Survey reveals low awareness of biodiversity


ONLY 18 per cent of Irish people know what “biodiversity” actually means and public awareness of the concept has dropped over the last three years, according to new research.

A Heritage Council-commissioned survey found there was a drop in awareness compared to a survey taken three years ago when 22 per cent of Irish people knew what the word meant.

Fifty-two per cent of the 1,000 adults aged over 16 years surveyed by Behaviour Attitudes last month said they had never heard of biodiversity.

Of those who knew what it meant, 60 per cent were male and 40 per cent female, the majority were middle class and lived in Connacht/Ulster or Munster.

Giving details of the survey yesterday, Michael Starrett, the chief executive officer of the Heritage Council, said it was disappointing to see there had been no significant increase in awareness levels of biodiversity.

“Worryingly, the research also found lower levels of engagement with biodiversity among the younger generation, who will ultimately be responsible for our planet in the future, when resources will be scarcer and population pressures will have increased,” he said.

The 2007 Flash Barometer on Attitudes of Europeans and Irish people towards biodiversity had found 71 per cent of Irish people were personally making an effort to protect biodiversity.

However, this dropped to 24 per cent in the 2010 Irish survey, while 27 per cent said they were making an effort but would like to do more.

Of those making an effort 31 per cent were in the 35-49 age bracket with a fall-off in the number of over-65s to 13 per cent. Only 14 per cent of under-25s were making an effort.

Overall, in terms of making an effort to protect biodiversity, no real differences emerged by social class.

Those in rural areas generally, and Connacht/Ulster in particular, were more likely to be making that effort.

Saying biodiversity could simply be explained as all forms of life on Earth, Mr Starrett said it was encouraging to see there was now greater agreement on the economic value of biodiversity when compared with the focus on softer, recreational issues which emerged in the 2007 survey.

There was a 12 per cent increase, from 84 per cent to 96 per cent, in the number of Irish people who believed biodiversity was indispensable for the production of goods such as food, fuel and medicine.

The new survey also found a 17 per cent increase from 74 to 91 per cent in the number of people who believed Europe would get poorer economically as a consequence of the loss of biodiversity.

“This change in levels of agreement on the economic issues could suggest that the recreational and aesthetic aspects of biodiversity were seen as a boom-time luxury,” said Mr Starrett.

“But in our current challenging economic environment, we have other priorities and the recreational and softer biodiversity issues are no longer seen as relevant,” he said.

But only 13 per cent of people interviewed in April felt they would be directly affected by biodiversity loss, a slight increase from 12 per cent three years ago.

A total of 26 per cent felt pollution of air and water was the most serious threat to biodiversity and 23 per cent believed climate change presented the greatest threat, a slight increase over the three years.

Mr Starrett said this indicated people were confused about the relationship between climate change and biodiversity loss.

He said a lot of work needed to be done to ensure people understood issues such as the importance of bees in pollination of crops; and the fact red squirrels were under threat, as are barn owls, hen harriers and 18 other bird species.

UNDER THREAT: NATIVE SPECIES IN DECLINE: IN DANGER:The red squirrel population has fallen with the advance of greys,while the hen harrier and the barn owl are among 18 bird species under threat

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