Plea to safeguard nation’s endangered wildlife

CONSERVATION groups have pleaded for action to save the country’s most vulnerable wildlife following a study which shows many animals, plants and habitats are in decline.

The study, carried out by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, examined 59 habitats and 69 plants and animals protected by the EU Habitats Directive, and found just 7% of the habitats and 39% of the species had good survival prospects.

Chief causes of damage were peat-cutting, land reclamation, construction, quarrying of sand and gravel, overgrazing or undergrazing, pollution, invasion by alien species of plants and animals, and recreational activities.

The country’s raised and blanket bogs, which represent half Europe’s bogs, were among the most endangered habitats, rated as being in bad condition, declining dangerously in size and with bad survival chances.

Nuala Madigan, education officer with the Irish Peatland Conservation Council, said commercial peat-cutting and land reclamation for building and agriculture were the main threats, but even seemingly innocuous activities like quad biking presented a threat.

“Just trampling the bogs can cause a lot of problems because so many species depend on the bog moss that covers the surface. Bogs are home to a variety of plants and animals so you’re not just losing the habitat, you’re losing its inhabitants too.”

Tony Lowes, director of Friends of the Irish Environment, said the report revealed a culture of lack of concern for the natural environment. “We are increasingly bewildered by the low level of protection all around the country,” he said.

“So often these things are done on political advice as opposed to scientific advice, so we have ministers who take political decisions on foot of lobbying by the agricultural, fisheries and construction sectors instead of listening to the science.”

An Taisce said the report showed up flaws in the way environmental law was applied. “It has been very haphazard. It has been left up to individual local authorities to interpret, and even when they do identify a development or activity that’s likely to affect a protected habitat or species, it varies whether it gets an appropriate assessment,” said natural environment officer, Anja Murray.

“We reckon as little as 11% of referrals by local authorities to the Parks and Wildlife Service get a response because there is a shortage of resources within the service and they can only deal with priority cases.

The study, which is mandatory under EU law, has been sent to the EU Commission but a spokesman for the Department of the Environment said there were no sanctions looming: “It’s the first assessment under EU law so it provides the baseline information and we’ll update the picture from here but that [sanctions] might well be an issue in the future if we don’t take steps to improve things.”


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