Biodiversity Week coincides with ‘critical year’ for Irish nature

More than 130 events will be staged across the country as part of National Biodiversity Week 2022, coinciding with “a crucial year for Irish biodiversity”, according to organisers the Irish Environmental Network (IEN).

Funded by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), activities running up to May 22nd will celebrate Ireland’s natural landscapes, while highlighting their vulnerability. The full program is available on biodiversityweek.ie.

Speaking at its launch at Enniscoe House on the shores of Lough Conn in Co Mayo on Friday, Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said it was “a great opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to get out into nature and learn how to make space for it in our own communities “.

IEN chief operating officer Justin Byrne added: “After two years of a pandemic, we have seen our relationship with nature shift. We have observed first-hand how healing and essential time in nature is to us all. From the beauty of spotting wildflowers on a walk to the joy of observing a bird in your backyard, the diversity of our flora and fauna keeps our eyes, mind and hearts open and full of wonder.

“Building a stronger knowledge of and cultivating an appreciation for our biodiversity is something everyone can benefit from. But it is essential that this pleasure should not be taken for granted. We have a lot to be grateful for within our natural environment and this gratitude should propel action to help preserve and sustain these ecosystems, which sustain our very lives as we know them, ”he added.

The week is supported by the Heritage Council. Its chief executive Virginia Teehan said she was struck by the ingenuity of organisers, with each event offering something new and exciting for people to enjoy. “I would like to thank the heritage volunteers and professionals who are once again making themselves available to showcase the wonderful biodiversity on offer across the country.”

“Events range from guided tours to spot whales and bats, to hands-on workshops for building community wildlife gardens. Webinars will cover the importance of biodiversity for human health, wellbeing and Irish culture, as well as what cross-sectoral economic measures can aid life-supporting nature, ”said IEN chief executive Karen Ciesielski.

She underlined the importance of the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity, which has its first formal session this weekend, in scrutinising Ireland’s response to biodiversity loss. “We need as many people as possible calling for far-reaching, transformative solutions to the emergency we face,” she said.

Despite the Dáil declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019, “action to address the dire state of our biodiversity has been woefully inadequate”, she added, noting 85 per cent of Ireland’s EU-protected habitats have been reported as being at an “unfavourable “Status. Some 46 per cent of these were found to be presently in decline.

“While these numbers are distressing, it is a necessary reminder that we have an opportunity and an obligation to engage with and care for our natural world and we look forward to engaging with the public on these issues throughout this year’s National Biodiversity Week,” Ms Ciesielski said.

Engagement with nature needed to be sustained year-round, she said. “We encourage everyone who feels inspired or moved by nature over the course of Biodiversity Week to carry that feeling forward and make their own submission to the [Citizens’] Assembly calling for the protection of our indispensable biodiversity and the immediate restoration of our natural habitats. ”

Coastwatch is organizing a number of events including “a seagrass bed discovery fieldtrip to Quilty Bay ”in Co Clare this Saturday, May 14th, with a show and tell of findings in the Armada Hotel afterwards. Last summer there was no official record of this seagrass bed, which acts as a major carbon store – it was discovered as part of its seagrass citizen science campaign.

The Heritage Council is offering a limited number of free “Heritage in Schools” visits to primary schools – details at heritageinschools.ie.

Mr Noonan has also launched Legacy4LIFE, a program developed by An Taisce to develop community-based supports for Ireland’s natural environment focusing on “ecosystem resilience” and biodiversity enhancement.

The € 500,000 program is funded by the EULIFE program – the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action – the European Climate Foundation, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communication.

The program was initiated by Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University as a direct contribution by Ireland to the new European Green Deal. It has three strands – pond biodiversity, advancing “farm to fork”, and green communities.

The pond project will look to build Irish capacity and expertise in pond creation, management and conservation, and to disseminate much-needed information on the value of ponds for biodiversity, water quality and climate mitigation, in addition to public amenity / blue space.

Advancing farm to fork will seek to educate producers and consumers in Ireland on the opportunities offered by alternatives to current intensification-based food production methods. It will center on clarifying the cost and impacts of current agricultural practices by highlighting science-based evidence and promoting organic agriculture “in delivering a robust, diverse and resilient food system in a post-Covid recovery”.

The green communities strand will develop templates for shaping and celebrating recognizable low-carbon community plans in both urban and rural settings.

At the core of the program is collaboration at both institutional level among public- and private-sector organizations and within the wider community at large.

Prof Sweeney said: “This project exemplifies the intertwined nature of the climate and the biodiversity emergencies. The capacity to bring communities along the journey to a decarbonised future is critical and is also a strength of civil society. An Taisce is to be commended on taking the lead in bringing this program to life. ”

Mr Noonan said he was pleased the NPWS was able to support the ponds element. “Whether large or small, rural or urban, ponds can be surprisingly rich and biodiverse habitats that benefit a range of freshwater species. They’re also enormously fun to create and observe. I hope this project encourages people across Ireland to make space for nature in their gardens, communities, farms and in the wider public realm. “

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