Investment of €1.38bn required to protect Irish habitats – Cabinet told

Government approves ‘framework for investment’ up to 2027

A total of €1.38 billion will be required for habitat and species protection and restoration in Ireland up to 2027, according to a framework document approved by the Cabinet.

The prioritised action framework (PAF) for special areas of conservation (SACs) and special protection areas (SPAs) was drawn up by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan at the behest of the European Commission, and sets out actions required under the EU habitats directive.

It requires any significant pressures on a protected site be removed to enable habitats and species reach “favourable conservation status”.

This has not been achieved for most Irish SACs, which is one of the reasons why the commission referred Ireland to the European Court of Justice in July 2020. The action cites failure in the designation and management of SACs.

“These habitats are the jewels in the crown of Ireland’s natural heritage and there are many compelling reasons to protect, conserve and restore them: environmental, social, economic, reputational, ethical… but perhaps the most compelling is the fact – now more than ever before – the Irish people want us to,” Mr Noonan said.

“There has never been greater public demand for healthy nature – in towns and cities, forests, bogs and agricultural landscapes, rivers, lakes and oceans, in the skies and in the soils.”

The Government’s approach in future would be to “maximise the benefits of biodiversity action for rural economies, tourism, public health and wellbeing, and for nature itself”, he said.

The commission, with member state co-operation, seeks to assess the financing – including co-financing – required to maintain or restore protected habitats and species listed in EU nature directives.

The PAF was based on reports on the Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland and the Status of Birds in Ireland submitted the European Commission in 2019.

Estimated costs for delivery of prioritised measures for the 2021-2027 period would be about €163 million per annum, Mr Noonan said.

Departments involved

The PAF was prepared by his department in consultation with other departments and bodies under their aegis including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications; the Office of Public Works; Inland Fisheries Ireland; the Environmental Protection Agency; Coillte; local authorities; and the Heritage Council. Farming organisations, environmental NGOs and the wider public were also consulted.

The PAF seeks to identify measures needed to manage the EU-wide Natura 2000 network and its associated green infrastructure. Ireland’s first PAF was drawn up in 2014.

The latest PAF identifies potential funding instruments but does not make any determination as to what particular source might be used. “It is therefore a strategic planning document and not a national commitment to expenditure,” Mr Noonan said.

The commission has indicated the PAF will be used when reviewing Ireland’s Common Agriculture Policy Strategic Plan, and in considering other funding requests in the period up to 2027.