Ireland is missing its chance to protect its dwindling biodiversity with several iconic species of bird, fish and mammals under threat. Globally, the loss of our natural world is proceeding in an unprecedented manner, with a human handprint leaving one million species under the threat of extinction.
This is the stark finding of a landmark 2019 UN assessment on biodiversity loss that warned the unprecedented loss of species will be further accelerated unless urgent action is taken to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss.
At present, the global rate of species extinction is already tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years. Here at home, several iconic species such as the curlew, corncrake and Atlantic salmon are under threat.
Concerns have been raised by ecologists, conservation experts and environmental NGOs that authorities are not doing enough to ensure their protection, as well as the habitats on which they depend.
Over the past two months, Noteworthy has examined the State’s record in biodiversity protection as part of its ENDANGERED SPECIES investigation.
The team spoke to biodiversity and ecological experts, examined scientific papers and state reports, and analysed data on the condition of our natural world.
Our findings show that:
- Recent biodiversity audits paint a worrying portrait, with a quarter of birds a serious conservation concern, 77 species of plants and animals considered endangered and only five of 59 habitat types in a favourable condition.
- Only a small fraction of the targets under our National Biodiversity Action Plan have been completed, including critical action points such as developing management plans for our national park network.
- Biodiversity experts and environmental economists are also concerned with the lack of measurable results-based targets under the current plan.
- Recent EU audits and reports are critical of the State’s management of our protected nature sites, citing insufficient ecological knowledge that make it difficult to establish effective conservation measures.
- Just over 60% of legally protected nature areas have conservation objectives that are specific to the species and habitats they are designated to protect, while virtually no sites have management plans, well below the EU average.
- The European Commission has 15 open infringement cases against Ireland over environmental issues that an expert forum has said points to the State’s role as the “biggest transgressor of environmental law in Ireland”.
Worrying trends for troubled species
Every six years, the State must send a detailed assessment to Brussels on the status of habitats and species that Ireland is required to protect under the EU Habitats Directive – better known as the Article 17 reports. The detailed reporting serves as a benchmark for the status of biodiversity in Ireland, and the latest report paints a bleak picture of the condition of many of our at-risk species.
Just over half of the 60 species in Ireland protected under the Habitats Directive are in a favourable condition, while a whole host of important habitats and the species that depend on them are in poor or inadequate condition, including the freshwater pearl mussel, Atlantic salmon, and the once common marsh fritillary butterfly.
The latest checklist of all protected and threatened species in Ireland released in 2019 also assessed hundreds of additional species in line with International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines, the most comprehensive globally-recognised approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species. It classified 77 species as critically endangered, including the angel shark, the European eel, and three species of pearl mussel, while a further 126 species are listed as endangered, including the basking shark and natterjack toad.
There are also 30 species of bees that are threatened and listed as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable, together with various species of rays, freshwater fish, moths, beetles, plants and mosses.
Source – Niall Sargent of Noteworthy