Ireland’s 3rd assessment on the status of listed habitats and species was submitted by my Department to the European Commission in April 2019. A summary report has also been published and is available on the NPWS website (https://www.npws.ie/publications/article-17-reports). In addition, detailed reports have been published, exceeding 2000 pages of assessments. These assessments were undertaken by over 40 scientific experts.
The aim of the EU Habitats Directive is to contribute towards the conservation of biodiversity by requiring Member States to take measures to maintain or restore natural habitats and wild species listed on the Directive. They have been listed because they are considered vulnerable at a Union level. Ireland has 59 habitats and 68 species listed on the Directive.
The habitats that occur in Ireland are a good representation of Ireland’s semi-natural and natural habitats covering marine, freshwater, peatland, grassland and woodland habitats. The species listed on the Directive include whale and dolphin species, bats species, other mammals such as otter, hare and pine marten; as well as plants, invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Many are important indicators of wider ecosystem health. Birds are not listed on this Directive as they are covered separately by the EU Birds Directive.
In Ireland, 85% of habitats are reported as being in Unfavourable status with 46% demonstrating ongoing declines. The main drivers are agricultural practices which negatively impact over 70% of habitats, particularly ecologically unsuitable grazing, abandonment and pollution. The Unfavourable status of many habitats is not surprising as this is the reason they have been listed on the Directive; however the ongoing declines are of particular concern.
The status of species is somewhat better with 57% assessed as Favourable and 30% of assessed as being in Unfavourable status, with 72% demonstrating stable or improving trends while15% demonstrating on-going declining trends.
Generally, bats, otter, pine marten and grey seal are doing well. Losses are noted in species reliant on ecological suitable grazing regimes (whorl snails for instance) and high water quality (pearl mussel and several fish species).
Climate and biodiversity are inexorably linked and climate change will exacerbate the impact of pressures with peatland, coastal and freshwater systems. My Department is currently finalising a sectoral Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Biodiversity as part of the Government’s overall climate change adaptation strategy.
Biodiversity underpins all aspects of our lives and society. Halting biodiversity loss is not simply a matter for a single agency or department. However, my Department is the lead for implementation of biodiversity policy in Ireland and takes this responsibility very seriously and will continue to work across a range of areas, engaging across sectors, to tackle biodiversity loss.