My Department is responsible for implementing the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2018, the primary legislation underpinning the protection of biodiversity and nature in Ireland. The Wildlife Acts afford protection to a range of habitats and species and provide for regulation and control of activities that impinge on biodiversity, such as hunting and trade.
The legislative framework in place to protect biodiversity is further strengthened by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 SI No 477/2011, which also fall under the remit of my Department. These Regulations transpose the EU Birds Directive and the EU Habitats Directive into national law, and provide for protection of certain habitats and species across the European Union and give a framework for specific measures to be taken to target areas of concern in each Member State. The main instruments provided for are the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPA) aimed at the protection of threatened species of birds and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) aimed at protecting other animal species and habitats.
My Department is also responsible for developing and publishing Ireland's National Biodiversity Action Plan. The most recent Plan (Ireland's 3rd) was published in October 2017 and includes a number of actions aimed at assisting local authorities throughout the country in their efforts to protect and conserve biodiversity in their areas. Local authorities undertake much valuable work in this sphere and several have produced local Biodiversity Action Plans which are an important element in the overall approach to halting biodiversity loss.
My Department's National Parks and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor and protect biodiversity in Dublin through the implementation of the existing legislative framework and in particular will continue to protect and enhance the habitat and species within the designated European Sites listed for County Dublin. At the moment, these comprise three Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 12 Special Protection Areas (SPA).
As it does on a national level, my Department will also continue to advise on planning, forestry and EPA licence applications in each of the four Dublin area local authorities. It also engages in wildlife surveys and monitoring, carries out stakeholder liaison and maintains its educational role. My Department also has a remit to comment on a variety of licences under the Wildlife Acts with the aim of helping to protect biodiversity throughout the city and county of Dublin.
In support of the work carried out by local authorities, I announced yesterday at the National Biodiversity Conference in Dublin Castle, a commitment in the coming years to double the funding my Department makes available for local Heritage and Biodiversity Officers to implement biodiversity actions at local level and to tackle invasive species. A pilot grant scheme was introduced in 2018 to assist local authority led biodiversity projects and I am pleased that we are in a position to extend this scheme in 2019. In 2018 Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal County Councils all availed of funding under the pilot scheme.
I look forward to local authorities using the funding available for projects aimed at tackling invasive alien species in their areas. Invasive alien species are a significant threat to our biodiversity and can also have significant adverse effects in terms of the cost involved in implementing eradication or management measures. I want therefore to enable locally led works and also to raise awareness around invasive alien species and biodiversity matters more generally.
My Department is also preparing legislation to implement certain provisions of the EU IAS Regulation and this new legislation will strengthen and update existing legislative provisions around the management and control of invasive alien species in Ireland.
The work of local authorities is invaluable in efforts to halt biodiversity loss. The Dublin Bay Biosphere is an important initiative that is managed by the Dublin Bay Biosphere Partnership, which includes Dublin City Council, Dublin Port Company, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council, Fáilte Ireland and the National Parks & Wildlife Service of my Department. The Biosphere was expanded in 2015 and now covers Dublin Bay, reflecting its significant environmental, economic, cultural and tourism importance, and extends to over 300 km2. Over 300,000 people live within the newly enlarged Biosphere.
Finally, as well as funding commitments to support efforts to halt biodiversity loss, announced at the National Biodiversity Conference yesterday, I also announced a range of additional measures, 10 Seeds for Nature, that will raise awareness of biodiversity and strengthen the operational framework governing implementation of the legislative framework that is already in place.
These include bringing proposals to Government on Natural Capital; bringing draft legislation to Government to introduce a requirement on public bodies to consider what they can do to promote or restore biodiversity in the execution of their functions; and supporting climate change research to improve our knowledge and understanding of climate change impacts on biodiversity and assessing possible nature based solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.