The Deputy will be aware that the Wildlife Act, 1976, is an Act for the conservation of wildlife, including game, and, to that end, includes provisions to protect certain wild fauna and flora; to enable wildlife reserves and refuges to be established and maintained; to regulate hunting; and to regulate and control wildlife dealing.
In addition, over 100 special protection areas, SPAs, have to date been designated under the EU Birds Directive (79/409/EEC). These designations seek to protect bird species and their habitats. Furthermore, the EU Habitats Directive, which requires the conservation of natural habitats and wildlife species, other than birds, through the designation of special areas of conservation, SACs, was transposed into Irish law on 26 February 1997 by the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations, 1997 (S. I. No. 94 of 1997). These regulations provide protection for both SACs and SPAs as important wildlife areas. The process of designating SACs in accordance with the regulations is well under way, in that the main part of what will be Ireland's SAC network, over 200 sites amounting to some 550,000 ha, has already been publicly proposed for designation and is accordingly protected.
All ecologically important wildlife areas will attract a natural heritage area (NHA) designation, including areas which will not be designated under the EU Directives but are of importance in the national context. It is intended that formal designation of NHAs will begin when the Wildlife Act, 1976, has been amended. The position in regard to the proposed Wildlife (Amendment) Bill — which will improve laws for the protection of wildlife species and their habitats as well as providing statutory protection for NHAs and affording protection for the first time to important geological and geomorphological sites — is set out in my reply to Question No. 641 of 30 Meán Fómhair 1998.
The Deputy will also be aware that Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department, has an ongoing wildlife monitoring programme in place which carries out regular surveys on all aspects of our wildlife, both flora and fauna. Endangered or protected wildlife receive priority under this programme. In this regard, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have obtained approval to increase the wildlife ranger force by 30 rangers, who are being recruited at present, and to employ other additional staff.