LOCAL authorities should be compelled to place the protection of endangered habitats at the top of their planning agendas, according to the Irish Bio-diversity Forum.
The 32-county forum also recommended measures to require councils to preserve hedgerows as nature reserves.
In its submission to the National Bio-diversity Plan the Forum said thousands of species are under threat and some are on the brink of extinction because of Ireland’s failure to protect natural habitats. It cited a study from the Botanical Gardens which showed many indigenous plants are under serious threat.
Forum chairman Dr Peter Wyse Jackson said it was not just the large mammals that needed attention but every aspect of the natural environment.
“While significant progress was made in implementing many of the actions, it must be acknowledged that bio-diversity has continued to decline in Ireland. Such a decline is the result of many interacting pressures, including unprecedented economic development, the growth in the human population, urbanisation, changes in agriculture, forestry and land-managing practices, pollution, the spread of exotic and invasive organisms and diseases, loss of or damage to natural habitats and climate change,” said Dr Wyse Jackson.
The Government is preparing its second National Bio-diversity Plan, as stipulated under UN protocols.
In its submission to the plan the forum said local authorities should have to take greater responsibility for all habitats within their borders.
It said this would only happen if bio-diversity was put at the forefront of future development plans and planning strategies.
The forum said at day-to-day level councils could expand protected areas to include hedgerows and woodlands which are integral to the survival of certain species.
It also said at government level there needs to be better coordination between departments especially those working with the key transport, agriculture and tourism sectors.
However, its position paper said this needs substantial backing.
“Finance, expertise, knowledge, staff and partnerships with other sectors are required in order to have a significant impact,” it said.
Noel Casserly, director of Comhar, the sustainable development council, said this country could become a world leader at addressing environmental problems.
“Ireland has one of the highest per capita ecological footprints in the world. Our obligations in relation to bio-diversity conservation extend well beyond our national boundaries. The plan should recognise that bio-diversity, wherever it occurs in the world, should not be put at risk as a result of Ireland’s actions,” he said.
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