We are losing biodiversity around the globe at a rate unprecedented in human history. The number of plants, insects, mammals and birds that are threatened or endangered grows every year, while the land, ocean and atmosphere are being altered to an unparalleled degree. A few weeks ago, the United Nations' platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services published its global assessment report and advised that unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss, there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species' extinction, which is already at least tens or hundreds of times higher than it has averaged in the past 10 million years.
It is not just over there in the Amazon basin or Borneo. Although we cut down our forests centuries ago, biodiversity in Ireland still demonstrates worrying and ongoing declines. There are five main drivers of biodiversity loss in Ireland, namely, intensive agricultural and forestry practices, overfishing, invasive species, changes in land use and the over-exploitation of resources such as peatland. My Department reports every six years to the EU on the status of habitats and species protected by the EU habitats directive. We recently submitted the draft report for the past six years and it shows that Irish habitats, especially the peatlands, grasslands and some of the marine habitats, remain under enormous pressure.
I am also concerned about the decline of certain species such as birds including the curlew which used to breed in thousands throughout the bogs and wet grasslands of Ireland but is now reduced to perhaps 150 pairs.
I have also seen reports that insects are declining on a massive scale throughout Europe. Insects are the most abundant terrestrial organisms on the planet and of paramount importance to the ecosystem services that sustain life on earth. These are services such as pollination, natural pest control, nutrient recycling and decomposition services. Of course, insects are also the main food for many fish, birds and mammals. The occurrence and spread of invasive and non-native species in Ireland are also increasing for all environments. All of this makes for very sobering and worrying reading. To stop this decline we will need to increase our efforts significantly at all levels of society. This is all the more pressing in the face of climate change. A healthy, resilient environment is necessary to help us mitigate and adapt to its effects. There are many positives and the national efforts the Government has led to conserve biodiversity are bearing fruit. The Government is responding to the biodiversity emergency and the drivers of its loss and is making progress.
The Department is working hard and achieving real results on a number of fronts, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service leading this work. We have committed in Project Ireland 2040 to investing €60 million to protect Ireland's natural heritage and biodiversity. We are on our third national biodiversity action plan. This speaks to the long running commitment the Government attaches to this issue. The current plan runs from 2017 to 2021 and is the key national overarching policy for our work. It sets out actions that a range of Government, civil and private sectors will undertake to achieve Ireland's vision for biodiversity, which is that biodiversity and ecosystems in Ireland are conserved and restored, delivering benefits essential for all sectors of society, and that Ireland contributes to efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems in the EU and globally.
The Department has also initiated a round of consultations with all relevant Departments, agencies and State-owned companies, as well as farmers, landowners, other sectors and NGOs, to set out our priorities for action from 2021 to 2027. We will be focusing on the habitats and species protected under EU directives and in the special areas of conservation, SACs, and the special protection areas, SPAs, designated under those directives. The Department is also engaged in a very wide public consultation process on Heritage 2030, the strategy for all strands of heritage in the coming ten years.
We have also undertaken a comprehensive range of meaningful and productive actions in recent years. These actions are resulting in real progress to protect and restore the country’s biodiversity. Approximately 17% of the terrestrial area of Ireland now lies within the protected area network and we have accelerated the designation process. We have invested a significant €50 million since 2011 on a major restoration effort on raised bogs. The National Parks and Wildlife Service's farm plan scheme has contributed to the conservation of protected species on agricultural land, for example, for the chough, corncrake, hen harrier, breeding and wintering geese and waders, and the natterjack toad. We established the national curlew task force and an NPWS curlew conservation programme. We are again recruiting specialist ecology staff and rangers for parks and reserves.
The EU LIFE programme has been a major source of support that Ireland has accessed for the conservation, management and restoration of habitats. These habitats, in turn, support threatened and protected species. There are too many such projects to list them all but I will mention a few. KerryLIFE is conserving the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel through catchment-scale measures. AranLlFE, which has just concluded, works closely with the farming community of the Aran Islands to improve the conservation status of more than 1,000 ha of farmland, comprising limestone pavement, orchid rich grasslands and machair. The RaptorLIFE project is working to connect and restore habitats for the hen harrier, merlin, Atlantic salmon and brook lamprey. The great benefit of these LIFE projects is that they provide some space in which to develop and strengthen working relationships with key stakeholders, including farmers and local communities, as well as academic or research institutions and other governmental bodies.
We are developing the biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan that places biodiversity at the heart of climate change solutions. I am proud to say the Department held the inaugural national biodiversity conference in February. It is a signifier of our leadership in the protection of biodiversity and collaborative work with the relevant stakeholders. In the lead-up to the conference I encouraged sectors to contribute towards the seeds for nature campaign in an effort to step up and accelerate progress towards achieving the objectives of the national biodiversity action plan. More than 40 notable advancements have been achieved through this campaign, including Coillte and Bord na Móna making substantial commitments on restoring biodiversity in their landholdings. This will achieve the rehabilitation of 20,000 ha of cutaway bog and 1,000 ha of raised bog by 2025 and the restoration of Hazelwood Forest, a 130 ha woodland in an SAC on the banks of Lough Gill.
I am doubling the funding provided for local authorities in order that, with local communities, they can take local biodiversity action, including clearing invasive species. We are establishing a business and biodiversity platform with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and a range of Irish businesses, including Gas Networks Ireland, EirGrid, Kepak, Dawn Meats, Coillte and Bord na Móna.
The Government is creating a legal onus, or a biodiversity duty, on public bodies to have regard to policies, guidelines, and objectives to promote the conservation of biodiversity and the national biodiversity action plan. We are funding research into the impact of climate change on biodiversity. The Government is taking a co-ordinated approach and working with Departments to protect our biodiversity. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has achieved a great deal through work in that Department. Through the GLAS scheme, he has improved habitat management and water quality on lands of conservation value on 50,000 Irish farms. He has restored, preserved and enhanced biodiversity through 22 European innovation partnerships. He is also restoring native woodland and converting conifers into native woodland through the native woodland scheme. He is helping the recovery of commercial fish and shellfish stocks in the Celtic Sea. He is also helping sea life nursery grounds through a ban on inshore trawling by large boats.
Through the ObSERVE programme, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Bruton, is working with my Department to improve our knowledge of protected species, especially whales, dolphins and seabirds, and sensitive habitats. I will continue to work closely with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, as we prepare to implement the whole-of-Government climate action plan. Many of the initiatives we will take on climate change will be of clear long-term benefit to biodiversity, and we must take great care to ensure there are no unintended negative effects on nature in the process.
Even with all this good work, we will need to raise our game. We need to ensure that we do not erode natural capital stock on which our well-being and the economy rely. Some of the actions that need to be considered and resourced include management plans for all protected sites and their habitats and species, a conservation programme, particularly for grasslands, meadows, and in the uplands, building on the success of the Burren and Aran programmes-----