Only six new Biodiversity Officer positions will be created this year, despite warnings that Ireland’s natural landscapes, animals and plants are in a serious state of disrepair.
The Irish Independent revealed this week that only five biodiversity officials were employed by city and county councils to work to protect wildlife, despite a government promise that at least one appointment would be made to all 31 local authorities.
Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan responded by announcing the creation of six with staff to be recruited by the end of this year, and a national rollout to follow.
He made the announcement at the start of a major two-day National Biodiversity Conference, where ministers and experts from Ireland and abroad stressed the need for swift and strong action to protect the remaining wildlife in Ireland and worldwide.
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, who obtained details of the biodiversity officer’s functions, said the minister’s response did not go far enough.
“We need to see a much more substantial response,” she said.
“Fingal County Council, one of five local authorities that have appointed a Biodiversity Officer, has stated in their Biodiversity Action Plan that they need six for their own community alone.
“Staffing for local governments comes down purely to political will. Obviously there isn’t.”
The biodiversity conference comes three years after the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and as a citizens’ assembly on biodiversity loss meets to examine the issues.
Speakers on the opening day of the conference made it clear that the last chance to protect the remains of Ireland’s wildlife would pass without urgent changes to the way the country’s lands and seas are farmed, fished, planted, farmed and disturbed .
“Nature in Ireland and worldwide has never been under so much pressure,” said Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, who has overall responsibility for heritage, national parks and wildlife.
“We are the first generation to realize the grim truth and we are the last generation to do something about it,” he said.
“That by definition is a really sobering emergency.”
The conference will contribute to the development of a new National Biodiversity Action Plan.
“I want to see an ambitious plan that reflects the magnitude and urgency of Ireland’s biodiversity emergency,” said Mr O’Brien.
“We know what we have to do. It’s time to get going and do it.”
Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan said hearts and minds must change to ensure biodiversity is protected.
“Political leadership and political courage are needed as an important part of the puzzle of restoring nature and a whole shift in our relationship with the natural world around us,” he said.
Land Use and Biodiversity Minister Pippa Hackett said farmers have a vital role to play in changing the fortunes of biodiversity, but all farmers and all farmers had to be involved.
“A whole-farm approach should not divide biodiversity into a strip or corner of a field,” she said.
“A business-as-usual approach won’t make it, nor will the tinkering around the edges reverse the decline to the extent necessary.”
Activist group, Extinction Rebellion, staged a colorful protest outside the Dublin Castle site to call for a Biodiversity Act to be passed, saying only strong legislation would ensure action plans were implemented.