Heritage 2030 and the Natural Environment

4th March 2019
Report

Members should be aware of an important public consultation, which is underway for Heritage Ireland 2030. This document will set out the financial, legislative and regulatory measures which will protect biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage in Ireland for the decade ahead.

An Taisce believe it is of paramount importance to highlight the importance of nature in this consultation. The consultation document does not, in any way, acknowledge the dire state of our natural environment, nor does it outline a clear path to address the challenges we face.

The gravity of the situation for biodiversity was eloquently outlined by President Higgins in a recent speech at the National Biodiversity Conference, where he said:

‘if we were coal miners we would be up to our knees in dead canaries’

This is indeed the case, both nationally and globally. The Living Planet Report in 2018 found that over 60% of global wildlife populations have fallen in the last 40 years. They concluded that:

‘we are the first generation that has a clear picture of the value of nature and our impact on it. We may be the last that can take action to reverse this trend’

A similar message was reiterated in a recent study on the collapse of global insect populations, in February of this year:

‘The conclusion is clear: unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades…...The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least, as insects are the structural and functional base of many of the world’s ecosystems’

With the situation found to be even worse for Irish insects. The National Biodiversity Centre found that Irish butterfly populations have plummeted by a rate of 12% over the past decade while bumblebee numbers are down 14% in the last six years.

Climate change is also wreaking havoc. The IPCC report in 2018, written by the world’s leading climate scientists, warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

In order to go some way towards addressing these multiple crises, Heritage Ireland 2030 should, at the very least, commit to adequately funding the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who are the primary state body charged with protecting our biodiversity. They are chronically underfunded, and as such do not have the capacity to fulfil their role in protecting our natural environment, or indeed to strive to greater ambition. For example, in 2017 the NPWS was given a total budget of €11 million, by contrast the Greyhound Racing Board was given €16 million, and the Horse Racing Ireland received €64 million of public money. The lack of funding is symptomatic of the lack of Government recognition of the importance of protecting Irish nature. If Heritage Ireland 2030 really does aim to protect Ireland’s natural heritage then it needs to provide some significant funding to those charged with doing just that. There also needs to be recognition across the Government of the need to prioritise this, with an all of Government plan to mainstream natural heritage. Biodiversity considerations should be an integral part of everyday governance.

The Minister herself outlined in her foreword that:

‘the decisions we make today will shape and influence the heritage of our children and the generations to come’.

We could not agree more, and as such call on all our members to make a brief submission for the public consultation outlining the importance of nature to you, and why you feel such protection is urgently needed, and should be prioritised. This includes a call for bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife service, and others working in this realm to be properly financed so they can do a thorough job, with greater ambition. The importance of biodiversity and natural heritage must be recognised across all Government departments, and integrated into all strategic plans and decisions. It should not just be an optional after thought.

The time for half measures and lip service is gone. It’s time for Ireland’s natural heritage to be seriously prioritised. Greyhounds and racehorses can only get us so far.

For further information, and to make a submission follow this link, https://www.chg.gov.ie/heritage/heritageireland2030/