As the National Parks & Wildlife Service explains, "Ireland is home to 28 species of land mammal, over 400 species of birds, more than 4,000 plant species and over 12,000 species of insect. If we want all of this to survive, we must ensure that there are enough suitable areas for all these species to flourish.
Conserving species in their natural habitats requires a strategic approach to succeed. One of these is to ensure the adequate conservation of habitats where many of our plants and animals live. Rare and fragile species such as the corncrake and the blue cornflower were found all over the country 50 years ago but now have almost disappeared, the demise of these species is linked to changes in agricultural practices. To succeed in conserving our native species we need the support of landowners and people who use or visit the land.
Ireland aims to conserve habitats and species through designation of conservation areas."
The designation of these conservation areas is required under EU law and Irish law: e.g. Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds, Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs), nature reserves, national parks, etc. The National Parks & Wildlife Service is responsible for the designation of these areas in Ireland, and thereafter works with landowners, users and other authorities, trying to strike a sustainable balance between conservation and land uses.
At present there are almost 600 Natura 2000 sites (SPAs and SACs) on land in Ireland, covering about 13% of our land territory, several marine Natura 2000 sites, six national parks, about 150 peatland NHAs, and about 630 proposed NHAs, the latter of which do not receive great legal protection, unfortunately. One of the major tools for controlling potentially damaging activities in or near these protected areas is impact assessment prior to a plan or project being consented.
Even with a formal legal requirement to assess the impacts of potentially damaging activities, there are numerous ongoing threats to protected areas in Ireland. Many of these can be attributed to poor implementation of the law by the relevant enforcement authorities. Examples include afforestation in inappropriate areas, damaging construction projects, failure to take account of cumulative impacts, pollution, invasive species, agricultural intensification, conversion of land of nature value, overgrazing, etc.
As part of our prescribed functions in relation to planning applications, afforestation and aquaculture licensing, we seek to have the protection of conservation areas properly taken into account by developers, landowners and users, and public authorities during these consent processes.
We work extensively on seeking to protect our wildlife and protected areas, and we would be very interested in hearing from you should you know of or hear of any potentially damaging plans or projects. You can contact our natural environment experts by emailing (in confidence) email@example.com