Revised national biodiversity plan backed by new powers to protect and restore declining nature across Ireland

All public bodies now legally required to integrate biodiversity into plans and policies

Moves to expand and enhance Ireland’s national parks and strengthen efforts to tackle growing wildlife crime are included in a new national biodiversity action plan, which for the first time is backed by statutory powers.

The plan, which details evidence of accelerating biodiversity loss in Ireland, sets out 194 actions to counter widespread decline of nature, and commits the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to exploring ways in which rights of nature could be formally recognised – including potential for constitutional change.

The plan, which is to be launched by Minister of State for Nature and Heritage Malcolm Noonan at the National Botanic Gardens on Thursday, requires Government departments, State agencies and local authorities to integrate biodiversity into plans and policies – and to report on progress to the Minister, who can direct them to undertake certain measures if necessary.

The NPWS will work with An Garda Síochána, Revenue’s Customs Service and the judiciary to ensure adequate training and resourcing to enforce environmental and wildlife legislation.


Its publication coincides with accelerating biodiversity loss across the planet, which is matched in Ireland, where almost a third of EU-protected species and 85 per cent of EU-protected habitats are in unfavourable status. More than half of native Irish plant species have declined in the last 20 years.

A fifth of breeding and 52 per cent of key wintering bird species are declining. Extinction threatens 48 species living in the Irish marine environment, including fish, crustaceans, shellfish and invertebrates.

By contrast, 80 per cent of non-native species introduced to Ireland since the year 1500 have increased. While most are benign, “some have become invasive, notably Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and rhododendron, with negative impacts on native flora and fauna”.

The plan says agriculture, forestry, invasive species, resource extraction and development are the most significant pressures on Irish biodiversity.

“Nature is in trouble, but I believe that it can recover,” Mr Noonan said in advance of the NBAP’s publication. There was, however, a turning point in “the way we view and think about the natural world, and our place within it”, he said.

“We’re finally ready to change our behaviour and exercise our responsibilities to the planet as much as our rights. It’s this willingness to act that we must hold to most firmly. At a time when the scientific evidence describing the scale of the challenge we face is so frightening, it’s our own commitment to action that is the best evidence for hope,” he said.

“For the first time, the NBAP is backed by legislation, a €3.15 billion climate and nature fund, significant public interest and strong political leadership. [It] responds to some of the key recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss.”

In its foreword, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar underlined the urgent need to address both climate change and biodiversity loss. “While the climate crisis, which is global and far-reaching, can seem overwhelming at times, biodiversity loss is very much something we can all see and feel. It is local, all around us, apparent in our rivers and our forests, our local flora and fauna,” he said.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said Ireland was blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, 59 of the EU’s most precious habitats and 31,000 recorded species of plants, animals and fungi but “time has come for a new era of nature stewardship in Ireland”.

He echoed the call of the Children and Young People’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss that we “treat the Earth like it was a member of the family or a friend”.

NPWS director general Niall Ó Donnchú said in drawing up the plan “we listened carefully to a wide range of views and perspectives from Government departments, public sector bodies, civil society, and the general public. This was essential to gaining a shared understanding of the extent of biodiversity loss, and to developing a national response to addressing it”.

Following a phase of renewal, the NPWS was ready to lead on the plan’s ambition, he added. “We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, and to be accountable and transparent in doing so. This is our shared plan, and its success depends on all of us taking action for nature. If we give nature a chance it will give us a second chance. Let’s not waste that.”

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Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times