‘A day of hope for nature’: €55m plan for wildlife service announced

Critical reports note ‘lost decade’ left National Parks & Wildlife Service ‘not fit for purpose’

The approval of a €55 million package to restructure the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) represents “a day of hope for nature in Ireland” and shows the issue is high on the political agenda, the Minister of State for Heritage has said.

Malcolm Noonan said the funding would enable the agency "to embrace Ireland's ambitions for nature and help us begin to turn the tide on biodiversity loss" while also helping to address the climate crisis.

“I’m delighted to confirm the NPWS will be established as an executive agency, giving it a strong identity and voice to speak for nature. Its internal structures will be overhauled, delivering a stronger focus on external engagement and delivery of outcomes,” he added.

Mr Noonan said he was taken aback by the findings of two highly-critical reports on the operation of the NPWS, which indicated it was not fit for purpose.


The reports, by ecologist Prof Jane Stout and former Environmental Protection Agency director Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide, and by former department of community, equality and gaeltacht affairs secretary general Gerry Kearney, were commissioned last year and published on Wednesday in conjunction with a strategic action plan to transform the NPWS.

The plan sets out a timeline for restructuring the organisation as a dedicated executive agency within the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and provides for early recruitment of 60 staff including biodiversity experts, marine specialists and wildlife rangers.

Speaking at Ballykeeffe nature reserve in Co Kilkenny, Mr Noonan said the investment of €55 million approved by Cabinet on Tuesday would ensure the plan was implemented over the lifetime of this Government. He said the NPWS received funding of €47million in Budget 2022 which brought it back up to levels not seen since before the financial crisis.

The Stout-Ó Cinnéide report found the NPWS “is not aligned effectively to deliver on its current demands and future mandate”.

Mr Kearney backed many of its findings and concluded: "It is apparent, in light of the consultations reported above, and indeed wider external input reported in the Stout-Ó Cinnéide report, that there is a convergent set of views that NPWS, as matters stand, does not meet, or at least strongly exhibit, the essentials for good organisational governance."

His report sets out 15 strategic actions, which have been fully incorporated into the plan, including the setting up of five new directorates on conservation and protection; scientific advice and research; parks and reserves; engagement and awareness; and legislation, licensing and regulation – including enforcement.

Mr Noonan paid tribute to the many “incredibly dedicated people” throughout the organisation, and conceded the NPWS had gone through “a lost decade” since the financial crash due to under-resourcing. This was illustrated by it being unable to address issues arising from historical EU infringement cases relating to habitats and birds due to understaffing and having insufficient ranger numbers on the ground.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien welcomed the enhancement of the NPWS, which he said had a proud history and fulfils "a complex range of responsibilities".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times