In 2017 a partnership between the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of my Department and Fáilte Ireland was established to achieve the shared goal of further developing quality experiences at our National Parks and Nature Reserves. One major output from my Department's Strategic Partnership with Fáilte Ireland, was a Masterplan for the six National Parks and Nature Reserves. This provides a high level and integrated blueprint for the NPWS to invest in and better manage the parks and reserves network for conservation, biodiversity and visitor experience alike. In effect, it enables the aligning of conservation objectives of the parks and reserves network with increasing visitor appeal and numbers.
As part of my Department’s continuing commitment and contribution to protecting our heritage and recreation amenities, I continue to explore ways to optimise the sustainable potential of heritage sites in my care in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives.
Lough Hyne is designated as a Special Area of Conservation which is selected for three habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive (Large shallow inlets and bays, Reefs and Submerged or partially submerged sea caves). Detailed site-specific conservation objectives have been published for these three habitats (www.npws.ie/sites/default/files/protected-sites/conservation_objectives/CO000097.pdf). The targets outlined in these objectives help to guide appropriate management of the site.
My Department has been funding research to determine the cause of the decline of sponge communities in Lough Hyne since 2018. The precise cause has not yet been determined, though there are already some signs of recovery. Further research is being funded until 2027 and management measures will be put in place, as and when the research indicates the appropriate steps to be taken.