Ireland ‘failing to protect’ globally important habitats and species

Lack of political will ‘condemning Irish nature to loss and decline’, NGOs warn

Ireland is failing in its duty to protect numerous threatened species and habitats of international importance, according to a European report.

The State is also criticised for not monitoring and managing globally significant ecosystems in the report, which was published on Thursday by the European Environmental Bureau, BirdLife Europe, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth Europe and leading environmental NGOs. Many sensitive locations, including some national parks, lack both action plans and the funds they need to address nature loss, it adds.

The “nature scorecard” report assesses 18 member states for their performance in implementing bird and habitat directives to protect Europe’s most precious natural areas, wildlife and habitats. Published on foot of the European Commission’s 2017 call on EU members to better implement nature-protection rules, it finds Ireland is doing well in transposing directives into Irish law but failing to fully implement them to protect threatened species and habitats and respond to the threat of non-native invasive species.

“Out of date” action plans

Ireland is performing very poorly on species protection and engagement with the public and stakeholders such as conservation groups, it says. Actions plans to safeguard the majority of our island’s protected species are “out of date” while others are being implemented “in a piecemeal fashion”.


There is no evidence, for example, that draft catchment action plans from 2010 for the threatened freshwater pearl mussel are being implemented in a clear manner, it says.

Species monitoring is very poor, the report states, with long-term data “lacking” for more than half of bird species assessed in 2014, while some habitat types – uplands in particular – lack monitoring.

The report calls for a national action plan on invasive species, as there are no identified national management measures in place, especially for “potentially problematic” invasive marine species.

Natura 2000

It warns the State is failing to fully designate, establish and connect sites to form the Natura 2000 global network of protected areas on land and at sea. Special protection areas for the endangered corncrake "are still yet to be designated, while other established sites are poorly managed".

Forty-five management plans for protected areas were drawn up some years ago but have yet to be officially adopted or implemented, while there are no plans for some national parks, it adds.

The State is also failing to ensure plans or projects likely to affect Natura sites are appropriately assessed to ensure no deterioration of habitats or disturbance to species. It highlights a lack of monitoring of habitats and species and inadequate funding “to cover Natura 2000 needs”.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service is "chronically underfunded" and has too few staff working to protect and enhance Natura 2000 sites, it warns.

“Lack of political will”

"A lack of political will to protect our threatened species and habitats is condemning Irish nature to loss and decline," said Oonagh Duggan of the Irish Environmental Pillar, some of whose member organisations contributed to the report. "The report pinpoints the lack of political leadership undermining protection of nature. Significant investment and enforcement of the laws that protect our wildlife are urgently needed if we are to go from red to green in species and site protection."

Ireland had “amazing internationally important species, habitats and protected areas for nature”, but the report showed the Government is sacrificing this natural heritage, she said. “Bird species like the hen harrier and curlew are seriously threatened. Ninety-two per cent of our internationally important habitats, like blanket bog in our mountains, and flower-rich grasslands, are under serious threat from the impacts of burning and intensive agriculture.”

Her colleague Andrew St Ledger said neglect of tiny fragments of ancient woodlands and alluvial woodlands – “our most valuable land-based habitats for biodiversity” – illustrated the State’s attitude. “The majority of these native woodland sites are listed as SACs” – special areas of conservation – “yet have no management plans to protect them into the future from threats such as invasive species, pests and disease, as well as from illegal and inappropriate felling.”

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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