Report confirms acceleration of species loss and habitat deterioration

Study says 50 per cent of freshwaters are polluted, leading to decline in salmon stocks

The latest evaluation of biodiversity loss in Ireland confirms potentially-catastrophic species loss and deterioration of globally-important habitats are accelerating.

The sixth report to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and coincides with unanimous cross-party support for a motion passed in Dáil declaring “a climate and biodiversity emergency” in Ireland.

The convention is an international legally-binding treaty, which includes the requirement to conserve biological diversity.

According to environmental group An Taisce, the indicators on species and habitats are “a damning indictment of the state of biodiversity... with insufficient progress reported across most targets”.


An Taisce warned that “Ireland is not immune to this mass extinction of species”.

Meanwhile, the national report cites findings by the National Biodiversity Centre that a third of all Irish bee species could be extinct by 2030 and Irish butterfly populations have declined by 12 per cent over the past decade.

It also confirms some 50 per cent of freshwaters are polluted, with an associated decline in Ireland’s most sensitive aquatic species such as salmon.

More than 90 per cent of protected habitats are classified as being of “unfavourable conservation status”, and overfishing and aquaculture continue to threaten marine habitats.

The factors contributing to the declines include agriculture, forestry and aquaculture, and the ambitious growth targets set for these sector by the Foodwise 2025 strategy, in combination with the lack of sufficient environmental safeguards, the NPWS says.

Mo noculture

Decline in bees, butterflies and other insects “has largely resulted from the effect of monoculture and the drive to ever higher levels of productivity characterised also by a loss or neglect of hedgerows, farmland edges and scrub”, it concludes.

The decline of once-familiar breeding bird species such as the curlew and lapwing, and many flowering plants, “are indicative of long term trends in drainage of ponds, wetlands and the conversion of remaining meadows into agriculturally productive grassland”.

An Taisce said on Tuesday: “It is essential that the expansion of Irish agriculture, particularly bovine agriculture, combined with the current model of non-native conifer forestry, mismanagement of peatlands and overfishing are rigorously critiqued in light of the newly-declared climate and biodiversity emergency.”

It welcomed the Dáil’s decision to convene a Citizens’ Assembly to examine how best to respond to biodiversity loss.

“The Government must recognise the status quo cannot remain if we are to tackle our biodiversity emergency, and as the NPWS report itself outlines, a ‘transformational change’ is required.

“Difficult decisions will have to be taken, and fundamental changes will have to be implemented, because business as usual is costing us the Earth.”

An Taisce’s natural environment officer Dr Elaine McGoff stressed the need for urgency. “You cannot tackle an emergency with inaction. The declaration of an emergency is meaningless without concrete and swift measures,” she said.

“How many reports of catastrophic biodiversity loss do we need before we recognise that the current system is failing us, and undermining our very survival? We need immediate policy changes to reverse Ireland’s appalling biodiversity record,” she said.

Bitter pill

The Government could not take the necessary action without upsetting vested interest groups, she said. “It’s a bitter pill which they simply have to swallow. The needs of the many must outweigh the economic interests of the few, and the people of Ireland deserve a government who are not afraid to implement the changes necessary to safeguard our future.”

BirdWatch Ireland and the Irish Wildlife Trust have joined with An Taisce in calling on the Government to move quickly to arrest “a species extinction crisis in Ireland”.

Biodiversity loss and climate change must be tackled together while habitat restoration could assist with climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as helping restore populations of threatened wildlife, they added.

BirdWatch Ireland assistant head of policy and advocacy Oonagh Duggan said: " Nature has been undergoing death by a thousand cuts and we must call a halt to the loss now."

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

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