DESPITE the downbeat and often valid warnings about the state of the Irish environment and wildlife, lots of positive things are going on, writes Donal Hickey.
As far back as 1969, a government report said our natural heritage was being “steadily whittled away’’ by human exploitation, pollution and modern development. Things have got much worse since then with the continuing decline and near extinction of many species.
Bogs and wetlands have disappeared at an alarming rate, but new habitats are being created in the most unlikely places such as the edges of motorways and congested urban areas. We also have high-value nature farming in places such as the Burren and Connemara where farmers are working in tandem with state agencies in ways that offer them a livelihood while at the same time protecting nature.
A new book, Whittled Away — Ireland’s Vanishing Nature, takes its title from the afore-mentioned report of almost a half century ago. The author, Padraic Fogarty, of the Irish Wildlife Trust, acknowledges the work of local groups, frequently made up of volunteers, but says the Government needs to do much more.
It could be argued, only for the EU being a statutory environmental watchdog here, we would have nothing at all left. Definitely one of the better sides of being in the EU. Fogarty, a professional ecologist, traces the failure to manage our natural resources, including overfishing, decimation of bogs, vanishing birds and many other aspects of nature. He decries funding cutbacks of almost 70% to some government bodies with responsibility for the environment.
Many would see the building of 1,100km of motorways as destructive of the landscape; certainly projects never intended to provide a haven for wildlife. Yet, motorway edges now provide a range of habitats free from many human intrusions. Woodlands have emerged along older sections of road, orchids and other flowers grow along the margins, while reed-filled ponds are home to ducks, dragonflies and swans.
Cities are also becoming more wildlife-friendly, with foxes, badgers and otters now seen in urban areas. Fogarty says The Lough, in Cork, now teems with bats on summer nights, while Dublin Bay recently became a Unesco biosphere reserve.
Fogarty also says, however, most positive news for nature in recent decades has come from community groups, or small organisations. Such projects will only go so far, he says, and real action is needed at government level. He wants politicians to act with longer-term vision and to reboot the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
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