With the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service (IPBES) Global Assessment, the publication of Ireland’s Sixth National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and subsequent cross-party support for the Dáil motion declaring “a climate and biodiversity emergency” in Ireland, now more than ever before has there been a clear need for key performance indicators on the protection of wild Ireland.
The National Biodiversity Indicators, collated by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in support of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (National Parks and Wildlife Service), provide this framework and the latest report is now available to download from their website (http://indicators.biodiversityireland.ie).
“The 52 indicators underpinning this latest assessment represent a range of direct metrics such as the growth in protected areas or changes in insect populations, but also indirect indicators like changing attitudes towards wildlife protection or the number of local authority biodiversity action plans currently in place.”, said Dr. Tomás Murray, Senior Ecologist at the National Biodiversity Data Centre and coordinator of the project. “Overall, we’re making clear progress in only 31% of the indicators, with progress in 65% being either static or poor and another 4% are of uncertain status”.
“The greatest gains over the five years or so, have been in awareness and knowledge of Irish biodiversity. As an example, in the latest European surveys on attitudes to wildlife protection now over 90% of Irish people agree that looking after nature is essential in tackling climate change, and at 4.2 million there are now three times the number of biological records in the Data Centre as we had 10 years ago.”
In contrast, certain measures that directly relate to governmental actions that safeguard Irish biodiversity are far from positive. Based on data from the Central Statistics Office the level of national expenditure on biodiversity in 2016, the latest year available, was €143 million: 27% below the preceding five-year average and 47% below the 10-year average. If this trend continues, key national policies such as the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 will be not fully implemented due to lack of resources.
Dr. Murray emphasises that there is always a lag time from when policies and programmes are implemented to when it is possible to detect their impact on wild plants and animals, but despite recent efforts to protect and restore nature in Ireland: “Fundamentally, the current status of Irish wildlife remains precarious. 91% of our habitats designated under EU law are ‘inadequate’ or ‘bad’ status, the number of high impact invasive alien species introduced into Ireland over the past 50 years has increased 183% and 90% of our species have yet to have their risk of extinction assessed.”
Ireland is a signatory to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and is committed to the biodiversity goals and targets set out in the Convention’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. The 20 biodiversity targets, commonly known as the Aichi 2020 Biodiversity Targets, relate to the sustainable management and use of the world’s biological resources and cover a broad range of actions, including mainstreaming biodiversity conservation across government and society, and reducing pressures on biodiversity and promoting its sustainable use. To help focus conservation effort and support the development of evidence-based metrics to measure progress on achieving international biodiversity targets, the CBD-mandated Biodiversity Indicator Partnership was established in 2007 to provide guidance to nation states in developing National Biodiversity Indicators.
“At a time when biodiversity is under increasing pressure, it is essential that we have a broad set of national indicators that objectively can track how Ireland is doing on meeting its biodiversity commitments”, said Dr. Liam Lysaght, Director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre. “The challenge for the National Biodiversity Data Centre is to expand its work programme so that the evidence base for how biodiversity changing is sufficiently detailed and robust to detect changes at the local and national level. This has become all the more important now, as we see the impact of climate change” he added.