1 Re-structure and properly fund the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). The NPWS should be independent (like the Environmental Protection Agency), allowing it to provide scientific advice, take enforcement action and run education programmes as well as the day-to-day work of protecting nature. Sufficient resources are required to implement the National Biodiversity Action Plan as well as to meet minimum legal requirements under the Habitats and Birds Directives, including drawing up and implementing management plans for all existing protected areas on land and in the sea. We also need legislation for our national parks which will allow for their management and expansion. There should be a long-term funding commitment to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, which is integral to this work.
2. There should be a clear commitment to fully implement all existing environmental legislation.
3. To convene the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss as committed to by the Dáil in their declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency in May of 2019. This must be followed by a sustained, national education programme to inform people of the implications and solutions to the ecological crises.
4. Ireland should support the EU in committing to the forthcoming ‘Global Deal for Nature’ to be agreed at COP15 in China later in 2020 to protect 30% of land and sea for biodiversity conservation. This is in line with the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
5. Nature-based solutions for climate. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action Plan should be implemented, recognising that nature-based solutions could bring us one third of the way to meeting climate targets.
6. Agriculture. Payments under the Common Agricultural Policy should be based on measurable results/outcomes rather than actions. Payments under Pillar 1 should be given for land which is not farmed (abolishing current eligibility rules which require land to be in ‘good agricultural condition’). Allowing land to revert to woodland/wetland has multiple benefits to society.
7. Forests. Large areas of connected native woodlands should be created which will be set aside predominantly for nature, with no commercial extraction. Future commercial forestry should be ‘close to nature’ with ‘continuous cover’.
8. Oceans. Legislation should be introduced for the designation of large, effective and fully managed Marine Protected Areas. The network of protected sites should cover at least 30% of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone by 2030 and 50% of sites should be no-take-zones. The Wildlife Act should be amended to give legal protection to (non-mammal) marine species such as sharks.
9. Rivers. The Arterial Drainage Act of 1945 should be repealed/replaced to give priority to the restoration of river systems, water quality and natural flood prevention over heavy engineering.
10. Bogs and peatlands should be restored/rewetted where possible. Rewilding should be used to reforest areas of peatland where this is appropriate.
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Ireland’s marine region is ten times the size of its land mass. When the seabed is included, Ireland is one of the largest EU countries. Ireland committed to the Aichi target 11 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity of protecting at least 10% of its marine region by the end of 2020. Currently, the total marine area covered by marine protected areas (MPAs) in Ireland is 10,420 km2or 2.3%.
Well-managed MPAs are safe spaces where sea life is protected and habitats can be restored. They increase biodiversity and resilience, can enhance commercial fish & shellfish stocks inside and outside their boundaries, enhance tourism and even have a role to play in carbon sequestration and climate change adaptation. A study funded by the European Commission (1) found that well-managed MPAs have economic benefits for the fisheries and tourism sectors in local communities.
In Ireland, there are currently 159 marine special areas of conservation (SACs, EU Habitats Directive) and 89 marine special protection areas (SPAs, EU Birds Directive) that form part of the Natura 2000 network. There are currently 0 MPAs designated under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
According to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) most habitats inside the marine N2000 network are in decline in Ireland (2) in spite of their “protection”. Current conservation management of protected sites is not good enough and MPAs in Ireland are meaningless squares on a map unable to reach their full potential.
What does the government need to do help our MPAs thrive?
1. Protect at least 30% of our seas by 2030 of which at least 50% should be no-take zones. The MPAs should build a network of sites that are well-positioned, representative, connected, monitored, enforced and researched. It requires robust legislation, properly resourced and empowered local stakeholder groups with balanced representation.
2. Protect all MPAs from the impacts of bottom trawling and dredging as this type of fishing causes the most harm to sea life. We also need to restrict the use of pelagic nets that might contribute to bycatch of sensitive species inside MPAs.
3. Prohibit industrial scale fishing inside MPAs in line with IUCN guidelines (3).
4. Properly resource the NPWS to enable effective monitoring of sites and draw up conservation management plans for each of our MPAs.
5. Launch a complete review of marine enforcement.
6. Allocate more budget and staff for the agencies carrying out risk assessments of activities within MPAs to ensure thoroughly researched and scientifically sound reporting to eliminate the current adverse human impacts on protected habitats and species.
7. Reward sustainable small-scale and low impact fisheries with eco-certification in order to improve market access and increase value of catch.
8. Legalise commercial diving for scallop\razor clam and only allow this type of scallop\razor clam fishing in MPAs as this is one of most sustainable ways to harvest high value seafood.
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1 European Union (2018) Haines, R. (ICF), Hattam, Caroline (PML) Pantzar, M. (IEEP), & Russi, D. (IEEP). Study on the Economic Benefits of MPAs.
2 NPWS (2019). The Status of EU Protected Habitats and Species in Ireland. Volume 2: Habitat Assessments. Unpublished NPWS report. Edited by: Deirdre Lynn and Fionnuala O’Neill
3 Day J., Dudley N., Hockings M., Holmes G., LaffoleyD., StoltonS. & S. Wells (2012). Guidelines for applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas. Gland,Switzerland: IUCN. 36pp