Nature Scorecard shines light on Ireland's failure to protect its natural heritage and internationally important habitats and species  

Immediate Release
The Irish state is failing in its duty to fully implement European Directives vital to protect numerous threatened species and habitats on our island.
This is the finding of a new report published today by leading environmental NGOs, BirdLife Europe, WWF, European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Friends of the Earth Europe. [1]
The report, which received input from Environmental Pillar members, gave 18 member states a scorecard for their performance in implementing the Birds and Habitats Directives to protect Europe’s most precious natural areas, wildlife, and habitats. [2] [3] [4]
The findings of the report come just one year after the European Commission introduced an ‘Action Plan’ that calls for all EU members to better implement nature protection rules. [5]
While the report finds that Ireland is doing well in transposing the Directives, it stresses that our Government is failing to fully implement them and protect threatened species and habitats.
The scorecard shows we are particularly failing on:
  • Management of protected sites
  • Protection of our endangered and threatened species
  • Connecting important landscapes and biodiverse areas across the country
  • Tackling non-native invasive species
  • Genuine engagement with stakeholder and facilitating public participation
The report finds that we performing very poorly over species protection and engagement with the public and stakeholders such as conservation groups.
Action plans to safeguard the majority of our island’s protected species are “out of date now”, according to the report, while others are being implemented “in a piecemeal fashion”.
There is no evidence, for example, that the 2010 draft catchment action plans for the threatened freshwater pearl mussel, are being implemented in a clear manner.
Species monitoring is also very poor, the report states, with long-term data “lacking” for over half of bird species assessed in 2014, while some habitat types, uplands in particular, also lack monitoring.
The report calls for a national action plan to be developed to tackle invasive species as at present there are no identified national management measures in place, with invasive species in the marine environment also “potentially problematic”.
The report warns that the state is also failing to fully designate, establish and connect sites to form the Natura 2000 network of protected areas on land and at sea. [6] [7] [8]
The special protection areas for the endangered Corncrake, for example, are still yet to be designated, while other established sites are poorly managed, the report states.
Forty-five management plans were drawn up some years ago, but have yet to be officially adopted or implemented, while there are no plans at all for some National Parks, the report states.
The State is also failing to ensure that plans or projects likely to affect Natura 2000 sites are subject to Appropriate Assessment to ensure that there is no deterioration of habitats and disturbance to species.
We are also dragging our feet over habitats and species monitoring, and are not providing adequate funding to cover Natura 2000 needs, the report adds.
The report warns that the National Parks and Wildlife Service is “chronically underfunded” and has insufficient staffing numbers working to protect and enhance Nature 2000 sites.
Yesterday, a coalition of environmental NGOs and concerned citizens rallied outside Leinster House calling on the Government to halt the roll back of Ireland’s nature laws proposed in the Heritage Bill. [9]
Conservation Policy spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar, Oonagh Duggan, said:
“A lack of political will to protect our threatened species and habitats is condemning Irish nature to loss and decline.
“The report pinpoints the lack of political leadership undermining protection of nature. Significant investment and enforcement of the laws that protect our wildlife is urgently needed if we are to go from red to green in species and site protection.
“We have amazing internationally important species, habitats and protected areas for nature in Ireland but the report shows that the Irish government is sacrificing this natural heritage and letting down the Irish people who take great enjoyment from nature.
“Bird species like Hen Harrier and Curlew are seriously threatened. Ninety-two per cent of our internationally important habitats like Blanket Bog in our mountains, and flower-rich grasslands are under serious threat from the impacts of burning and intensive agriculture.
“With community engagement and political will, we could ensure that we have thriving nature in Ireland. The success story that is the Rockabill Roseate Tern colony which has seen numbers of Roseates dramatically increase over 20 years through dedicated conservation work by BirdWatch Ireland could be replicated if the will was there.”
Environment Pillar spokesperson on Forestry & Tree cover, Andrew St Ledger, said:
“The neglect of our tiny fragments of ancient woodlands and alluvial woodlands, our most valuable land based habitats for biodiversity, is indicative of the Irish State’s attitude to Nature protection.
“The majority of these native woodland sites are listed as Special Areas of Conservation yet have no management plans to protect them into the future from threats such as invasive species, pests, and disease, as well as from illegal and inappropriate felling.”
Michael Ewing, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, said:
“Greater political will to protect nature and raise awareness of the benefits of the Birds and Habitats Directives and Natura 2000 sites is urgently required in Ireland.
“The rapid decline of biodiversity across Ireland and Europe is guaranteed if this lack of engagement persists and we call on the European Commission to rise to the moment and show it is serious about their ‘action plan’ by making Member States accountable for dragging their feet.”
[1] “The State of Implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives in the EU” is available here. The report shows that while the majority of the Member States assessed (67%) have fully incorporated the Directives into national law, they have failed to implement them properly. Ireland’s scorecard is available here:
[2] The information in the Irish assessment is based on expert analysis from BirdWatch Ireland, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Irish Wildlife Trust, Coastwatch, Bat Conservation Ireland and An Taisce.
[3] Adopted in 1992, the Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of over 1,000 rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. It establishes the EU wide Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas, safeguarded against potentially damaging developments.
[4] The Birds Directive is the oldest piece of EU legislation on the environment and aims to protect all of the 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the European Union. The Directive places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, and establishes a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
[5] The European Commission adopted the Action Plan for Nature, People & the Economy, in light of the findings of the Fitness Check of the Nature Directives showing that the Birds and Habitats Directives are “fit for purpose” but require better implementation. The plan includes a series of essential actions to ensure Europe’s natural heritage is better managed and protected, but it is up to EU governments to step up to their legal commitments to effectively protect nature across the continent. The NGO report shows that this is not happening.
[6] Natura 2000 is a network of core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and some rare natural habitat types which are protected in their own right. It stretches over all 28 EU countries and covers 18 per cent of the EU’s land area and almost 6 per cent of its marine territory
[7]Ireland’s Natura 2000 network consists of 595 sites, covering a total of 19.485km2. The report states that neither the terrestrial or marine networks are complete. Ireland’s new Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 calls for the “Complete designation process for Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), in particular, for marine coastal and offshore SPAs”.
[8]Ireland has not transposed the Marine Strategy Framework Directive requirement to set up a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas, though legislation to do so has been promised for years.
[9] The Heritage Bill proposes to allow burning in uplands and lowland hills in March, and to loosen laws on roadside hedgecutting by permitting landowners to self-define road safety issues and to deal with them year round and removing the existing regulatory oversight by the Minister for Heritage.