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Ireland - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

More than 31,000 species occur in Ireland, 60% of which are invertebrates. Only 10% are “familiar” species such as plants, birds and mammals. It is estimated that there are at least 7,000 species of algae and fungi that have yet to be discovered in Ireland. Much of Ireland’s richest biodiversity is in the marine environment. In addition to possessing a great range of invertebrate communities, the country has high numbers of whale and dolphin species, large seabird breeding colonies, cold water coral communities in the deep seas and many species at the northern or southern limit of their distributional range. Ireland is also an important staging post and destination for migratory birds and holds significant populations of birds rare elsewhere in Europe, as well as internationally important wetland bird communities.

Many of Ireland’s habitats are internationally important due to their scarcity elsewhere in Europe and the unique species communities found within them, despite Ireland having a lower diversity of flora and fauna compared with continental Europe, due to its geographic isolation and glacial history. Ireland has very few unique or endemic species – much fewer than would be expected on an island. However, some species that probably occurred in Ireland before the last glaciations, and survived, have unique characteristics here, examples of which are the Irish Hare and the Killarney Shad.

A low proportion of species was assessed as having a 'bad' overall status. This includes three species of mollusc, three fish and one amphibian. These species are all dependent on freshwater for at least some parts of their life cycles. The critical situation of some of the more sensitive species, such as the freshwater pearl mussels, underlines the urgency of improving water quality in key areas. A majority of those species assessed as having 'poor' overall status are also water-dependent. All of the listed bat species were assessed as having a 'good' status. The majority of Ireland's important habitats have an unfavourable overall conservation status, particularly raised and blanket bogs, sand dune systems, fens and mires, natural grasslands and woodlands. Although the range for most of the habitats was assessed favourably, the structure and functions and future prospects, in particular, will require considerable management effort to improve this condition and reduce the impacts of pressures. Additional pressures on a number of species and habitats are likely to arise if Ireland undergoes climatic changes according to predictions.

A low proportion of EU annex species were assessed as having a 'bad' overall status, and most of these species are dependent on freshwater for at least some parts of their life cycles. The critical situation of some of the more sensitive species underlines the urgency of improving water quality in key areas. From an Irish perspective, biodiversity and ecosystem services have a clear link to supporting our agricultural sector (e.g. clean water, soil and pollination services, etc.). In the Irish study ‘The Economic and Social Benefits of Biodiversity (2008)’, the value of national ecosystem services, in terms of their productive output and human utility, was estimated at over 2.6 billion euros per year. In agriculture, the value of soil biota for nutrient assimilation and recycling is placed at 1 billion euros per year, but greater reliance on pollination could give an additional value of 220 million euros per year. Baseline pest control is worth 20 million euros per year before savings on pesticides of an estimated 2 million euros per year. The public utility benefits of sustainable farming have been put at a minimum of 150 million euros per year. The level of ecosystem services from forestry is valued at 55 million euros per year, but could rise to 80 million euros per year if more environmentally sensitive forestry is practiced, and more if broadleaf forestry is expanded. The quayside fish catch was estimated to be worth 180 million euros per year, but could be twice this amount if fish stocks were managed sustainably. Aquaculture and the seaweed industry are valued at over 50 million euros per year, excluding the assimilation value of waste by rivers. A tentative value of the ecosystem services provided by biodiversity to freshwater resources is placed at up to 385 million euros per year.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The key general threats have been identified as: (i) direct damage, such as peat cutting, drainage and infilling; buildings and infrastructure; reclamation of wetlands such as bogs and fens; removal of sand and gravel; (ii) over-grazing and under-grazing of grasslands, peatlands, and coastal habitats; (iii) pollution of both surface water and groundwater by nutrients or silt; (iv) unsustainable exploitation of water, sand, peat, fish and other natural goods and services; (v) invasion by alien species of plants and animals; (vi) recreational pressure in areas which were previously undisturbed.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

There are several examples to illustrate good progress in implementing Ireland’s first NBSAP (2002-2006). Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), with an approximate area of 1,350,000 ha, have been designated, with Marine SCIs occupying approximately 330,000 ha, and marine areas covering approximately 428,000 ha proposed for designation. One hundred and forty seven (147) Special Protection Areas (SPAs) have been designated to date, covering over 280,000 ha., including 66 marine SPAs covering 80,000 ha. Substantial progress has also been made in regard to the monitoring of protected habitats and species, and in the development of a comprehensive Irish Biodiversity Database. To date, 295 draft Conservation Management Plans have been produced for SCIs and 4,372 Commonage Framework Plans have been prepared, covering 439,840 ha.

Progress has also been made concerning agri-environmental measures to halt and reverse biodiversity loss in habitats suffering from over-grazing. Further, the legislative basis for biodiversity conservation has been greatly strengthened with the adoption of national and European legislation dealing with a wide range of environmental issues, including biodiversity conservation.

"Actions for Biodiversity 2011-2016", Ireland's second National Biodiversity Plan, addresses objectives raised by the international and European communities to reduce biodiversity loss. The plan comprises 7 strategic objectives: (i) mainstream biodiversity in the decision-making process across all sectors; (ii) substantially strengthen the knowledge base for conservation, management and sustainable use of biodiversity; (iii) increase awareness and appreciation of biodiversity and ecosystems services; (iv) conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the wider countryside; (v) conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystem services in the marine environment; (vi) expand and improve on the management of protected areas and legally protected species; and (vii) substantially strengthen the effectiveness of international governance for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Twenty-one national targets have been established, accompanied by 102 actions, headline biodiversity indicators that are expected to be adopted in 2012, as well as outcomes.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

As indicated above, 21 headline targets have been set in the revised National Biodiversity Action Plan (2011-2016) and specific actions have been identified to achieve these targets, with indicators for measuring progress in implementation expected to be adopted in 2012. The overarching target of the revised Plan is: “That biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems are reduced by 2016 and progress is made towards substantial recovery by 2020.”

Some 14% of the national land area is covered by designated areas, including Natura 2000 sites and Natural Heritage Areas. Statutory Nature Reserves cover 14,250 ha and National Parks amount to 64,171 ha. These designations cover most of the areas of particular importance for biodiversity in Ireland. The Forest Service has adopted the principles of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) to underpin national forestry policy and actions. Coillte Teoranta, the State Forestry Board, has also adopted SFM. Water quality of lakes and rivers has improved slightly during the latest reporting period. A number of lakes have shown improvements in trophic status. Commercial harvesting and angling of salmon is now strictly controlled and the 2008 allowable harvest indicates an increase to 86,000 salmon.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Funding programmes and incentives include: the natural heritage sub-programme, the water services sub-programme, rural development programme, rural environment protection scheme, forest environment protection scheme, agricultural incentives, forestry incentives and the Biodiversity Fund.

The Wildlife Act (1976) is the principal national legislation providing for the protection of wildlife in Ireland. The Act provides for, inter alia, the designation of Statutory Nature Reserves, Refuges for Fauna and Wildfowl Sanctuaries, and the protection of listed species of plants under the Flora Protection Order (1999). Currently, all bird species, 22 other animal species or groups of species and 86 species of flora are afforded protected status under the Act.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Biodiversity Forum oversees independent monitoring of progress in the ongoing implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the National Biodiversity Plan, highlighting progress and bottlenecks and ensuring on-going input to the development of national strategies to promote biodiversity conservation. The Forum provided input to Ireland's second National Biodiversity Plan prepared in 2011 and is broadly representative of the key stakeholders with an interest in biodiversity, including farmers and rural dwellers, environmental NGOs and the voluntary sector, business, academic and professional interests. It also helps to promote biodiversity conservation on an all-island basis and includes representation from Northern Ireland.

Substantial progress has also been made in regard to the monitoring of protected habitats and species, and in the development of a comprehensive Irish Biodiversity Database.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme