If you're a member of the Green Party and you're in a position to reverse the decades-long neglect of the environment, the burden of expectation rests on you.
It is inevitable that calls on Malcolm Noonan, the heritage minister, of the Green Party, to grasp the opportunity should grow and become more strident. We're hearing a lot from Birdwatch and from the Irish Wildlife Trust, to name just two groups.
And there's something else that can never be underestimated: The power of the people, whose appreciation of nature and the outdoors has grown since the pandemic began. A recent EPA/Red C poll found that 89% of adults believed the environment is a valuable asset, while 84% said access to nature was important for their mental and physical health.
"The years 2020 to 2030 is the decade of action to restore nature. We are encouraged that Minister Noonan takes the Dáil Éireann-declared biodiversity emergency very seriously,"’ says Oonagh Duggan, of Birdwatch.
The National Biodiversity Forum has released a review of progress in the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 and recommendations to Mr Noonan for radical reform in the next such action plan have been widely endorsed.
The review shows limited progress to stop the decline of nature in Ireland, a disturbing picture of losses, and declining trends. 66% of wild-bird species are of conservation concern, 33% of wild bee species are threatened with extinction, and 85% of internationally-important habitats are 'unfavourable'.
Political failure to adequately fund the National Parks and Wildlife Service and to ensure policies work with nature, rather than against it means that the vision of the 2017-2021 plan is far from being reached, according to Birdwatch.
Therefore, the next plan, to start this year, must ensure a u-turn on the fate of our biodiversity.
Halting the losses of wildlife populations and ecosystems, and restoring them, is critical to prevent wildlife extinction and hugely important for our wellbeing. It is also in line with global calls to stem mass extinction.
Restoration of habitats — like peatlands and woodlands — and protection of the wildlife that calls them home, would cut greenhouse gas emissions. Restoring the health of wetlands, rivers, lakes, and our seas would mean better water quality and fish populations and would support people who rely on fishing and tourism for their income.
Restoring semi-natural grasslands will help pollinators and bird populations and support high-nature value farmers. Farmers are already working with nature and there are good templates of such in the Bride Valley, Co Cork; the Burren, Co Clare, and Connemara, Co Galway, to give just three examples.