Ireland’s first local authority biodiversity officers have been appointed, the Heritage Council has confirmed.
Kilkenny, Offaly, Cork city and Wicklow local authorities now have full-time biodiversity officers in place to drive the restoration and protection of Irish flora and fauna in their jurisdiction.
In a move announced by Minister of State for heritage Malcolm Noonan last year, there will be a biodiversity officer appointed to every local authority in the country by the end of 2024.
The appointment of local authority biodiversity officers is being driven by the Heritage Council and the County and City Management Association (CCMA), with support from the Department of Housing and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
An initial investment of €1.6m by the Heritage Council is likely to be increased and it is this stakeholder that is funding the salary costs of the biodiversity officers.
According to the council, each biodiversity officer will roll out several measures to protect biodiversity in their respective areas.
Officers will prepare, manage and implement a local authority biodiversity action plan and establish a county biodiversity forum.
Other duties will include raising awareness of biodiversity issues and opportunities, including climate change, with a broad range of groups.
The biodiversity officers will also provide training and advice to local authority colleagues on biodiversity-related issues and their obligations in relation to protecting resources such as urban woodlands, parks, nature-based solutions and management of public lands.
It is not yet clear what interaction the appointed officers will have with farmers and whether or not farmers will be involved in the forum or initiatives rolled out.
The Heritage Council has described the first biodiversity officer appointments as “timely”, given the publication this month of recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss.
“The newly appointed biodiversity officers will directly address many of the recommendations, including the improvement in management of hedgerows, restoring peatlands, tackling invasive alien species and engaging local communities,” it said.
The appointment of biodiversity officers in Kildare and Westmeath are at an advanced stage and will also shortly commence in their new roles.
Minister Noonan said the appointments mark a “significant milestone on our collective journey to protect and restore nature across the country and promote the value of biodiversity within our communities”.
“Working in tandem with their heritage officer colleagues, the biodiversity officers will play an instrumental role in implementing the national biodiversity action plan, engaging with communities [and] supporting local authorities to deliver positive action for nature and wildlife at the local level,” he said.