Ireland adopts Holistic Approach to Biodiversity

Ireland landscape with lake and hills
A recent publication of the fourth National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) for Ireland, backed by statutory powers, signals a critical turning point in the country's approach to nature conservation.

The National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) arrives at a time when Ireland’s natural landscapes are under pressure, linked to human activities and climate change. Once teeming with diverse flora and fauna, nature in Ireland is now facing unprecedented challenges, with every species category of native plants and animals ‘under threat’ and significant declines observed in crucial habitats.

Alarming statistics revealing the severity of the situation: Almost a third of EU-protected species and a staggering 85% of Ireland’s most precious habitats are in an unfavourable state, with nearly half experiencing ongoing declines. More than half of native Irish plant species have declined in the last 20 years. From marine ecosystems to peatlands, grasslands, and woodlands, the impacts of human-induced degradation are widespread, highlighting the need for urgent action. 

The root causes of this decline are multifaceted, but a fundamental issue highlighted by the National Economic & Social Council (NESC) is a historic failure to explicitly cite nature in policy decision-making, often being overlooked in favour of short-term economic gains.

To tackle these challenges, the NBAP emphasises accountability and measurable outcomes, with a focus on strategic interventions to conserve habitats, address invasive species, and promote nature-friendly practices in agriculture and forestry. The integration of natural capital accounting, (as advocated by NESC), offers a valuable tool for quantifying the economic value of ecosystems and integrating environmental considerations into national policy frameworks.

The plan, which details evidence of accelerating biodiversity loss in Ireland, sets out 194 actions to counter the widespread decline of nature and commits the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) to exploring ways in which rights of nature could be formally recognised – including potential for constitutional change.

The larger context of the EU’s nature restoration regulation further underscores Ireland’s commitment to nature conservation. By setting legally binding targets for ecosystem restoration and disaster prevention, coupled with the development of a national nature restoration plan, Ireland is aligning itself with broader international efforts to safeguard biodiversity and combat climate change. 

• Ireland’s 4th NBAP aims to protect and restore nature across the country
• It is the first biodiversity plan to be backed by legislation, with legal requirements for public bodies
• Actions include expanding National Parks, tackling invasive species, strengthening efforts on wildlife crime and working with communities
• Key recommendations from the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss are also addressed

Taking an ‘all-of-Government, all-of-society’ approach, Ireland’s fourth NBAP aims to meet urgent conservation and restoration objectives across terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, and secure nature’s contributions to people, while enhancing the evidence base for action and strengthening Ireland’s efforts on international initiatives. 
Promising initiatives towards reversing nature loss have already begun to be made through community-led efforts – supported by NGOs, local authorities, and landowners – which are making significant strides in habitat protection and restoration. Collaborative projects focusing on conservation, nature-friendly farming practices, and the engagement of biodiversity officers at the local level are yielding tangible results. A notable achievement is the restoration of vast areas of peatlands in the midlands and an increase in the corncrake population, demonstrating the effectiveness of targeted conservation efforts.

Ireland’s new Biodiversity Action Plan marks a pivotal moment in the country’s conservation efforts, with the recognition that nature conservation is not just a moral imperative but also an economic necessity. By leveraging statutory powers, fostering community engagement, and embracing innovative approaches, Ireland can chart a course towards a more sustainable future where nature thrives, benefiting both present and future generations.