I welcome the Minister of State. It is nice to have her back in the room with us.
That Seanad Éireann:
- Dáil Éireann’s declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency on 9 May 2019, and the steps that have been taken since that date at local, national and European levels to address the ongoing emergency;
- nature and biodiversity, meaning the diversity of living things within ecosystems, are deteriorating globally at rates unprecedented in human history, thus steadily destroying the essential basis for our health, sustenance, prosperity and quality of life;
- scientists have warned that a sixth mass extinction event, labelled the 'Anthropocene Extinction', may currently be under way;
- nature and biodiversity provide essential life supports to humans in a variety of ways, including through pollination of crops, regulation of water, air and soil quality, regulation of climate, provision of resources such as medicines and building materials, mitigation of natural disasters such as flooding, maintenance of options for the future, and opportunities for learning, inspiration, aesthetic appreciation, spiritual development and the improvement of mental and physical health;
- nature is essential for human existence and happiness, that natures’ contributions are difficult or impossible to replace, and that the future of humanity is inseparable from the future of nature;
- the decline of nature and biodiversity is primarily due to human drivers, including changes in land use such as agricultural expansion and urban growth, the direct exploitation of organisms via unsustainable harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing, the impact of climate change on species distribution and ecosystem structures, and its exacerbating effects upon the other drivers, pollution of the air, water and soil, and invasions of alien plant and animal species;
- the maintenance and improvement of current habitat conditions and natural heritage is as important as the generation of new ones;
notes with concern that:
- globally, around one million animal and plant species are already threatened with extinction, many within decades;
- the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20 per cent, while at least 680 vertebrate species have been driven to extinction by humanity, with more than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost 33 per cent of reef-forming corals, more than one-third of marine mammals, and approximately 10 per cent of insects threatened with extinction;
- biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, but a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well, with current negative trends in biodiversity undermining progress towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in the areas of poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land;
- a lack of diversity, especially genetic diversity, poses a serious risk to global food security by undermining the resilience of agriculture to threats such as pests, pathogens and climate change;
- land degradation has reduced the productivity of nearly 23 per cent of the global land surface, while pollinator loss increases the chances of crop failure;
- up to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other industrial waste enter the world’s rivers and oceans annually, while fertilisers entering coastal ecosystems have created over 400 dead zones covering a combined area of almost one quarter of a million square kilometres;
- the destruction of natural environments, in conjunction with poaching and wildlife trafficking practices, increases the likelihood of animal-to-human transmission of zoonotic pathogens such as Ebola, Rabies, Swine Flu, Avian Flu, SARS, and possibly SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus);
- most Irish habitats listed on the European Union Habitats Directive are in unfavourable status and almost half are demonstrating ongoing declines, while none of Ireland’s grassland, heathland, bog, mire or fen habitats are in favourable status;
- almost 40 per cent of our active raised bogs in Ireland’s Special Areas of Conservation network have been lost in the past twenty years;
- of 202 regularly occurring species of bird on this island, 37 have been placed on the red conservation list, including the curlew, corncrake, lapwing, barn owl and golden eagle, while a further 91 are on the amber list, including the robin, starling, swallow, swift, cormorant, gannet and puffin;
- 30 per cent of our bee species and 18 per cent of our butterfly species are threatened with extinction;
- according to the Irish Wildlife Trust, 48 of our marine species face extinction and require greater legal protection, including the basking shark, angel shark, Atlantic salmon, sunfish, turbot, halibut, purple sea urchin and kaleidoscope jellyfish;
- seismic testing, occurring at acoustic levels 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, has regularly occurred over the past decade during the exploration process for oil and gas reserves in Irish waters, causing untold damage to whales, dolphins and porpoises by damaging their food sources, such as plankton, and causing displacement of species in some cases;
- invasive animal species such as the zebra mussel and the grey squirrel, and invasive plant species such as giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed, pose a growing threat to our native flora and fauna;
- biodiversity provides vital ecosystem services, free of cost, to one of our most important economic sectors, agriculture, with the value of nutrient cycling by soil organisms alone estimated to be worth €1 billion a year;
- the direct annual value of insects via pollination of human food crops has been estimated as at least €53 million in Ireland, while the indirect value provided through pollination of forage crops such as clover and the maintenance of a functioning ecosystem, is likely substantially higher;
- alongside the intrinsic value of an intact marine environment, it has been estimated that recreational services provided by Irish marine ecosystems are worth €1.6 billion in value to the economy, that fisheries and aquaculture are worth €664 million, carbon absorption services €819 million, waste assimilation services €317 million, scientific and educational services €11.5 million, coastal defence services of €11.5 million, and seaweed harvesting €4 million;
- in many parts of Ireland, whether on their own or supported by the State, farmers have led the way on projects to protect biodiversity, habitats and species, including farmers involved in the Burren Programme in Clare, the Hen Harrier Project in six special protection areas, the Pearl Mussel Project in eight different river catchments, and the Biodiversity Regeneration in a Dairying Environment (BRIDE) project in the Bride Valley, Co. Cork;
- in a 2015 survey, Ireland’s natural, unspoilt environment was cited by 86 per cent of visiting tourist respondents as a reason to visit Ireland, and that in 2018, out-of-State tourism generated €5.6 billion for the Irish economy;
calls on the Government to act upon the Programme for Government’s commitments regarding biodiversity as soon as possible, and to:
- review the protection, including legislative protection processes, of our natural heritage and significant land use changes;
- ensure that the State can protect nature and enforce existing statutory protections of designated features of conservation interest by providing sufficient support to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and reviewing the Service’s remit and structure;
- establish a Citizens’ Assembly to examine and propose solutions to the biodiversity emergency, thus bringing the creativity and ingenuity of our citizenry to bear upon this crisis;
- ensure that environmental policy is strategy-led and biodiversity-focused by developing a new National Pollinator Plan, supporting the collection of biodiversity data, developing a National Soils Strategy, completing a national hedgerow survey, and carrying out a baseline biodiversity survey on Irish farms;
- ensure that farmers are recognised as the custodians of our land, and are financially supported in playing a vital role in maintaining and restoring habitats and utilising ecologically sound practices;
- seek to ensure the Common Agricultural Policy rewards farmers for sequestering carbon, creating habitats and restoring biodiversity, improving water and air quality, producing clean energy, and developing schemes that support results-based outcomes;
- secure improvements in soil health and water quality by delivering an ambitious reduction in the use of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser over the next decade;
- advocate for a fair system of eligibility conditionality, under the reform of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition rules, recognising that farmers should not be unfairly penalised for maintaining land that contributes to biodiversity principles, and thus allowing farmers to accrue benefits from managing land as wetlands or native habitats;
- implement the EU’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in order to increase environmental and biodiversity benefits to our economy and society, including the ambitious reductions in respect of pesticides and fertilisers;
- conserve and expand a diverse range of natural habitats by developing a National Land Use Plan, incentivising the rewetting of carbon-rich soils, supporting the planting or rewilding of native woodland on every farm, and adopting a close-to-nature, continuous cover approach to forestry so as to ultimately create permanent biodiverse forests containing trees of all ages;
- develop comprehensive legislation for the identification, designation and management of Marine Protected Areas in Irish territorial waters, aiming to ensure these areas cover 30 per cent of our waters by 2030.".
I welcome the Minister of State. It is great that I have lived to see the appointment of a Minister of State with responsibility for biodiversity. It gladdens my heart because I thought we would never see it. It is very exciting to have a Minister of State with such a responsibility in the House. This is a momentous occasion for me because I have been talking about biodiversity for approximately 30 years. It gives me hope.
Biodiversity means life and difference, and it concerns the different life forms and the importance of having variety. If we did not have diversity, one might imagine a Seanad with 60 Róisín Garveys and how exciting or boring it would be. Nobody would get in a word edgeways.
Do not start.
It is what we are looking at when we consider biodiversity in the plant and animal world. There are very few varieties and we see the same thing over and over. During this debate, I hope to go through some of the reasons it is so important we do not go to 60 Róisín Garveys or one type of tree or animal left on the planet. It is what we face in this emergency we are discussing today.
I will start from the ground up, or even beneath the ground. I will mention the soil beneath our feet because sometimes we forget the importance of healthy soil. Even building a house we start with a good foundation. There are major issues with soil quality in the country. One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microorganisms than there are people on the planet.
Of course, that is in healthy soil. Together, these microorganisms break down all the rotting debris and turn it into good humus. They give us the nutrients and bacteria we need for our own food and for animals. To survive under the ground, the microorganisms need to be sheltered which is why they need something to keep them safe, no more than humans do. The microorganisms below ground need food and shelter just like us. Keeping the soil covered at all times is a good start because without healthy soil one gets poor drainage and increased run-off, of which we have seen much. People were talking about it in Cork this morning and it is happening all over the country. We have major issues with flooding and run-off and biodiversity is the solution to sort out this crisis.
I had the good fortune of studying organic horticulture in the Organic College in Dromcollogher with Jim McNamara many moons ago. He said that one feeds the soil, not the plant. Only with healthy soil do we get healthy plants, which includes all our food. Nobody can argue the difference between a healthy carrot or tomato grown from healthy soil and one grown in poor soil pumped with chemicals. If there was biodiversity in the soil, people would not need those chemicals and could grow their food naturally. What we need right now is a variety of grasses because to get healthy soil we have to have a mixture of grasses. Most grass swards are dominated by perennial ryegrass and some clover if one is lucky. With just two plant species in a mix, the modern grass sward has a lower number of insect species and other invertebrates than grass swards in the past. These modern swards also require higher levels of nutrients to achieve higher farm productivity. This leads to the less aggressive species of plants being outcompeted, with a subsequent loss in biodiversity. As always in this Chamber, we must focus on actions and solutions. We must focus on what can be done and what is being done.
I must mention an amazing man called Donal Sheehan. Just a few years ago he put out 40 chairs in his local hall to start a project called Farming with Nature. Some 140 people turned up to that meeting so they had to sit on each other's laps and were standing all around the place. One would not get away with that now. All the farmers in the area wanted to take part in this and be involved but the project had to turn them down as only 42 could take part. They then discovered there was only funding for 27 farmers. However, all 42 farmers agreed that they would split the money between them even though there was only money for 27 because they were so eager to get involved and do the right thing. What they do, simply, is grow a variety of grasses, which sorts out loads of problems. Farmers of every kind are involved, including small farmers with 15 ha and those with 400 ha. They might have ten cattle, 40 cattle, dry stock, weanlings or they might be dairy farmers. All types of farmers were involved. It is a good example of what can be done on all kinds of farms. It was named the Biodiversity Regeneration In a Dairying Environment, BRIDE, project after the lovely River Bride, which is a tributary of the beautiful River Blackwater.
The BRIDE project uses a multispecies grassland mix, which contains several grass species, including Timothy and Cocksfoot, and several wildflower species such as plantain, red and white clover and yarrow to benefit pollinators and a wide range of insects. The benefits of this scheme, though it sounds so simple, are huge. The inclusion of a mix of high clover will result in less use of nitrogen fertiliser. Many farmers have to spend lots of money on fertiliser but clover is a natural nitrogen fixer. Root systems of different species are important as well. This is interesting because soil loss occurs when there are heavy rains, but if there are lots of different types of grasses, they will have different roots with different depths and they hold onto that soil. They also help hold onto the nutrients when they are spread and they go into the soil and feed it.
This same principle will mean a higher tolerance of different climate conditions. Now we often get a month's worth of rain in two days and farmers are losing some of their topsoil as a result. More biodiversity underground improves soil health. It is a symbiotic relationship between the environment above and below ground. A healthier mix of grasses also enriches the variety of flowers, which then attract insects, including butterflies and predatory insects. Predatory insects sound scary but they are brilliant. In Dromcollogher, we saw that if one has flowers that attract predatory insects, those insects will take care of the aphids, greenflies and all the other insects farmers often have to spray to keep away. If they have the right flowers and biodiversity around their farms, they will not have to deal with that problem.
That brings me to pollinators. With healthy varieties of flowers and grasses, we get a healthy variety of pollinators. We all know their job is so important that no food would be grown in this country if we did not take care of them.
That is it. We will not be able to grow food if we do not get this right. I will draw attention to another great solution, that of the Irish Seed Savers Association. The main objective of this organisation is to conserve Ireland's very special and threatened plant genetic resource. I have been fortunate enough to visit the organisation and to get seeds from it. I do not have a green finger but if one takes any of this group's seeds and put them in good soil, one will get food. It is not a big challenge if one has the right seeds in the right place. This group's work focuses on the preservation of heirloom and heritage food crops that are suitable for Ireland's unique growing conditions, which makes it easier to grow its seeds. The Irish Seed Savers Association maintains the country's public seed bank, which includes more than 600 varieties of seeds which are not commercially available.
We all know about the big multinationals that are producing seeds which will never reseed, meaning farmers cannot save their own seed and have to buy it. I remember being involved in Genetic Concern many years ago. A doctor from University Hospital Limerick joined the campaign because the people in her village had never had to save seed until a certain big company, which I will not mention today, came along and gave free seed to the farmers without telling them that, when it came time to save the seed, there would be no seed to save. This is why I wanted to mention the Irish Seed Savers Association. What it does is so important. We must not give power away to the multinationals as regards how we grow our food.
I will give the Minister some examples, although I do not have up-to-date ones. In 2017, Ireland, the land of the spud, imported 72,000 tonnes of potatoes, 44,000 tonnes of which came from Britain. We imported 47,000 tonnes of onions, 29,000 tonnes of tomatoes, 23,000 tonnes of cabbage and 15,000 tonnes of lettuce. These are probably the five easiest things to grow in this country. The total value of these imports was €175 million. This is money we sent out of this country. I raise this issue because, the better our biodiversity, the easier it is to grow this food here in Ireland. It is madness. We have to make it easier to grow food and without biodiversity that becomes more of a challenge.
I will now move from our fields to our hedges. Ireland was once entirely forested. I remember my father telling me when I was a child that Brian Ború could go from one end of Ireland to the other without putting a foot on the ground. Sadly, that is not true today. A great lecturer from Macroom, Ted Cook, told me that, when the trees were cut, not only did the humans have to take shelter but the animals, insects and birds had to flee. To where did they flee? They fled to our hedgerows. We have the best hedgerow system in all of Europe but if we do not manage it properly that will no longer be the case. Living in a small area in which the roads are narrow, I believe there is a need for proper hedge management and hedge trimming, but I do not agree with hedge butchery. It is really important that the Government come together to introduce supports for proper hedge management. Ted Cook says it very well when he says that a hedgerow is like a high-rise block of flats with different species and types of animals living on every level. That really struck home with me. He says that if one wipes out the top layers or butchers 2 m in, one wipes out the habitat of all of those animals and plants. This is something with which we need to deal. It is controversial but it must still be done. I do not ask that they be let grow wild everywhere, but we have to find a balance. Nature is all about balance.
If I am to move on from hedges, I have to go to the bogs. Some 21% of our land is peatland. That represents approximately 1.5 million ha, 80% of which is degraded. These bogs emit more than 10% of all our country's greenhouse gases. It would cost €1.5 billion to restore them. The Republic of Ireland has 8% of the entire world's blanket bogs. We are standing on a world-class ecosystem, or at least what could be one. Peatlands store four times more carbon than tropical rainforests. Let us take that seriously and prioritise our bogs.
I did not really get the whole bog thing as a child. I was reared cutting turf and making gróigeáns. It was back-breaking work. We were given out to and were not allowed mess because we had to get the turf in. I only got it when visiting new projects such as Scohaboy bog in Cloughjordan, which has developed into an amazing place and amenity for local people. The farmers flocked together with Gearóid Ó Foighil and the community to create this amazing space. I now value bogs in a whole new way.
I will move onto forests and talk about a friend of mine who recycled 500,000 cans 30 years ago. We were talking about biodiversity 30 years ago. He used the money from these cans to buy native woodlands and planted trees with children from different schools.
He planted the trees with the children in the schools, and I visited the schools with him. The children kept asking why, if trees are so important, are the Government and the grown-ups not planting lots of them. I thought that was a great question. However, now I see that all Government and Opposition parties are in agreement that there is a biodiversity and climate emergency, and that now is the time to act to make the solutions I have mentioned not an exception but the norm.
I second the motion. I welcome the attendance and participation in this debate of my party colleague, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. I thank Senator Garvey for moving the motion.
In 1972, a young research assistant made a list of natural and semi-natural habitats in County Kildare with the objective of selecting habitats for preservation. That research assistant, Roger Goodwillie, who then worked for An Foras Forbartha, which is now the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, made a number of interesting observations. Back in 1972, referring to my constituency, Mr. Goodwillie stated that bird life in the area was rich and it supported a high population of grouse. He observed oak wood with a rich flora and abundant bird life, including species such as the nightjar, rich wild fowl feeding and a breeding area for many water birds. He also noted that the area supported a huge number of snipe. Almost 50 years later, bird species, such as the curlew, that were once common in my constituency have all but disappeared. I care about the whole island of Ireland and beyond but I have particular knowledge of my constituency, which is why I have made reference to it. I hope the rest of Ireland does not feel left out because the issue is a national and global problem.
In Ireland, the curlew, for example, has suffered a massive decline of 96% since the 1980s, with fewer than a handful of native curlews remaining in County Kildare. Species of water birds such as lapwing and snipe are already in danger of meeting the same fate. They live a treacherous existence as they are forced to the very edge of once ecologically rich habitats. However, we have begun to take steps to address the issue. The curlew task force, which was established in 2017, and the subsequent action plans under the NPWS, have made tentative progress. As we know, the NPWS does excellent work but it is chronically under-resourced. Voluntary organisations, such as Birdwatch Kildare, have made valiant efforts over the years to over the years to safeguard our tiny breeding curlew population in the county. They have also taken practical steps to provide nesting spaces for swifts, which is another threatened species. Volunteers across the county, from Johnstownbridge to Athy, have been implementing swift conservation measures.
Butterfly Conservation Ireland, proudly based in County Kildare, does tremendous work, managing the habitat of rare species of butterfly, such as the dark green fritillary and marsh fritillary. In Kildare, of the 22 sites originally referenced in the 1972 work, eight are designated as special areas of conservation today under the EU habitats directive. These include the beautiful, unique Pollardstown Fen, which is fed by an alkaline spring and the Curragh aquifer, and Ballynafagh Lake near Prosperous in north Kildare.
What is missing is habitats of scale with rich biodiversity potential that could support wildlife and bring back species lost to Ireland. If we do not take action now and designate further sites throughout the country, not just in the west and north west, our children will never hear the call of the breeding curlew. Ireland is a winter refuge for many migrating water birds, but these too have suffered declines in recent years. Researchers at the Kildare branch of BirdWatch Ireland estimate that wading birds such as lapwing and golden plover have declined by 19% in the past ten years. It is not just water birds. Countryside birds such as yellowhammer suffered massive declines and the corn bunting is extinct.
A recently published CSO report entitled Environmental Indicators 2020 states that in 2018, Ireland had the third lowest proportion of total land area in the EU 28 designated as terrestrial special protected areas, SPAs, under the EU birds directive, at 6.1%, and the eighth lowest proportion of total land area designated as terrestrial special areas of conservation, SAC, under the EU habitats directive, at 13.1%. That is a cause of great concern and must be corrected. One way of approaching it is to increase the designated area to at least match the EU average. It should include both terrestrial and marine habitats. Another proposal would be to ensure that management plans are put in place for our designated protection areas to ensure no further loss of biodiversity and to reverse the declines we have seen.
John Hume is often rightly referred to as having been pivotal to the peace process. He used and invoked the EU when he stated that we all live in a country called Europe and that we should deal with our strengths and commonalities. I am confident that we will call on the EU again for protection and strength going forward. The laws are in place but they must be complied with. I refer to the habitats directive, the birds directive and the water framework directive. Article 12 of the habitats directive requires the creation of a system of strict protection for certain species. Member states are obliged to take requisite measures to establish a system of strict protection for the animal species listed in that annexe, including bats and many other animals. There is an obligation on member states. The article prohibits the deliberate disturbance of these species, particularly during breeding, rearing, hibernation and migration. It also prohibits the deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places.
The European Court of Justice has issued many judgments that oblige the State to take action in respect of this matter. A member state fails to fulfil its obligations under Article 12(1)(b) and (d) of the directive if it does not take all requisite specific measures to prevent the deliberate disturbance of the animal species concerned during their breeding period or allows the deterioration or destruction of their breeding sites. There is a significant volume of EU law on this matter. The courts are listening. One will get a good hearing in court in respect of these matters. Responsibility begins in an individual capacity but we must have compliance with national and EU law.
Sinn Féin has tabled an amendment to the motion. I welcome its concern for, and love of, bees, although obviously not the B-Specials. Of course, we should protect the native Irish honey bee. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett, about that. The specific remit of the Native Irish Honey Bee Society is to protect, preserve and promote the native Irish honey bee. It is a rare strain of bee. The dark European strain adapts best to our climate. The two national associations, namely, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations and the Irish Beekeepers Association are 100% on board. In Kildare North and Kildare South, they are among 20 organisations that have signed a voluntary pact to preserve and protect the native Irish honey bee.
I welcome the Minister of State and I thank Senators O'Reilly, Garvey and Martin for proposing this motion. I would not have expected anything less from those Senators. They have a great slogan and I have a lot of time for green politics, and for the Green Party for that matter. The slogan is "Vote Green, get Green". I think that is an important maxim, not one of which we should lose sight. I try to apply it to everything I do here.
The Green Party is in government and that is important. The people elected representatives from the Green Party, gave them a strong mandate and expected them to go into government. I think that going into government was the right thing to do. However, the Green Party is in government to do something and that is to drive this green agenda, as they have done with other things. I refer to sustainability and sustainable development goals, SDGs. I met the leader of the Green Party on Tuesday, and I was particularly taken aback when he gave me this little gift of an SDGs lapel badge, because I have never had one before. When I left that meeting, I was encouraged to go back and check out SDGs.
I acknowledge that part of the agreement to be in government was that there would be a strong focus on the SDGs and that we would be mindful of that aspect in all our Oireachtas joint committees. We are very conscious of that, and we have discussed the SDGs at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine. That strong focus has, therefore, taken effect and people need to be constantly reminded of that. I thank the Green Party and its representatives for that.
I am not surprised by this motion. I am more interested in the final part, which calls on the Government to act on its programme for Government. With all due respect to the Minister of State and her colleagues here, in local government and in Europe - because we have Green Party representatives in Europe and that is also great - I have to say that it is incumbent on all of us to pursue the green agenda. The leader of the Green Party, the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, referred to not losing sight of that at the meeting I had with him. It is possible to be distracted when in government by many things.
In many parts of Ireland, whether on their own or supported by the State, farmers have led the way in projects to protect biodiversity and species. I want to ensure, as I know the Minister of State does, that farmers are recognised as the custodians of our land and are financially supported in playing their vital role in maintaining and restoring habitats and utilising practices that are ecologically sound. The Minister of State really understands that aspect more than anybody else because she is a farmer and works on the land. I want our Government to ensure that the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, rewards farmers for sequestrating carbon, creating habitats and restoring biodiversity, improving water and air quality, producing clean energy and developing schemes that support results-based outcomes.
The Minister of State and colleagues will also know that we are now planning for CAP policy post 2020. There is a great emphasis on environmental outcomes in that context, and that is very positive. It has taken a long journey of more than 20 or 30 years to get to that point, but the importance of those outcomes has now been recognised. Farmers, however, should not be unfairly penalised for maintaining the land that contributes to diversity principles. I refer to allowing farmers to accrue some form of benefits, financial or otherwise, if they are proactive in protecting and developing wetlands and native habitats. That is important.
What does the Green New Deal say about farmers? European farmers and fishermen are key to managing this transition, but they want a just transition. I acknowledge the just transition group within the Green Party, whose members I have found exceptionally helpful and engaging regarding environmental issues I have had to pursue. It is a really practical advocacy group, as well as being involved and immersed in politics. The members of the group need to be saluted and recognised. They are not antagonistic, but they are concerned and they should be encouraged and supported in civic society and politics.
The farm to fork strategy will of course strengthen efforts to tackle climate change, and that has been repeatedly acknowledged by the Minister of State. It will also help to protect the environment and preserve our biodiversity.
However, the European green deal sets out the farm-to-fork targets. They include reducing fertiliser by 20%, reducing antibiotics in animals and reducing pesticide use. There are knock-on effects because when one reduces some of these items, one reduces yields. That is not a bad thing. We are over-producing in some areas, but we must acknowledge there will be a knock-on effect in a reduction in yields. I would prefer to have reduced yields of higher quality, but there are financial implications. One thing that has emerged from the research by the European Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, is that the income of farmers across Europe is approximately 40% of the income received by people in the commercial and industrial sectors. There is a drop in incomes and we must acknowledge that.
In terms of biodiversity, we want higher diversity in our natural landscapes and organic production. I do not doubt any of this from the Green Party as it is very important. I also wish to speak in support of the amendment from Sinn Féin, and I presume Senator Boylan will speak on that. I commit myself to supporting it. To refer to a few more issues, there is some important legislation coming down the track - we shall be known by our deeds and not our words. There is the sustainable water environmental abstraction Bill, which has enormous implications for agriculture and the building and construction sector, particularly regarding concrete. People have wells and others are in local community co-operative water schemes. In many cases, the cumulative effect of two or three sources of drawing or abstracting water will be a challenge. We will have to face up to that and we must support farmers in that regard. There is also a marine Bill coming down the track, which is important. There have been, and continue to be challenges, in the forestry sector. The Minister of State has made a start with her Bill, but there are other issues.
What is this motion about? From my reading of it, we want more funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and for farmers to enable them to implement green practices, to create biodiversity habitats on their land and to pay them not to develop wetlands or native habitats. I support the call for the establishment of a citizens' assembly, a national pollinator plan, a national soil strategy and a national land use plan to conserve and expand native woodlands. We want to cut down on nitrogen fertiliser and pesticide use, and we want to have a national hedgerow survey and a baseline diversity survey. All of this is admirable and I support it. The Green Party is in government. People voted Green to get green. It is early days for the party and I hope it will continue the momentum that is required because it will be distracted in many ways down the line. I sincerely wish the party well.
I wish to share time with Senator Malcolm Byrne.
I welcome the Minister of State. Fianna Fáil welcomes this opportunity to discuss solutions to the ongoing biodiversity crisis and will support the motion proposed by the Green Party. I compliment my colleagues on it. The rate of global change in nature during the past 50 years is unprecedented in human history. Nature across most of the globe has now been significantly altered by human activity, with the great majority of ecosystems and biodiversity showing rapid decline. Globally, 75% of the land surface is significantly altered. Some 66% of the ocean area is experiencing increasing impacts and over 85% of the wetlands have been lost.
These global changes have many reverberations in Ireland, where most Irish habitats have unfavourable status. Bee and butterfly species are in decline and many marine species are now reportedly at risk of extinction. It is welcome that the Government has moved in several areas to provide additional supports to protect an enhanced biodiversity. These include moves to establish a new wildlife crime unit in the NPWS, progressing the final report of an independent advisory group on marine protected areas and providing funding in both the July stimulus and budget 2021. As the motion outlines, the programme for Government also sets out a number of additional actions which are required over the Government's term in office to address the crisis further.
It is vital that the commitments contained in the programme for Government are completed as soon as possible. In May 2019, Ireland became only the second country in the world to declare a biodiversity emergency, on foot of a Fianna Fáil amendment that I had the pleasure to propose in my time in the Dáil. In moving this amendment, we recognised that the national biodiversity action plan did not go far enough and that further action was needed at the time.
We also called for the establishment of a Citizens' Assembly on biodiversity loss. I was very pleased to see such a commitment in the programme for Government that was agreed by the three parties because it will not be by an act of this House that biodiversity will be protected but through the sustained effort of all citizens across the State. It will not be done by academics sitting in isolation, identifying the problem and directing the custodians of the land to deliver; it will be done in harmony with them. The farmers are the first people who need to be consulted and their concerns and views taken on board.
I come from a farming family from a small farm in a part of the country where the land is not considered to be especially good. There is a very significant mix of species there, from rushes to heather, wet land to dry land, trees, shrubs and hedgerows. Until such time as we come to appreciate that kind of land and remove the burden of production that has become a feature of modern farming, we must provide the appropriate resources to the custodians of this type of land rather than continuing to reward those who focus only on the production of grass, grain and corn through unnatural, forced means to meet our food requirements. It will have to be done in a holistic way. We must look at the way we consume and waste food. This will not be done in isolation. I hope we can have such a discussion in a Citizens' Assembly where we bring all sides together rather than look at the issue in isolation. This is a significant problem, which is part of our culture of overproduction based on an insatiable demand for more and more products and greater production that, sadly, ends up dumped in landfill.
Like my colleagues and others in the House, I strongly support this motion. The Government needs to be ambitious. The programme for Government sets out a certain level of ambition that does not fall only on the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, even though I am certain she is more than capable of leading the charge, but on the entire Government and all Departments. It falls on all of us and, as my colleague, Senator Dooley, said, on society at large. We must all play our part in ensuring that in the future we continue to have the diversity of species we currently have.
Senator Martin spoke very eloquently about the birds. I will also speak about the bees. We must recognise the considerable amount of good work that has been done on the all-Ireland pollinator plan by local authorities and Tidy Towns committees, which operate on a voluntary basis right around the country. The Minister of State might elaborate on the new all-Ireland pollinator plan. I hope the targets in it are much more ambitious and build on the success of voluntary groups, local authorities and everyone else in order that we can all buy in to the important job of saving the bees.
One of the positive aspects of the motion is that, as Senator Boyhan stated, it recognises the very important role farmers and the agricultural community have to play in contributing towards the protection of the environment and habitats. Farmers should not be penalised when they manage lands to protect native habitats or wetlands. In fact, we need to incentivise farmers and landowners to do that.
We must support farmers when they engage in regenerative practices. One of the issues we really need to address, and especially in respect of carbon sinks, is allowing farmers and landowners to own carbon credits to allow them to gain a form of income through acting in an environmentally responsible manner. Farmers are some of the strongest guardians of the environment but they want the transition to be just and they want what they do to be sustainable. I firmly believe that if we give a system whereby farmers are able to own and trade carbon credits, it will help the sustainability of our environment and the sustainability of farm families, and it will help in the offset of emissions.
Senator Boyhan referred to fertiliser as an issue that needs to be addressed. One of the best things the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, can do, and I believe that many farmers would agree with her, is to attack the current oligopolistic nature of the fertiliser market. As long as that continues to be a problem, I do not think the fertiliser companies have any real interest in finding a solution.
I am very much in support of this motion. It was very eloquently introduced by Senator Garvey. We set one challenge for the Minister of State, which is to be ambitious, but that is also a challenge for all of us.
I welcome this very important motion. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We are speaking today about how we can deal with the biodiversity challenge. It is a worldwide challenge. A motion was passed in the last Oireachtas and I believe it is an issue we all support. Society definitely supports it too.
The biggest issue in trying to progress this is how to get everybody on board. This will be a major challenge. Other speakers have referred to the farming community. Statistically we are under pressure when it comes to our agricultural and farming community. When there are more farmers over the age of 80 than under the age of 35 it will be a real issue to have the farming community coming on board. We are looking at the scenario where 50% of our farmers are over the age of 55 and one third of our farmers over the age of 66. Those kinds of statistics in any industry will be one of the biggest issues when trying to get major changes in practice and major changes in society.
Our younger generation of farmers are very well educated having gone through college programmes over four years and then on to agricultural college. They are the most capable agricultural students in the world. When one talks of biodiversity, they understand the need for change and they understand that what happened in the 1980s and the 1990s cannot continue. For a start, they know that the market will not take it. They know they have to be part of a society and an economy that understands change is required to find solutions for this biodiversity problem. There have been solutions over the past few years. On the nitrates issue, for example, there was a targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, grant that brought forward the ability for slurry to be injected into the ground. The majority of slurry spreading in my part of the world is all now done by a trailing shoe injector. If I was to say this five years ago, I would have said there was no hope of that happening but it has been a major success and a major change. We have seen the economic and the environmental impact of major change like that.
The main challenge facing Ireland as a society is how we get everybody on board in order that we can make this major change in society, which is needed. That will be the problem. Our farming generation is the ultimate issue at the moment. How can we, to borrow the phrase, teach an old dog new tricks? That is the problem we have at present. We need to get them on board. That will be the ultimate problem for the Government. I believe that the majority of farmers really welcome the Government's plan for the farm retirement scheme. They want to have an outlet whereby they can move their farm on. We really have to find a solution to that issue. That will be a major part of moving this issue on.
Society has totally changed. Consider the ability of Tidy Towns groups to use Roundup and other such products, for example. They have all modified and changed their behaviours in the past two and three years. A societal change is needed to move this along. The motion is very important because it keeps the impetus on delivering that key change.
This is all about raising the issues and coming forward with solutions.
We need to find a solution to generational change in our farms. It is the ultimate key solution. We have the best young farmers in the world. We need to ensure they have access to the land. By working on a farm retirement scheme, we will have the opportunity to make the real changes required to ensure that this biodiversity challenge can be met.
I thank the Green Party Senators for drafting this very comprehensive motion. I listened to the informative and entertaining speech from Senator Garvey on the issue. As a pure inner-city woman who grew up in a concrete jungle, I always find it useful to listen to contributors with a knowledge of peat, soil and hedgerows.
It is generally accepted that we are in the middle of a climate and biodiversity crisis with dramatic knock-on effects. As the motion notes, around 1 million animal species are threatened with extinction within decades. Last year the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stated that we are losing plants and animals hundreds of times faster than in the past. The twin challenges of climate change and a biodiversity crisis arrived at our door very suddenly. We can choose to rise to the challenge, enhance our food security and rise to the challenge of the effects of climate change or we can decide to ignore it.
The effect of the climate and biodiversity crisis on the world we live in, is immense. Today each of us came into this Chamber with a face mask. We are required to socially distance from each other. We have limited contact with friends. We will not have the same Christmas this year because we are in the middle of a pandemic, which scientists warn will become a more frequent occurrence in the coming years. This is because of the climate and biodiversity crisis we have.
Over the weekend, in a supplement to the Financial Times, the scientist who co-discovered Ebola said that we are living in the age of pandemics because of how we treat our planet. He specifically pointed out issues such as deforestation and the loss of biodiversity as the key drivers of our exposure to more zoological viruses, as some animals need to expand their range, move into new areas and their natural home is destroyed.
The Labour Party supports of the Sinn Féin amendment which references the shocking report last week from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, which pointed out that our forestry industry is a net contributor to CO2 emissions and that we should be moving to a more sustainable and biodiverse model of forestry. This needs to start with our commercial forestry arm, Coillte, which had prioritised non-native trees. Some 92% of the forests in the Dublin Mountains are comprised of non-native species.
Ireland has a very low tree coverage at just 11%, in the area where I live in Dublin's inner city, we have extremely low tree coverage. Somebody gave a load of seeds to Dublin Corporation in the 1950s and we have pear trees which are dangerous for older people and not suitable for an inner-city environment.
In our previous work on both climate and forestry Bills, my Labour Party colleagues, Deputy Sherlock and Senator Hoey, pushed hard to promote alternative forest systems, like continuous cover and broadleaf forests, which we argued was better for climate change mitigation and provided co-benefits such as protecting our biodiversity.
During this debate we have heard many people who have a strong rural and farming background but I want to give an urban perspective. The majority of the world's population live in cities and we have higher density. In giving this perspective, it is vital to state the impact that our local authorities can have in supporting biodiversity in our urban centres. Simple changes and interventions such as supporting more biodiverse non-interventions are really important in terms of maintenance. Natural interventions are very simple and cheap, such as planting wildflowers, and developing pollinator plans and pathways. However, much more can be done to take this beyond lip service. It should not be limited to the climate or parks sections of local authorities.
I shall give an example of something that happened in my area a few years ago, which has also happened in other countries. This issue needs to move beyond specific Departments to other areas that local authorities are dealing with, in terms of our built environment. Temporary allotments were established in an area that was being regenerated with housing and after the financial crash social housing was built. When moving the allotments we found another space but many councillors questioned whether we should put allotments on top of buildings. We were told no because of the depth of soil and heaviness required and, unfortunately, there was no greening of the building in terms of design.
The programme for Government contains a commitment to build 50,000 publicly built houses over the next five years, which I am not sure I believe. We need to prioritise greening but that does not have to be complicated or expensive. It just needs to be encouraged. People need to be informed that sometimes not being green and pristine is a good way to approach the issue. For example, Milan has a vertical green building comprised of trees called the Bosco Verticale that people travel from all over the world to see and we should incorporate that into our built environment. The new architectural challenge is to create the garden cities of the 21st century. We want density because we want people to move around and we want to support a non-car culture but we must do all that in our building environment. We could very easily incorporate biodiverse environments into that. Simple interventions that do not cost an awful lot of money need to be encouraged and mainstreamed into local authorities. The OPW did a lot of work for diversity week but other agencies and the OPW need to mainstream their thinking when it comes to the lands and buildings they maintain.
We support this motion and the Sinn Féin amendment. It is very promising that the Green Party has prioritised this issue by tabling a motion. I look forward to working with other Members of the Seanad over the next couple of years in terms of mainstreaming that thinking and bringing an inner city voice to the challenges of biodiversity and climate change.
The next speaker is Senator Lynn Boylan. She has eight minutes.
I move amendment No. 1:
To insert the following after the final paragraph:
“calls on the Government to recognise the integral role of biodiversity in regulating the climate and ensuring long-term resilience to climate change explicitly in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 and that all policy instruments resulting from that Bill and the Principal Act comply with, and actively support, the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan; recognises:
- the need to transition to renewable energy but that this transition should enhance biodiversity and be consistent with the National Peatlands Strategy;
- that biodiversity is threatened by some of the same drivers that cause climate change; biodiversity is also under threat from climate change; and calls on the Government to legislate to prevent the development of future Liquefied Natural Gas terminals;
- that the findings of the report produced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which showed Ireland’s forestry industry is a net emitter of CO2; that the National Parks and Wildlife Service finds the model of forestry is one of the biggest pressures on biodiversity-rich EU protected habitats; and calls on the Government to implement a new Forestry Strategy that works for community and the planet;
- the significance of this Island to the Native Irish Honey Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) and Ireland now has potentially the greatest reserve of Apis mellifera mellifera in the world, however, our magnificent bees are under threat due to the importation of non-native bees from all over the world leading to the hybridisation of our local native bees; and calls on the Government to develop a strategy for its conservation.”
I second the amendment.
I thank the Green Party Senators for bringing forward the motion. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the biodiversity crisis that was declared by this House last year.
As someone who has worked in a national park for years I have a deep connection to biodiversity and am aware of the absolute urgent need to take action to save what is left, and invest in restoring what we can. I commend the Green Party Senators on what is a very comprehensive motion on tackling the biodiversity crisis. I look forward to the time when the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Hackett, brings forward the legislation that will fulfil the demands stated in the motion.
I shall point out two things that I hope will be taken on board by the Government because, unfortunately, no amendments were tabled for them. One is the inclusion of rhododendron on the list of invasive species. As someone who has worked in Killarney National Park, I know that we need to take an evidence-based approach to the eradication of rhododendron. Unfortunately, to date that approach has not been taken in Killarney National Park.
The motion focuses a lot on the collection of data, and rightly so. I ask that the Government considers stopping tendering out the running of the National Biodiversity Data Centre and instead bring it under central control but resource it adequately. That would mean giving permanent contracts to the scientists and researchers employed thus valuing their contribution to society.
I do not disagree with the intentions of the Bill. I come from a school of thought that views nature as having value in its own right. Nature should be protected regardless of the benefits that humans might happen to accrue from it. Unfortunately, I wince when I hear the term "ecosystem services" because nature does not serve us. In fact, it is rather a case that we in the global North have exploited nature for centuries. The concept of offsets and ecosystem services are taken from the book of technocratic, green-minded decision-makers who believe that something will not be respected for its intrinsic value but rather only for its monetary value or for what we, as humans, can get out of it.
It sets up an unhealthy master-servant relationship with nature and it perpetuates the narrative that nature must be subsumed within the economy rather than the other way around. Commodifying nature is morally wrong, but it also comes with real risks. If something can be bought and sold or if one puts a price on something, there will always be people with pockets deep enough to buy their way out of protecting it or to claim ownership of it. Decommodification activists in the indigenous communities have been warning us for years that in many senses what we are trying to do now with nature is a form of neo-imperialism. In many cases, it does not have the desired outcomes that people promise. Payment for ecosystem services risks creating perverse incentives, for example, a forestry system that is set up to store carbon but which incentivises the planting of non-native species or the planting of trees on biodiversity-rich marginal land. If this sounds familiar, it is because that is the state of forestry in Ireland.
As I said, I wholeheartedly welcome this motion but, with no disrespect to those who drafted it, I wish we did not have to be in a space where we have to calculate the monetary value or cost of not protecting biodiversity and that we would legislate for it because it is the right thing to do. Sinn Féin will support this motion but we hope that our amendments will also be supported because we believe they come from a good place and they seek to strengthen the motion which, as I said, is very comprehensive. One of the Sinn Féin amendments relates to liquefied natural gas, LNG. The rationale for it is that the motion outlines how human action is behind the biodiversity crisis and an important driver of that is the climate change crisis. Changing climate means shifting habitats, seasons and ocean acidification, among other factors that all negatively impact on biodiversity. In the programme for Government the Green Party secured a partial ban on one specific LNG terminal on the Shannon Estuary but we learned in The Sunday Business Post that the leader of the Green Party is considering a plan which could allow the construction of three floating terminals and turn Ireland into a massive exporter of fossil gas. The clear signal that this State could send to the fossil fuel industry is a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure such as these terminals for liquefied natural gas.
Sinn Féin has also tabled an amendment calling for the climate Bill that is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny to actively support the implementation of the national biodiversity action plan. We have heard from eminent speakers at the Joint Committee on Climate Action why this is so important. We need to take climate action to protect biodiversity but how we take that action can adversely impact on biodiversity. It is essential that the actions that we take to address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are fully complementary. Again, I hope that this amendment will be accepted because it is critical it is included in the climate Bill.
Senator Martin stole my thunder in speaking on the Sinn Féin amendment with regard to bees. Ireland has potentially the greatest reserve of Apis mellifera in the world. We need urgent action to protect it. I have engaged with beekeepers, particularly in Connemara, who are desperate for action in this area. Voluntary does not cut it. We need to have a strategy in place because these beekeepers are finding non-native bees in their hives today and every day and they are demanding that action be taken on the issue.
Sinn Féin wants to work with colleagues in this House. Our amendments come from a good place. We believe they are constructive and we hope that Senators will support them.
Like others, I welcome the motion and the opportunity to discuss the biodiversity crisis. It is a crisis we discussed at some length in this House in various debates over the course of the previous Oireachtas, including on the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill and the Heritage Act, because it cuts across so much of our policy in Ireland.
It is always useful at the beginning of any discussion on biodiversity to reflect on how extraordinarily fortunate we are to be living on the only known planet with life. It is a planet on which, if one considers the extraordinary diversity of life in any acre of peatland or rainforest, there is an extraordinary and impossible complexity of life. It is an extraordinary mark of shame that over the past century, humans have been stripping the colour, texture, voice, diversity, sound and richness of that complexity out of the environments we occupy. The evidence is there in the massive escalation in the loss of habitat and of species. I will not go into all of the figures because they are comprehensively discussed in this amendment. It mentions the fact that 500,000 species face extinction and that more than half of our native bird species are either on the red or amber list of endangerment.
This motion could be stronger on how we respond to that crisis and perhaps the Minister of State will address these issues in her response. I acknowledge a positive measure in the motion in that it recognises that biodiversity is not just important for the economy but that it is important for humanity in the wider sense as well as spiritually and morally. That is recognised in the motion. When we come to the actions in this motion, however, it does not say enough about what we can do. If this is a crisis, and we recognised that it was in 2018 while some people recognised it long before that, then action needs to be taken. While there are many proposals relating to measurement and future strategy in this motion, there is no commitment to action and to use every tool we have.
I am concerned, for example, that when we look to the commitment to moving towards a better forestry strategy, the strategy is referenced in the Sinn Féin amendment but it is not directly referenced in the motion. We are due to have a new forestry strategy in Ireland, starting next January. Surely this is an opportunity to genuinely commit to placing biodiversity at the centre of that. I will mention a concerning indictment of our strategy. The recent "Spruced Up" article by Niall Sargent and Noteworthy informed us that there have only been three environmental impact assessments relating to the 17,000 afforestation licences that have issued since 2010. The environmental impact assessment is a tool we already have. It should be used robustly and at every opportunity and it should not be something we seek to avoid or be an unnecessary hurdle that we try to evade wherever we can. The Government can immediately commit to using the environmental impact assessment tool more widely and robustly. We have tools in the directives from Europe on birds, habitats and water. Again, we need an active and robust engagement on using them. It was mentioned that Europe would guide us but we can also guide Europe. I hope we will have an indication today of an intention for Ireland to push back strongly on the proposals in the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, to diminish opportunities for countries to set a value on ecological care, biodiversity work and that custodianship, which is so important. We need to have a robust challenge from Ireland to a CAP that goes against the vision of a green Europe. We also need to hear that Ireland will not seek a derogation under the nitrates directive. If we are concerned about nitrogen in our soil, one thing we can do is stop making a special exception to allow us to use even more of it.
On hedgerows, we had a system under the heritage Bill, which was dismantled. It is fine to conduct a hedgerow survey but we also need to amend the heritage Bill, which allows landowners to personally interpret the Roads Act 1993 without any reference to, or engagement with, local councils, meaning we do not know what is happening with our hedgerows. We cannot stand over that.
I welcome the reference to the national pollinator strategy in the motion and the proposal for a national soil strategy.
Let us make them statutory; not simply an aspirational guide but something concrete that needs to be reflected in planning and in local authority strategies at both urban and rural levels.
There is another issue at play here, although I did not submit an amendment on it because I am hoping the Minister of State will clarify her intentions. The motion refers to farmers as "the custodians". I accept that farmers and people across rural Ireland are some of the most passionate advocates on behalf of the environment and our ecology but they are not "the" custodians alone. Certainly they are custodians but we are all custodians. People in rural and urban Ireland, public representatives, members of BirdWatch Ireland, the beekeepers of Ireland, members of Butterfly Conservation Ireland and so many others are also custodians. I am concerned about the suggestion of a Citizens' Assembly to motivate people and to channel the individual ingenuity of citizenry because we cannot put this all on citizens and say the public needs to do more. Part of citizenry is recourse to justice and it is really disappointing that in the recent forestry debate we had a framing of those citizens who seek to do the work the State has not always done in the area of environmental scrutiny as vexatious and problematic. We need to celebrate citizens who step up but we cannot leave it to them alone. The State needs to use all of its powers and tools.
I recognise that this is a positive marker but let us translate it into concrete policy actions at every level. Let us also see in the context of our land use strategy that biodiversity is not simply a subsection of farming but something far wider. It is not, as was very eloquently described, simply about services. One line from the climate talks in Madrid last year still stays with me. An investor spoke about the exciting potential in trees and said that "trees are the best thing we have invented yet". There is a certain hubris in that. Humans did not invent trees and they are not simply reducible to vehicles for storing carbon, sources of fuel or building materials. It is a concern that so often we hear of the same tree supposedly performing all three functions. The tree, all of the wide diversity in nature and all of the ecological beauty that is there are things we cannot create. We can only nurture, protect, encourage and support nature through rewilding, rewetting and the restoration of habitats. We can stop being part of the problem and start being part of the framing of a positive solution but if it is lost, it is lost forever. I support the motion and several of the amendments thereto.
I welcome the motion from the Green Party Members of Seanad Éireann. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has this portfolio and wish her well in her role. I also wish her well in her work to marry together the very real challenges, pressures and realities of life in Ireland and the need for our country to react to the threats to our habitats and ecological life while also respecting the industries that work within it.
The motion commits to protecting nature by providing sufficient support to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, and reviewing the service's remit and structure. The reference to a review of the remit and structure of the NPWS is interesting because the challenges faced by our natural habitats are not just caused by humans but also by nature itself, including other invasive species. I cite in particular the erosion of huge parts of our woodlands in the National Park in Killarney by the invasive species, rhododendron. In this case, human interference is positive with dedicated men and women doing back-breaking work to clear the rhododendron.
However, there is a long-running issue and tension between the NPWS and the volunteers on the ground in Killarney, who have been clearing the rhododendrons for four decades. The volunteers on the ground know the ecology of the area very well. I met several of them during the summer, including the O’Donoghue family who operate the tour of the lakes in Killarney, and then in the evenings and weekends go out with other volunteers to do that back-breaking work to clear the rhododendrons because they value the area and are passionate about it. However, they are also very aware of protecting the area because they make their living from the tourism industry, as do so many in County Kerry, and they want to make sure they have a vibrant industry. There is a problem between the collaboration of the volunteer groups and the NPWS on this work.
The impact of the relentless erosion of woodlands by this invasive species is unbelievable. It is causing devastation to the ecological balance and to the habitat of many different species in the first national park established in this country. The destruction of the national park by this invasive species had been brought under control many years ago but the problem exploded again and in recent years volunteer groups have cleared hundreds of hectares of rhododendron from half a dozen of Killarney's most valuable woods. Volunteers have stressed the need for them to be able to go back in and conduct surveys and sweeps of the cleared areas to make sure the rhododendrons are not returning from dormant seeds. This request was not facilitated. That is the issue in that part of the motion and the power struggle with officialdom.
A couple of years ago The Irish Times carried a special major feature by Paddy Woodworth on the threat to our national park. It featured a quote from Therese Higgins who stated:
The issue is not who does the work ... but ... whether the cleared areas stay clear. I can see no way forward as long as NPWS conservation work is not directed by science.
The motion calls for the strengthening of the NPWS, but I do not want a strengthening of officialdom and the system if it is not working collaboratively with those who are trying to protect the ecology of the area who know it best. I accept that it is not just motivated by ecological reasons but commercial tourism reasons as well. If the jewel in the crown of Ireland's national parks is allowed to be destroyed because of a power struggle, tourists will never return to Kerry, pandemic or no pandemic.
I urge the Minister of State to address the issue in her closing remarks. I support the motion, which is very nuanced and very well thought out and researched. We can empower a lot of people to do work and find that the net result does not give us what we set out to do in the first place. I urge these Houses to listen to the people on the ground on many different topics. They are helping communities at the coalface.
I welcome the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. We know each other from Offaly and also from Galway. Like the Minister of State, who is a farmer, I also come from a farming background. I grew up on a farm, worked on a farm and got the green certificate. The amount of research that has been done in the past ten to 20 years that shows us the loss of wildlife and habitats is shocking.
It is crucially important to maintain wildlife and increase what we have. I believe local authorities have a crucial role to play in doing that. I mentioned my background and how I came to be involved in public representation in an earlier discussion. It was related to the environmental impact of the development of a waste transfer station in the Ballinasloe area. The impact was on the waterways in low-lying floodplains.
We came together as a community group to challenge the local authority and ensure that the habitats directive was upheld. I appreciate that, as mentioned in the motion, the status of protected natural habitats is under threat. I call on the Minister of State to consider providing, through future legislation, extra resources for the underfunded and under-resourced environmental section in each local authority. Individuals and groups, including community groups, are working together to protect the environment in which they live. We must ensure that they are supported in doing so but also that it is not the case that individuals must come together to fight against local authorities or groups that have planning unfavourable to protecting the environment.
Protecting wildlife is important. The River Suck has a special protection area, SPA. The birds directive covers a number of birds there, including the Whooper swan. As Senator Martin mentioned, the marsh fritillary butterfly is the only protected butterfly in the EU. It is found in Ballinasloe exactly where the low-lying floodplains are. The devil's-bit scabious is a food plant for it. How do we protect the devil's-bit scabious in our unique boglands?
I pay tribute to the groups that are doing great work. The Living Bog is protecting many of our raised bogs, for example, in Mountbellew. There are also a number of raised bogs in Roscommon. Such groups are doing their best to protect what is there and ensure that people can enjoy the resources and amenities on our doorsteps.
As well as making sure that we have regulations and biodiversity plans, we must bring our community groups with us. We must ensure that people can see the amenities, resources and wildlife habitats if we are to be able to maintain them in the long term, for example, walkways, cycleways and greenways that pass through the areas in a way that protects the land and the species, and if people are to know the value in keeping what we have.
Speaking as someone from a farming background, I take on board Senator Lombard's point about the importance of the generational aspect for farmers and bringing them with us. I come from an area where there are suckler farmers and many small farms, and off-farm income is crucial. Much of that income comes from ecotourism. I was pleased to see from a recent Teagasc presentation on using less technology and having lower emissions, including from slurry, that so much work was being done and that farmers were leading in terms of technology to ensure that we would be able to meet our European requirements. I call on the Minister of State to take into account the work that farmers are doing in leading the charge and to consider funding our local authorities to ensure that areas that are currently protected remain so and that, crucially, the number of wildlife habitats on publicly owned lands is increased. Our community group is going through all of that right now, which just shows that individuals and community groups have to fight hard.
Like other Senators, I welcome this motion on biodiversity. I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. Between the Mayo and Offaly connection and her love of land, she is the best person we could have as Minister of State with responsibility for this issue. I will work with her.
I could reiterate much of what has been said. Regardless of what side we come from, there is a recognition that we have to deal with this issue, but we must do so in a fair manner. That is evident from today's discussion. Many of us grew up in rural Ireland. I often make the point that those of us who were reared on small or medium-sized farms grew up with such positive environmental lives. We grew up where our parents would not touch a bird's nest. If we had some poultry in our gardens and during the summer our hens came along with a clutch of chickens, it was a fantastic thing for children to witness. The idea of working with schools is found throughout this motion and Government policy. If we listened more to our younger generation, we would see that younger people were coming up with many good ideas. As adults, we have to buy into that. One could not walk into any school today, be it urban or rural, without seeing biodiversity initiatives in action. That is fantastic. Combined with everything the pupils are doing with their teachers in this regard, it gives me great hope for the future.
In certain respects, some people have the belief that many farmers are basically anti-environment. They are not. The key to success is working with the farming communities. All farming organisations have environmental committees and specific members dealing with environmental issues. I spoke before the budget to members of Macra na Feirme. Their interest in biodiversity was extraordinarily positive.
I recall the environmentally friendly ways that our parents and grandparents had of dealing with issues. There was no dumping of waste food - the crumbs were thrown out to the birds. Children were told about every type of bird - that is a robin, that is a blue tit, that is a bullfinch. This all happened on the farms of Ireland. From my perspective, it was a most amazing experience as a young person. We need to find some way of returning to that. We must encourage people to grow vegetables and fruit trees in their gardens again. Those used to be part of every farm in my area of County Roscommon. I am sure that many of the Senators around me who come from a rural background, regardless of whether they now live in Dublin city, Cork city, Galway city or some other large urban area, can identify with this experience. It is an important aspect to remember in the debate.
Turning to the programme for Government, it is important that we see commitments to the promotion of biodiversity in our schools. The more we link up with schools, the more we will learn. It is important to review the protection of our natural heritage, including hedgerows. When discussing carbon, we must take into account the importance of our hedgerows in that regard.
Senator Dolan and others spoke about having stronger links with local authorities, be they in urban or rural areas, in terms of additional programmes and providing them the funding to do more.
People talk about pesticides on farms. I come from an horticultural background. It is what I studied in college. I do not like pesticides, but some use of pesticides is needed in some farm situations. Many of those farmers would like there to be a safer and environmentally friendlier way. Surely that is something that we can work through.
I like the great idea in the programme for Government about having an annual biodiversity award scheme.
If one dictates to or speaks down to people, one creates a barrier and a division. Regardless of our parties or whether we are Independents, we as politicians must always work to bring groups together.
If some farming group expresses anger or concern about an environmental issue then I believe going and speaking to those people, listening to their point of view and pointing out some change that can be made will be better for everybody. That often works. There should not be an "us and them" in this debate. It is important for all of us to keep that in mind as we further debate these issues and bring in legislation on them.
There were many aspects of farming in the past and it was tough for people to have enough income to survive. Remember, however, it is tough to have a liveable income out of many farming methods today. Any of us who are politicians will know that if farmers do not have what is called "the cheque in the post" and other things to help them along the route, they would not have financial survival mechanisms. That is the reality. Anything we can suggest or propose as politicians, in conjunction with the farming organisations or horticultural or agricultural organisations or whatever they are, might say to somebody if he or she made a slight change on his or her farm of 40 acres and started producing something else then it might pay. I am, however, a great believer in pilot schemes and adequately financing people to work on that for a few years to see whether it will work out financially.
All in all, this is a good motion. Obviously, there will be further debate on aspects of it but in terms of forestry we need to have a real and big discussion on it. I know that will come up in terms of what we will bring forward, hopefully, in 2021. There is much positivity coming out of forestry if it is handled the right way.
I have referred before to Sliabh Bawn in my neck of the woods and I believe I spoke to the Minister about it. Coillte owns a vast area of land where it has grown mainly trees and spruces, in particular, that we can have issues with. It is, however, an important part of creating jobs and money. In terms of where we put in a wind farm, however, which people did not like, Coillte along with Roscommon County Council has opened up a fascinating walkway and runway and it shows up the history of the area. It is a beautiful place I would encourage people to walk for their well-being. It is a fantastic place to have on one's doorstep right now. There are, therefore, ways we can make huge improvements and ways we can bring the vast majority of people with us.
I welcome the Minister. Many times we spoke about climate action and a climate crisis. This is our opportunity today as Greens to put biodiversity on the table for its own sake and not to mix up messages. Absolutely, we need to look at how both can exacerbate each other's problems but today it is about biodiversity.
As a Government, we have two Ministers with responsibility for biodiversity, one of whom is a Minister in Cabinet. We have the Ministers, Senator Hackett and Deputy Noonan, and that is a valuable position to be in. I agree, however, with many of the comments that this is an all-of-government issue and must go across every Department. In fact, as a spokesperson on education I believe it must permeate every bit of children's lives as well.
Today, what I will say is a kind of love note to suburbia because it often gets forgotten. Senator Moynihan spoke passionately about inner cities and architecture. We also hear from farming communities. I have had much experience coming from a farming background too but really I grew up, raised my family and will more than likely end my days in suburbia in a much-loved three-up, two-down.
When I was growing up we had insects hitting our windows. We were stung by bees frequently. We sat on our doorsteps and identified birds, as has been outlined by Senator Murphy as well on his farm. We did the same, however, in suburbia and it was an important part of our upbringing. What we did not have was the understanding of what we were about to lose. For that reason, steps were not put in place to save the things we were about to lose.
Much of this is related to the interests of corporations and monoculture but also a lack of understanding. We must bring people with us as we move forward. Suburban parks in those days were barren, scorched places and planting was frequently spruce. We must reverse that and bring people with us as we do so.
In the past few months, I have witnessed the unfolding of nature around me. On my street, mowing has stopped and I see wild flowers surging, children out playing and experiencing nature and older neighbours hand-picking weeds. My campaign manager, Claire Hillery, started a campaign in Galway called "Say No to the Mow". People became aware of all the colours they could see because of the surge in the number of wild flowers. When we looked outside, we no longer saw only green but pinks, blues and yellows, perhaps as a result of that.
I was also honoured to chair the climate action and environment strategic policy committee of Galway City Council at the time we put forward and adopted the all-Ireland pollinator plan. We had dedicated volunteers on the committee who did much work for years. Parks around the city have been transformed. What we must do is explain the message because the council has been criticised for not collecting grass or waste materials, for instance, and not doing as much mowing. We need to take that criticism on board, start a conversation on it and explain that we are doing this because we are giving back to nature.
The Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, will bring forward the fourth national biodiversity action plan next year setting out our policies under the European Green Deal and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. I welcome that. As Senator Dolan correctly stated, that needs to be implemented at local authority level. In my final year as a councillor on Galway City Council, we managed to have a biodiversity officer and a tree officer appointed. That has not happened in all local authorities but it is an area on which we can make progress.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, bogs were cherished as sources of fuel and because people had fun on them on days out with their families. The Department has funded a significant biodiversity restoration initiative, the Atlantic bog project, in recognition of the strength of the role bogs play in biodiversity and as carbon sinks. This was done outside the programme for Government. The project will be on 2,100 ha of bogs on the Atlantic coast and I am delighted that Derryclare bog in Galway will be one of them.
We need to remove commercial forests from bogland. I take exception to comments that we should not look at the economy. We must understand and recognise that farmers make a living from these lands. We must recognise that they have been let down by the Common Agricultural Policy. The EU habitats directive, the importance of which my colleague has spoken about, also gets a mixed reaction from farmers, particularly in the west which I know well. People need to make an income from their land, as they are used to doing. We need to look at biodiversity in economic terms as well.
I fundamentally believe this, which is why I welcome the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, being in the Department with responsibility for agriculture. She takes that approach and looks at farmers' interests as well as nature's interests. Both have to go hand in hand because human beings are part of the ecosystem.
When we were younger we looked at plastic and we now understand that we should not put all of the bottles into the same bin and we do not put paper and cardboard in the same bin as food waste. In the short time we have had, we have taken a huge step forward in our understanding of plastic waste, partly because people can look at images on David Attenborough's television programmes and elsewhere and see what it actually does to our marine life. This is the first step in some ways for us in the Government to look at biodiversity in the fullest sense and really show it to people in a really concrete way. When people stand at the front doors of their suburban homes they no longer get stung by bees or see insects or other wildlife. We must think back to how it used to be for previous generations and think forward to what we can do now and what the Green Party, Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael Party have the opportunity to do in government in partnership with the Opposition.
We have to call the Minister of State at 4.59 p.m. and we have four speakers remaining. This would mean they would get two minutes apiece but it is up to the next speaker, Senator Kyne, as to whether he wants to share time.
Is it possible to extend the time?
No, the order of the House is that we have to ask the Minister of State to respond and she has 15 minutes to do so.
Can we agree to change the order of the House and extend the debate by half an hour?
No, I am afraid not. Private Members' motions are two hours. Senator Kyne has eight minutes. That is the agreement of the House. That is just the way it is.
Of course I will share but I had a few things worked out to say. I welcome the Minister of State. This is a very important area. I am a former REPS planner and I know the important role farmers have played in environmental programmes over the years. The Minister of State will be developing a new REPS scheme. As the original REPS programme transitioned into the agri-environment options scheme and GLAS, it switched from a whole farm approach to more targeted measures. We saw that farmers recognise the value of stone walls and hedgerows and they became landscape features to be protected under basic farm payments. The riparian zones were a supplementary measure under the original REPS. There is great potential in nutrient interception, shading rivers and reducing temperatures in regard to the value of habitats as they are and as shelters.
The potential in this area is huge. I am particularly concerned that in the past many farmers viewed scrub as waste ground, as did the State which provided grants to reclaim it. That has changed and, as Senator Lombard said, newer generations understand the importance of habitats and ecosystems. The EU possibly does not as people still get money for forage areas. In order to avail of maximum payments farmers have to keep controlling those areas that are becoming scrubby. They are penalised with regard to areas that are not grassland or forage areas. I ask the Minister of State to see whether this can be changed in the next CAP.
I thank Senator Kyne for sharing his time. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate and wish her well. I thank the Green Party for tabling this important motion. I will shorten my speech considerably because of the time. Between 35% and 40% of the food produced worldwide is wasted. Europe should play an important role in food packaging. New types of food packaging will allow food to be transported further and further afield. Fresh flowers can be packaged and sent by sea rather than by air. All of the flowers from Africa come by air and are transported through Europe. They could be transported by sea using a modified air packaging system. This approach has to be pushed by the European Union and various European governments. Farmers should be compensated or paid if they play an active role in this.
On biodiversity, there was a major issue with a species of snail when the Naas dual carriageway was being developed. I have asked several Ministers from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine what has happened. Have surveys been carried out on any destruction caused or whether the Naas dual carriageway had a devastating effect on the snail at the time? Did the snail come back? Is it in the area at present? In my area, it was argued that wind farms would have a big effect on grouse numbers but grouse are now nesting under the pylons. I would like surveys to be carried out in this regard. We have an area of diluvian woodland and an issue with regard to displacement of the freshwater pearl mussel by infrastructure. Does development have a detrimental effect on freshwater pearl mussels or do they just move on to another place? I understand that no trials have been done in this area. I would welcome if something was done in this regard.
The Leader has agreed to extend the time, which the Whip will propose.
I propose that notwithstanding the Order of the House, we extend the time for this debate to 5.45 p.m.
Is that agreed? Agreed. The extension is to facilitate all Senators who wish to contribute. The convention is that Senators are allowed to speak only once. However, as Senator Kyne's time was cut short, I will allow him to contribute again. Senator Burke will also have more time.
I raised everything I had intended to raise, albeit briefly.
Food packaging is a multibillion euro area and new food packaging systems can be put in place now that allow food to be transported further and further throughout the world. The modified air system means the air in the carton or box is modified and kept at a certain temperature. Trials have shown that blueberries can last for 42 additional days after the box is opened. They are packaged, held in cold storage and then placed on the shelf. This is a big breakthrough. We have not seen any change to fruit and vegetable packaging in the past 30 years. Since the introduction of the tomato box, there has been very little change in the way stoned fruit and vegetables are packaged.
This type of modified air packaging gives considerable additional time to fresh flowers and would revolutionise the industry by using sea transport rather than air transport, which is used at the moment. The packaging would give shops and the people who work in the area more time to sell flowers because the sector is vulnerable, the produce is pricey and a lot of money is involved.
Regarding trials, surveys should be carried out. Many projects have been held up over the years by the intended displacement of certain species. Has that been as detrimental as proposed? We do not seem to have trials to say the Naas dual carriageway project went ahead and had a detrimental effect on a snail species. I wonder whether it had a detrimental effect. Did the snail move elsewhere? Has that snail species become extinct? What would have been the consequences if the Naas dual carriageway project had gone ahead at the time?
I am delighted to support the motion tabled by the Green Party. It follows an amendment that my party tabled in the Dáil last year that made Ireland only the second country in the world to declare a biodiversity emergency. Without doubt there is an emergency. We all learn from the people around us and we have all learned a great deal from David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg, most recently, over the past few years. I learned from a man that I would like to pay tribute to the late Joe Lynch from Valentia and Rathangan. He was incredibly passionate about the biodiversity and heritage both of his native Kerry and Kildare. Not a week went by that without me receiving an email or a newspaper cutting of an article from him on biodiversity. I miss receiving those missives from Joe and we miss him in so many ways. His message always was, "This is getting too late and we have a crisis." He was correct because the statistics show that the change in nature globally over the past 50 years is unprecedented when we consider how nature across the world has been significantly altered by human activity. We must do different things to make this right. We must respect the diversity of life and our habitats. We must strike a sustainable balance between man, animals, wildlife, what we grow and the earth.
Regarding Ireland's biodiversity heritage, I am very lucky that Pollardstown Fen is within 5 km of where I live in County Kildare. The fen is a most beautiful place and I recommend everyone to visit it to see its biodiversity that exists with support. I also live very close to the Bog of Allen and, again, there are specific actions that need to be taken there and at Ummerus Bog.
The Curragh is an important place for heritage and biodiversity. I look forward to support in this House to help declare the Curragh a unique conservation area. It needs to be designated a heritage park. I thank Gaye Brabazon and Karen Tyrell for all of the education that they afforded myself and many others on walks across the Curragh in helping us to learn and understand its flora and fauna. We learn much from those who went before us regarding how they preserved and respected the land. It is time revisit this issue.
I completely support, as this motion outlines, the programme for Government that has a number of additional actions. They are absolutely required over the lifetime of this Government to address the crisis. It is hugely important that these elements of the programme for Government are put in place.
I neglected to welcome the Minister of State back to where she sits and welcome her back to her own House. I agree with what Senator Pauline O'Reilly said, that is, the fact that the Minister of State comes from a farming background is very important in terms of understanding biodiversity. We need to strike a balance between supporting farming practices and the farming way of life yet protect biodiversity and, indeed, respect the many forms of life that exist in this country.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It was reported towards the end of last month or last week that our managed forestry estate has become a net emitter of carbon, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That would be a staggering finding as it contradicts the Government's position that Irish forests are a significant carbon sink and carbon store. I have just seen a statement provided by the Minister of State that refutes the claim so I would appreciate if she expanded on the issue. If the claim is true then it would make us one of two EU states where forests are emitters rather than carbon sinks.
Following freedom of information requests, we know that not a single environmental impact assessment was conducted on large scale plants in terms of peat soils. The forestry model has been touched on a lot here today. A new forestry strategy is due but it must deliver for biodiversity and our climate. It must also deliver for workers and communities who depend on forestry. The strategy must ensure that we grow the right trees in the right place yet not sacrifice biodiversity in the west, for example, by planting Sitka spruce or enable biodiversity destruction on intensive dairy farms in the east.
The last issue that I shall speak to is the honey bee. It is mentioned in the Sinn Féin amendment because we must protect the Irish native honey bee as it is at risk of extinction. A recent study showed that, potentially, we have the greatest reserve of the northern dark bee in the world. However, our magnificent bees are under threat from non-native bees that is leading to the hybridisation of our local native bees. I call on the Government to give particular consideration to the Irish native honey bee and act as quickly as possible as every passing day erodes the genetics of local bee colonies.
I have argued before that farmers would appreciate Natura and protected areas if they are compensated as they were under the rural environment protection scheme, REPS. As the Minister of State will know, there are excellent schemes that are targeted at geographical areas such as Burren Life, Aran Life and the hen harrier project. These schemes provide financial support and compensation for targeted works and measures.
REPS has taught farmers the value of stone walls and hedgerows. Thankfully, we have many thousands of kilometres of hedgerows but they were not taken into account for the carbon storage value because more research was needed on what value to place on them. Therefore, it is important that we get a value.
The impact of large-scale farming and tillage farming has seen the loss of some hedgerows and stone walls. As well as being habitats and ecosystems, they have practical benefits for farmers, whether in terms of controlling grazing or for shelter, and we must also acknowledge their historical values as townland or barony boundaries.
Planting of new hedgerows and the maintenance and protection of stone walls have been the cornerstone of previous REP schemes. Stone walls are features of the Aran Islands, for example, and many parts of the west coast. They are a unique part of the landscape. It has always seemed strange to me that many of the larger farmers in some parts of the country that have lower levels of habitat, whether it be hedgerows, scrubland or whatever else, would end up with higher payments than those who had many habitats and ecosystems under the single farm payment system. That could be looked at as well.
More could also be done in regard to trees. Each farm should have at least one grove of trees in conjunction, where possible, with neighbours, both as shelter for nesting birds and as corridors for mammals. That would all be beneficial. I am in favour of having planting events on farms where generations of the family come together, such as grandparents, parents and grandchildren. It would be a positive experience for a young child of between five and eight to remember planting a tree with their grandfather or planting a grove of trees with their parents, and when they are in their 70s and 80s, they would be able to do the same, or at least to remember it.
I mentioned the riparian zones and the importance of encouraging the planting of individual trees in hedgerows as part of schemes. Flooding, as we know, is natural. Climate change may make it more common or more sudden and result in greater volumes. Drainage schemes in the past were part of the solution to provide more farmland and there were and still are impacts downstream. Only with the agreement and compensation of farmers can some floodplains be recreated upstream from major cities or towns where there is a flood problem.
Reference was made to the re-wetting of bogs. We saw events in Clifden in September, and while we cannot say what the exact cause was, we must examine what solutions can be found. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is looking at solutions. Are there solutions upstream in terms of water storage on the bog areas? We have seen changes to the practice of clear-felling of trees, which is welcome. That is an issue that was highlighted in the early to mid-2000s in Galway when concerns were raised about eutrophication on Lough Corrib caused by sewerage works, septic tanks, coniferous plantation run-off and farming. It is debatable which order those causes would be put in but there has been much progress as well and improvements to all of those areas. As other speakers have said, knowledge and education in farming as well as investment has been most beneficial. In the 1980s there were many cases of silage effluent run-off causing pollution and fish kills and, thankfully, we no longer see that nowadays.
The first time I spoke in the Lower House in 2011 it was about invasive species, which is an area I like to speak about. Lagarosiphon major, African pondweed, is being maintained and controlled on Lough Corrib now but it was a problem. Rhododendron has been mentioned by other speakers. Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam are also invasive species that add to the challenges we face.
There is an onus and requirement on us to protect bogs, yet we must recognise the need for some to cut turf. Rather than taking a confrontational approach, which occurred in the past, the best approach is the reduce the need for the cutting of turf by means of the schemes we have for the insulation and retrofitting of homes. I took the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill on behalf of the then Minister, Deputy Madigan, in this House. It focused on looking at State-owned lands in regard to raised bogs. Many farmers were aggrieved because they felt that the small guy was being stopped and yet the big guys such as Bord na Móna and the State were being left untouched. There is recognition of that as well.
We extended the time provided for the debate to facilitate Members who were in the Chamber at the time but I will not allow any other speakers in. The Minister of State has been generous enough to stay on for another 45 minutes and I do not want to delay her further.
I thank Senators for their interesting and informed contributions and for their widespread support for the motion. The extension of time by half an hour demonstrates the passion in the House for this issue, which I welcome.
All Senators spoke passionately on the motion. I think of Senator O'Loughlin's account of the habitats and areas close to her own home. I thank Senator Boyhan for his well wishes for my party in this Government. I concur with Senator Murphy's comment to the effect that no matter what side one is on, everyone realises that we have to do something about the crisis we are in. On behalf of the Government, I am delighted to support the proposed motion on the biodiversity emergency put forward by my colleagues, Senators O'Reilly, Garvey and Martin.
Biodiversity is a keystone to our way of life and must be respected and restored, and it is essential that it remains high on the political agenda. We are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. As the motion indicates, on a European and national level, we are seeing notable declines in our overall net biodiversity figures for both species and habitats and general biodiversity quality. The primary drivers of these declines have been attributed mainly to human-related activities being carried out in an unsustainable manner, which have damaged and, indeed, removed many natural habitats that are essential for support. Senator Paddy Burke made an interesting point on the effects of current infrastructure. I accept he was coming from the other aspect of it, but it resonated with me in a different way.
Climate change also has a direct influence on biodiversity, both land-based and marine-based. If anyone needs reminding of the devastation that is happening in our natural world, a review of any of the recent documentaries from Sir David Attenborough, now in his 95th year, would soon illustrate in beautiful filmography what we have done. A number of speakers referred to him. The "Blue Planet" and "Our Planet" series are excellent, and his most recent documentary film "A Life on Our Planet", which is his self-declared witness statement on his life, and our future, is particularly sobering. It is well worth watching. The Covid crisis we are now in, as highlighted by Senator Moynihan, may well have its roots in ecological disruption and breakdown.
Biodiversity underpins every facet of our lives, be it the environmental, social, and economic foundations. I support the stated aim in the motion that action is needed by this Government to help reverse the marked decline in our biodiversity. I take on board the comments of Senator Cassells. A couple of Senators mentioned rhododendrons in addition to the many other invasive species of flora and fauna. As I helped on one occasion to clear rhododendron in Abbeyleix Bog, I fully acknowledge the slow, arduous, back-breaking process involved, largely undertaken by volunteers.
My party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, who has special responsibility for heritage in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, has within that remit, a significant role to play in biodiversity and natural heritage support, and with responsibility for the NPWS, there is a the vast expanse of lands within Natura 2000 designations. Senator Dolan raised the issue of local authority engagement. I assure her that the Minister of State will actively engage with local authorities in that regard. His Department will lead in the development of the 4th national biodiversity action plan, which should be in line with policies under the EU Green New Deal, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.
In his contribution, Senator Dooley also highlighted some of the positive developments from the Minister of State's Department. My Department along with Deputy Noonan's Department, and other Departments and State agencies, will actively work with a biodiversity focus on establishing a database for our natural capital, to establish an inventory of the ecosystem services we have, and their symbiotic relationship and value to the wider economy, society,and our shared environment. This involves developing new pollinator plans, supporting the collection of biodiversity data, developing a soils strategy, completing a national hedgerow survey, and carrying out a baseline biodiversity survey on Irish farms.
Many of these initiatives will be supported through budget 2021 funding, as well as the provision of biodiversity training for farmers, the very people we will probably rely on the to deliver in practice and on the ground for biodiversity. Senator Lombard highlighted that we have to get farmers on board in this regard. Doing so is a vital cog in achieving our ambitions.
Senators Boylan and Higgins regarded putting a monetary value on our ecosystems as unsavoury. I understand where they are coming from but I invite both of them to chat to farmers in designated areas and learn what the designation means to them and how their land has been devalued because of it. My colleague, Senator Pauline O'Reilly, put it much more eloquently in suggesting that if we want the farmers to manage the land in the way we want, we have to put a value on that management.
Positive measures being taken to address the biodiversity challenges of our country include numerous farm-based, locally-led schemes that work well. These projects are examining how we can incorporate biodiversity and the awareness of its importance into agriculture. There are 23 projects under way as part of European innovation partnerships, EIPs, many of which are steering efforts with a focus on improving our biodiversity and climate action. Many of the EIP goals, supported by my Department, target the restoration, preservation and enhancement of biodiversity in farmland habitats towards more sustainable agricultural management practices that will have positive implications for biodiversity. Support and engagement with citizens and farmers, as the custodians of much of our landscape, but perhaps not all of it, is critical in achieving this goal. Indeed, increasing the area under organic farming and in horticulture should also benefit biodiversity.
I did not realise Senator Kyne is a former REPS planner. I would appreciate having time to sit down with him sometime to discuss how we can position ourselves and make our vision for biodiversity fit with what farmers can and will want to achieve.
On food production, the value of direct pollination of human food crops has been estimated to be more than €50 million per year in Ireland alone, which shows how important a healthy biodiversity network is for the very food we eat. For example, adopting diverse hedgerows and allowing them to bloom and fruit, and introducing wildflower margins with diverse species mixes, can support and hopefully increase our dwindling pollinator populations. This requires active engagement with farmers on improving biodiversity-friendly practices, and every step on this road is a step in the right direction.
The all-Ireland pollinator plan aims to give much-needed assistance in this area for our pollinators. Senator Byrne alluded to the necessity of having a more ambitious plan. I would welcome that. I acknowledge the comments of my colleague, Senator Martin. He is an avid keeper of bees and is fully aware of the value that these workhorses of nature provide.
I was glad Senator Garvey spoke so eloquently about our soils. As she said, healthy soils contain an abundance of biodiversity. The value of nutrient cycling by soil organisms alone is estimated to be worth in the region of €1 billion a year.
Peat soils comprise approximately 21% of our land area. These areas are essential for carbon sequestration in our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Under the climate action plan, we aim to re-wet 40,000 ha of drained organic grassland soils that will reduce emissions by 440,000 tonnes. That is difficult to sell to farmers. Again, we need engagement to do that correctly.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly also made reference to the Wild Western Peatlands project. This is an important project, again supported by my Department. It will see Coillte Nature restore and rehabilitate approximately 2,100 ha of Atlantic blanket bog, restoring rare habitats of international importance. This involves re-wetting and restoring bogs as much as possible and establishing native woodlands on fringe areas, but only on suitable ground that could and should have trees planted on it.
Comments were made on forestry. I assure Senator Warfield that the next forestry strategy will factor in all the essential environmental and community concerns that have been absent in the past.
Biodiversity at sea is often forgotten about. I would like to draw attention to the importance of the marine environment. This Government is committed to supporting the principles and ambition of the EU's biodiversity strategy. Therefore, I fully support the call in the motion to develop steps for the identification, designation and management of marine protected areas in Irish territorial waters, aiming to ensure these areas cover 30% of our waters by 2030.
The EU Green New Deal, Farm to Fork and Biodiversity objectives are set to afford us all the opportunity to promote biodiversity and agricultural practices in a more blended way on our journey towards a more nature-sensitive and sustainable future. Efficient use and management of our natural resources, including water, soil and natural capital, underpinned by established environmental assessment legislation, is going to be the beating heart of our transition to a circular economy.
I support the motion, affirm the Government's commitment to the ambitions for biodiversity as set out in the programme for Government, and highlight the work being carried out by my Department and the Departments of my Government colleagues to achieve such goals. All our futures depend on getting this right.
It is our view in the Green Party that the biodiversity crisis should and must remain top of the political agenda over the next decade. Biodiversity is literally about the air we breathe, the food we eat and the places we live. The collapse of natural habitats, the loss of species and the degradation of our fresh and marine water ecosystems are on a scale unparalleled in human history. Future generations will judge us on how we respond to this existential crisis but we are up for the challenge. We all want to be able to look our grandchildren in the face and say we did everything today that we could, rather than hide away when they ask what we did. We are in the last second of the last minute before midnight as we face the complete destruction of all we have grown up to know and which our children will not know. Unfortunately, we must place an economic value on biodiversity because we live in an economic system. Although there is considerable social and natural value, including health and heart value, we have to have an economic value. I was disappointed to hear Sinn Féin may not recognise the need for that. Its members are always talking about workers' rights but the farmers are the workers at the centre if we are to be successful regarding biodiversity.
On a point of order-----
It is really important that we value their work in protecting biodiversity.
The Senator does not even understand-----
Senator Garvey, without interruption.
We will have to support the workers, the farmers. They are the most important people we need to engage with to protect our land and planet for future generations.
That is twisting my words.
I strongly support this motion. I am grateful that time was allowed for this motion and the amendment. It is important that we all work together on this. I do not want to hear about political footballs; this is too important. We owe it to future generations to do something. We can live on this planet only because of biodiversity.
I thank all the Members for their contributions to this important debate.
In accordance with the order of the Seanad of Friday, 23 October 2020, the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Friday, 6 November 2020. The House stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. on Friday, 6 November 2020 in accordance with the order of the Seanad.