The Government is making “strong” progress on improving and enhancing biodiversity by acting on the commitments it set out under the programme for Government, according to Minister of State at the Department of Housing Malcolm Noonan.
Minister Noonan told the second National Biodiversity Conference that a range of policy changes have either been enacted since the formation of the current Government in 2020 or are currently being developed by policymakers to better protect vulnerable habitats and species.
Many of these changes will affect farmers and landowners, particularly those farming on Natura 2000-designated ground - special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protected areas (SPAs).
Part of these efforts is ensuring that there is a “boots-on-the-ground” approach to enforcing nature protection regulations, with another element of the Government’s approach ensuring that the recently-reviewed National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has the statutory enforcement powers it needs to fulfil its role.
To do this, the Government is working to bring “statutory teeth” to enforcement under the national biodiversity action plan.
It is also working to review of the Wildlife Act and the birds and habitats regulations, which Minister Noonan stated was “a seminal work which will take a number of years”.
It is an all-of-Government, all-of-society plan
“On biodiversity policy, we making strong progress in the areas that NPWS leads on and this includes the new national biodiversity action plan which you are here today to help shape, which will set the agenda for nature across Ireland for the next five years,” the minister said.
“While NPWS co-ordinates it, it is an all-of-Government, all-of-society plan, with actions, implementation and delivery for a wide range of sectors and organisations,” he explained.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin recognised the efforts of farmers and foresters in ensuring biodiversity is maintained and enhanced in his address to the conference.
Minister Noonan went on to outline the policies and strategies that were being progressed to deliver on commitments made to turn around declining trends in biodiversity.
“We are also addressing our additional biodiversity commitments in the programme for Government by commencing the development of a new invasive species management plan, the co-ordinating actions regarding peatlands through the mid-term review of the national peatlands strategy, which is at an advanced stage,” he commented.
Efforts are also under way to improve freshwater biodiversity, with the Department of Housing’s plans to meet European Commission river restoration targets soon due for publication.
“The water section of the Department of Housing is finalising the [third] river basin management plan and starting development of a national restoration plan for our rivers contributing to the Commission’s target of having 25,000km [of] free-flowing [rivers] by the removal of barriers and the restoration of wetlands and floodplains,” stated the minister.
One area where nature restoration efforts are being pushed further is the national peatlands strategy, with area of policy development being the formulation of a European-wide peatlands restoration initiative, the minister said.
“Furthermore, motivated by the UN framework convention on climate change and our engagement at COP 26, we are aiming to progress with others across the continent the concept of a European peatlands initiative that we hope to bring to COP 27,” Minister Noonan continued.
“This initiative will support collaboration, knowledge sharing and co-ordination on peatlands conservation.
“In addition, we are making great progress on the ground to restore protected peatlands and NPWS are regulators on Bord na Móna’s 33,000ha scheme to rehabilitate post-industrial cut-aways,” he said.
The tripling of the nature protection Farm Plan Scheme budget was one of the measures cited by him as the Government’s action to support farmers through these biodiversity policies.
All the while, efforts are under way to improve biodiversity data collection and management, Minister Noonan added.