One of the good things emerging from the coronavirus crisis is that so many people have come to appreciate the value of parks, open public spaces, forests and walks in wild areas. As well as being venues for physical exercise, they are a safety valve for those who might suffer mentally in these trying times.
We hope that if the Green Party becomes part of the new government, these gems will receive the priority they have not been getting up to now. Last year, the Greens called on the government to stop paying lip service to protecting the environment and to provide an extra €50m for the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Now is the time for the Greens to insist on ring-fencing this money, not only for the natural environment and wildlife but also for something as fundamentally important as people’s health.
The record is not good, however. Since the 2009 economic collapse, the NPWS has seen an ongoing, year-on-year reduction in its budget that has left it “in a critical state”, according to a University College Dublin review of national spending on biodiversity.
Regular users of national parks, including yours truly, can clearly see the results of this chronic underfunding reflected in a lack of basic maintenance work on roads, fencing and even simple benches where people can sit.
Take Killarney National Park. Here, rampant rhododendron is threatening some of the country’s oldest and finest oak and yew woodlands. And you shudder to think how dreadful the situation would be only for the voluntary work of a local Meitheal group and Men’s Shed members who are engaged in eradicating the rhodo.
Last year, the government provided €100,000 to tackle the rhodo in Killarney but Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said the gesture was ‘’like spitting into the ocean’’ and called for a long-term, aggressive campaign. “It (national park) isn’t going to disappear but it is dying under our eyes,’’ he warned.
The Green Party, meanwhile, said it wants to see the cash-strapped NPWS receive a serious funding increase to help its staff protect and manage our nature.
Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan said their proposal for an additional €50 million for the NPWS would generate jobs in rural areas. It would also help us meet our obligation to manage our Natura 2000 European sites effectively and protect the incredible wealth of nature we possess for the next generation.
“Let me be clear though, this investment alone will not stop biodiversity loss. We need a raft of changes to tackle this crisis but it would be a strong first step,” said added.
The Greens may soon have a chance to actually do something about all that.