Plans to transform parks and wildlife service to go to Cabinet ‘within weeks’

Minister says increased resources to be allocated to arrest species and habitat loss

A plan to transform the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) with substantially increased resources to help arrest species loss and habitat decline in Ireland is to go before Cabinet shortly, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan has confirmed.

The Government has been accused of dragging its heels on reform of the NPWS and for its failure to publish a highly critical independent review of its operation committed to in the programme for government, which was completed last year.

Mr Noonan said he was happy with progress on reforming the organisation, “with a memo going to Cabinet within the next few weeks.

“It’s going to represent a transformation in the organisation, and it has to,” he said.

It would be done on the back of having already restored staffing and resources to pre-2008 levels, he said, while he believed morale in the organisation was good. It would have to take on board, however, a new five-year national biodiversity action plan, the outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss, and the EU’s new biodiversity plan and nature law, “which will be hugely challenging”.

The national biodiversity conference at Dublin Castle on June 8th and 9th would see leading experts gather under an "act now for nature" theme, and be an opportunity for public consultation on the biodiversity plan.

“We are losing global biodiversity at a rate unprecedented in human history. In Ireland, many of our protected habitats are in poor condition and 14 per cent of assessed species are thought to be endangered. This ongoing biodiversity loss poses a threat not alone to our environment and natural heritage, but to our economy, society and to individual quality of life,” Mr Noonan warned.

Hosted by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the NPWS, it would bring together stakeholders from the public, private, NGO and academic sectors to share experiences in protecting, conserving and restoring biodiversity and insights to inform the next biodiversity plan, he said.

“We need a diversity of voices to come together to discuss challenges, explore solutions and establish ways to collaborate more effectively on implementation. I’d like to encourage everyone – farmers, foresters, fishers, scientists, community groups, local authorities, NGOs, State agencies, businesses, young people and everyone else besides – to get involved,” Mr Noonan added.

“We cannot stand idly by while the web of life falls apart. Ecosystems regulate the climate, fertilise soils, purify water, produce oxygen and pollinate our crops. Many have already seen irreversible changes, including in Ireland. What’s more, nature is our first and best line of defence against climate change,” the Minister noted.

The next biodiversity plan will seek urgent solutions to reverse losses, enable protection, support conservation and deliver restoration through “an all-of-Government, all-of-society approach”, he said.

He encouraged people and interested organisations to register for the conference, to have their say. It will be streamed live online as will satellite events to highlight the importance of biodiversity prior to the event.

Mr Noonan expressed concern the delayed new EU Nature Restoration Law was being watered down due to lobbying by agriculture interests raising issues around food security, when the legislation was a vital law for food security underpinned by sustainable production. “You cannot have one without the other.”

Green MEPs would be taking a stand on the issue, Mr Noonan said, while he would be speaking with his Government colleagues over coming weeks with a view to Ireland taking a strong position to ensure no weakening of the law.

Separately, the crunch UN biodiversity summit (Cop15) to agree a new global deal to arrest declining biodiversity and destruction of nature has been repeatedly postponed.

Mr Noonan said it had to deliver "a Paris moment for nature" in the autumn when it convenes in Kunming, China – referring to the historic climate agreement secured in 2015. But progress so far has been "sluggish to say the least", he admitted.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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