow quantity and quality and the development of a National Hedgerow Conservation Strategy.
The Pillar also believes that the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is not properly resourced to play it’s a pivotal role in implementing the objectives of the Plan.
The NPWS is set to receive funding of just over €11m in 2017 which has to go toward running costs of six National Parks and 78 statutory Nature Reserves, conservation-related scientific surveys, and a myriad of other tasks. [4]
This lack of resources will impact our capacity to protect our rich biodiversity, such as vital ancient native woodland, which falls under the remit of the NPWS.
These valuable forests are already critically endangered – occupying less than 1 per cent of our territory – and lack of correct management leaves them vulnerable to pests, diseases, illegal felling, and invasive species.
Michael Ewing, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:
“Ireland’s National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 comes at a critical time for many of Ireland’s most threatened habitats and species.
“Biodiversity loss undermines the capacity of our environment to continue to provide society with essential services and undermines the green image which is the foundation for our farming and tourism sector.
“Government policies around farming, fishing, forestry and peat extraction have resulted in a situation where biodiversity is being lost at a rate and scale unprecedented since man first set foot in Ireland. The threats are known as are many of the solutions.
“Our country becomes a less beautiful and vibrant place with every flower and bird we lose. With enough political will we can turn the tide on biodiversity loss and start to build and legacy which we can be proud to hand down to future generations.”
Neil Foulkes, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland, said:
“In her forward to the new Plan the Minister stated that ‘Biodiversity benefits us all and to continue to enjoy those benefits we must continue to engage with each other, working together to secure, protect and conserve the vital building blocks of life that it provides.’.
“Biodiversity benefits us all and to continue to enjoy those benefits we must continue to engage with each other, working together to secure, protect and conserve the vital building blocks of life that it provides.
“It is beholden on the Minister to honour those words and agree to personally engage regularly and routinely with the environmental NGO sector.
“However, this is something that she has singularly failed to do during her tenure as Minister to date.”
[1] Over 90 per cent of our habitats have a ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’ conservation status, and over a quarter of Ireland’s breeding birds in decline, with once common species such as the Corncrake and Curlew on the verge of extinction.
[2] At present the departmental and agency-led Biodiversity Working Group is separate from the NGO, academic and local authority-led Biodiversity Forum. The Pillar would prefer to see both groups working together and received a more equal footing in the process.
[3] Quite ironically, the Minister is determined to plough ahead with a planned nationwide pilot project under the Heritage Bill to allow for the burning of vegetation in March and the cutting of hedgerows in August without any robust baseline data.
[4] Briefing on Revised Estimates for Public Services, 2017: http://www.chg.gov.ie/app/uploads/2017/08/ministerial_briefing_finance__vote_33.pdf