Government announces major review of National Parks & Wildlife Service

Strong nature conservation agency critical to addressing ‘biodiversity emergency’ – IWT

A strategic review of the role of National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been announced by the Government – in response to a key demand from the Green Party.

The review will be chaired by Dr Jane Stout, professor in botany at Trinity College Dublin, with former EPA director Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide as deputy chair.

The programme for government commits to examining the remit, status and funding of the NPWS “to ensure that it is playing an effective role in delivering its overall mandate and enforcement role in the protection of wildlife”.

Wildlife NGOs and campaigners against biodiversity loss have claimed repeatedly that the State agency needs a fundamental overhaul with increased resources and greater powers, especially in environmental enforcement, if accelerating species and habitats loss in Ireland is to be addressed.

The review will assess the remit, status and funding of the NPWS division of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage “in the context of unprecedented ambition for the protection, conservation and restoration of biodiversity in Ireland”. The NPWS’s formal mandate is “to preserve, protect and present our natural heritage”, and it employs 250 people including seasonal staff.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said: "Ensuring that the NPWS is properly resourced, staffed and equipped to lead Ireland's response to the biodiversity emergency is one of my key priorities."

In 2020, NPWS’s funding was 70 per cent down on what it had been before the financial crisis in 2008. “I increased its funding by 80 per cent in Budget 2021, but there is much more to do. The scale of this Government’s ambition for nature is unprecedented, and the recommendations of this strategic review will be critical in enabling us to meet that ambition,” he added.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) welcomed the review. IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said the development of a strong and independent nature conservation agency was the single most important element in addressing Ireland’s biodiversity emergency.

“The NPWS has been defunded under previous governments and cannot meet even minimum legal requirements. This review is a fantastic opportunity to reimagine the state’s role in restoring nature, not just complying with the law, but bringing nature back to our lives and our landscapes on a much wider scale,” he added.

He looked forward to the stakeholder engagement element of the review and hoped it would be open to the public to also express their views. “Any new agency should have a central role in education and engagement with local communities, promoting local as well as national biodiversity targets and providing scientific advice to all government departments in delivering their responsibilities in this area,” he suggested.

The review process is expected be completed by early summer with publication of the report and recommendations to follow. The “stakeholder engagement process” (both internal and external) will commence in coming weeks.

Prof Stout is an internationally renowned expert on pollination ecology, and a prominent voice for biodiversity and its value. Her research seeks to understand how land management practices affect ecological processes and the benefits of nature for humans.

She is co-founder and chairwoman of the board of the Natural Capital Ireland and played a key role in setting up the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.

Dr Ó Cinnéide has a special interest in policy and advocacy for the environment, marine and sustainable development. He spent a decade as an EPA director and also headed the marine environment team at the Marine Institute. He is a co-founder of Corrib Beo Partnership in Galway, a voluntary group which promotes sustainable development in the Corrib catchment, and a co-founder of Fondúireacht an Bhlascaoid (Blasket Island Foundation).