Case study: People ‘don’t see what we’ve lost’ in biodiversity crisis

Scale of biodiversity loss to date across Ireland is ‘terrifying’, An Taisce officer says

People looking out across green fields and hedgerows in the Irish countryside “don’t see what we’ve lost” as a result of the biodiversity crisis affecting plants and animals, according to Dr Elaine McGoff.

Dr McGoff, natural environment officer with heritage and environmental charity An Taisce, said the scale of the current threat to biodiversity and ecosystems was “terrifying”.

On Wednesday, the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss issued its final report to the Government, which included a host of recommendations.

The group of 99 members of the public recommended a referendum be held to include biodiversity protection in the Constitution, as well as a range of policies that would protect water quality, forestry and endangered species.


“For years it feels like we’ve been shouting into the wind ... It’s really nice to finally have a group of people who have listened to us and are saying the same things as us, and I’d be really hopeful that the Government might listen to them,” Dr McGoff said.

“When they look at the countryside they don’t see the same things as somebody like me would see. They don’t see what we’ve lost, they just see nice green fields and hedges and they think that everything is great,” she said.

The curlew is “on the brink of extinction” while the hen harrier is also in “really rapid decline”, she told The Irish Times.

Biodiversity Citizens' Assembly recommendations

The freshwater pearl mussel, which needed to live in “the cleanest of clean water”, was also in trouble. “We’re losing those, they are no longer reproducing because our water quality is in decline so much,” she said.

The country was also losing thousands of kilometres of hedgerows a year, which were the “arteries of biodiversity,” she said.

The State has been “dragging its heels and trying to water down the ambition” of European Union attempts to address the crisis, she said.

“But now they very much have the mandate from the Irish people to lead the pack and stop being a laggard and step up and embrace this opportunity to protect biodiversity,” she said.

When it came to the agricultural sector, the trends were “still going in the wrong direction”, she said.

“I think there is willingness among the farmers but there’s a lack of honesty about how far we have to go, politicians are shying away from that”, she said.

One of the assembly’s recommendations that people be encouraged to switch to a more plant-based diet would not be “that difficult to sell” to younger generations, she said.

“I think we’re seeing more plant-based options, I’m vegan myself so I don’t have any difficulty when I move around finding food,” Dr McGoff said.

More people were already trying to cut down on meat consumption, she said. “A switch to a totally plant-based diet might be a bridge too far, but I do think a lot of people are reducing,” she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times