The Irish Times view on the destruction of ecosystems: Failing to get the message

We lack, nationally and internationally, the political urgency proportionate to threats we face

We have never before enjoyed such deep scientific insight into how ecosystems work, into how badly we have degraded them, and into our dependence on their good health for our own survival.

Meanwhile, the new science of ecological restoration has advanced rapidly, making the UN’s declaration of the 2020s as the Decade of Restoration an achievable, and indeed vital, aspiration.

But we still lack, nationally and internationally, the remotest sense of the political urgency proportionate to the critical threats we face. It has taken the Minister responsible for the National Parks and Wildlife Service almost a year to publish a review revealing that this body, charged with protecting biodiversity, is “not fit for purpose”.

Species generally evolve by recognising, and responding to, feedback from their environment. We appear to be in danger of losing this essential survival skill. Recent surveys on bird and insect populations have sent us feedback in the starkest terms. A car windscreen study in Denmark revealed an 80 per cent drop in flying insects in 20 years.


This matters because insects play key roles in pollination, recycling organic matter, and pest control. Global research two years ago concluded that such declines risk “a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

At the first National Biodiversity Conference four years ago, President Michael D Higgins rightly said that “if we were coal miners we would be up to our knees in dead canaries.”

Another such conference, called for next month, will surely have to acknowledge that we have made little, if any, progress since then. The annual destruction of our hedgerows is just one distressingly visible demonstration of our failure to get the message nature is sending us. Solutions are in our own hands. All the recommendations of the NPWS review should be implemented without further delay.

But individual contributions count too. The NGO Buglife argues that if every garden left even a small space for unmanaged wildflowers, that could add up to the biggest wildlife habitat area in the world. What are we waiting for?