New Government action plan aims to restore Ireland’s biodiversity

25 Jan 2024

Image: © Tina/

The Irish Government’s new plan is underscored by legislation to enhance protection and restoration of wildlife and habitats.

The Irish Government today (25 January) published its National Biodiversity Action Plan 2023-2030 to tackle the deepening crisis of biodiversity loss in Ireland. This is the first plan to be published since it declared a biodiversity and climate emergency in 2019.

Launched at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, the plan sets out 194 actions to restore and protect the diversity of Ireland’s plants, animals and habitats.

Headline actions include the expansion of Ireland’s national parks, strengthened action on wildlife crime, strategic targeting of invasive species, collaboration on nature-friendly farming and exploration of ways to formally recognise the rights of nature.

These actions, which will be funded by the €3.15bn climate and nature fund, fall under five main objectives: adopt a whole-of-Government, whole-of-society approach to biodiversity; meet urgent conservation and restoration needs; secure nature’s contribution to people; enhance research on biodiversity; and strengthen Ireland’s contribution to international biodiversity initiatives.

Two years in the making, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) led the development of the plan, with input from Government and wider society.

Speaking at the launch, Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan, TD, said that he was determined this plan would be an “impact plan”.

“Nature is in trouble, but I believe that it can recover,” he said. “We’re taking an ‘all-of-Government, all-of-society’ approach to biodiversity action and underpinning it with unprecedented levels of resourcing, both financial and human, to deliver on science-led targets that are measurable and impactful.”

The Government press release also states that by taking an ‘all-of-Government, all-of-society’ approach, the plan “aims to meet urgent conservation and restoration objectives across Ireland’s terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, and secure nature’s contributions to people, while enhancing the evidence base for action and strengthening Ireland’s efforts on international initiatives”.

An escalating crisis

Globally, biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. A recent UN report estimates that 2m plant and animal species are under threat of extinction. This is double their 2019 estimate. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast estimate that 48pc of all species are declining towards extinction.

In line with this global trend, Ireland has failed to protect its biodiversity. Statistics presented in today’s action plan include the fact that 85pc of Ireland’s EU-protected habitats are in “unfavourable status”, with 46pc in decline. Half of the country’s rivers and two-thirds of the estuaries are in poor ecological health. The marine environment includes 48 species of fish, crustaceans, shellfish and invertebrates that are threatened with extinction. Nearly one-third (30pc) of bee species are threatened with extinction. Nearly two-thirds (63pc) of bird species are listed as of “conservation concern” and are under severe pressure.

Alongside this, Ireland is on course to miss its 2030 climate targets. A report from the Environmental Protection Agency last year showed that the country is on course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29pc, which falls short of the 51pc reduction needed to align with international emissions targets for the end of the decade.

A promise of action

In light of the interlinked crises of climate and biodiversity, it is positive that this new biodiversity plan has a legislative basis. The Wildlife (Amendment) Act of 2023, which commenced last November, requires all public bodies, including Government departments, agencies and local authorities, to develop and implement biodiversity programmes and policies and report to the Minister on their progress. This is key because it will mean greater accountability and awareness of actions. And the Government has said that key recommendations from the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss have been addressed in the new plan.

In its final report published last year, the Citizens’ Assembly said that it “believes that the State has comprehensively failed to adequately fund, implement and enforce existing national legislation, national policies, EU biodiversity-related laws and directives related to biodiversity”.

The assembly called for “effective leadership, clear vision and an enabling environment for action”.

“The ambition of the State needs to be significantly increased to reflect the scale of Ireland’s biodiversity crisis,” it stated.

The Government has responded to the assembly’s call for a “whole-of-State” approach. Oonagh Duggan, head of advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland, welcomed this approach. “This is important, as is the statutory footing of the plan, as those State bodies who have agreed to certain biodiversity actions will now be legally obliged to adhere to their implementation and will be held to account.”

BirdWatch Ireland also welcomed the Government’s allocation of €3bn to nature and climate capital works. However, Duggan expressed concerns about “funding for staffing in biodiversity and ecology across State bodies”.

“It will be critical that this Government and the next one increases ‘current’ budget spending on biodiversity, including maintaining the trajectory of funding of the NPWS,” she said.

Duggan is wary of “elements of current department policies, legislation, programmes and plans that are not mentioned in the plan” which could negatively impact wild birds and biodiversity. “These initiatives will need to be biodiversity-proofed to ensure we meet targets to protect and restore biodiversity.

“A national policy statement of commitment to protect and restore biodiversity in all Government activities is really necessary to set the agenda for Government departments and local authorities.”

The Fair Seas coalition is pleased that the plan includes a commitment by Government to implement legislation to design and manage marine protected areas (MPAs).

Last year, the UN agreed a deal to protect 30pc of the world’s oceans by 2030. This was part of wider deal reached at the global biodiversity conference to protect one-third of the world’s biodiversity by the end of the decade.

The Irish MPA Bill has been introduced before the Dáil twice but both targets were missed. Fair Seas is calling on the Government to enact this bill as soon as possible.

Fair Seas’ Dr Donal Griffin said that a plan to tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss is “badly needed and most welcome”.

“The pressure humans and society put on the environment is tremendous, causing significant and worrying loss and decline to some of our most special, vulnerable and even once common species.

“It is hugely encouraging that potentially for the first time the plan has the financial resources to facilitate the delivery of its actions. The plan will only work however, if each action outlined in the [plan] is acted on promptly and effectively.”

Dr Deirdre Lynn from the NPWS, who led the development of the plan, was optimistic that this new set of actions will provide the necessary focus for greater shared action “to conserve and restore biodiversity and contribute to our national, regional and global targets”.

“Millions of years of evolution are at stake.”

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Rebecca Graham is production editor at Silicon Republic