National Parks and Wildlife Service: New Strategic Action Plan

National Parks and Wildlife Service: New Strategic Action Plan

Full transcript:

I am apt to quoting song lyrics in this house. Today, an obvious one leaps out as a good fit, which is Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. It goes, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” We cannot continue to make these lyrics true. We cannot allow or precipitate the collapse of the biosphere that has sustained, shaped and nurtured us as a species and pave paradise to put up a parking lot. We need to normalise the protection of our natural world. We cannot look back and lament what we have lost. Our natural capital underpins our social and economic capital. It is essential to our very existence. For all that I love that Joni Mitchell song, my favourite song is that of the curlew, a song that is disappearing from our landscape, which I hope my children and their children will live to enjoy.

I have spoken several times in this House about the imminent EU nature restoration law. It must be ambitious, but it will be enormously challenging. The EU law will have to dovetail with our climate action plan and the biodiversity action plan and must be met by similar ambition in the new Common Agricultural Policy. This new strategic action plan will enable the National Parks and Wildlife Service to meet its current obligations. With increased resources and its establishment as an executive agency, it should be in a far stronger position to support the necessary ambition to protect and restore biodiversity. We need to begin to plan for the departmental capacity and resources needed to take on this challenge, restoring habitats at scale and addressing land use, land use change and forestry emissions. Our land is our greatest resource for carbon sink and carbon sequestration potential.

Fast-tracking the recruitment of 60 additional staff into the NPWS is welcome. As in so many other sectors, as we begin to face up to climate change and biodiversity loss with sincerity, we need to ensure that we have a qualified workforce to meet the employment opportunities created. We must ensure that our schools and universities are delivering quality programmes of study and research and developing flexible career pathways in biodiversity and nature. That means more ecologists, botanists and more environmental scientists throughout national and local government structures, throughout business and across society. It means better-paid jobs for them to go into. Entry level salaries for ecology, for example, are woefully inadequate. We need to attract the best and brightest into this sector.

The programme for Government commits us to appointing education liaison officers in each of our national parks to work with schools across the country, to promote the importance of biodiversity and the natural world and to involve pupils in the work that goes on in our national parks, which is clearly an area of interest to me as a primary school teacher. This will provide immense potential and opportunity for our children to engage in a practical way with nature.

The full organisation restructuring in the new strategic action plan is particularly welcome. The NPWS will be more resilient, better resourced and better equipped to play its part in Ireland’s response to the biodiversity emergency and deliver on its mandate to protect our natural heritage. Just as with the climate action plan, our response to the emergency that is biodiversity loss needs an all-of-Government approach. Resourcing the NPWS alone will not do the job. We must look at all Departments, public bodies, semi-states and indeed civil society and consider how they function in respect of biodiversity and nature. In the longer term, I believe we should look to examples such as in Wales, where consideration of wellbeing and the wellbeing of future generations has, by statute, to be considered in the decision-making framework of these organisations, but that is extraneous to today’s debate.

However, one matter relevant today is a key action in the new strategic action plan for the NPWS, which provides the opportunity for Government to consider the wider issue of the roles and functions of public bodies in relation to biodiversity and nature. This is a vitally important action with the potential to be far-reaching and systemic, which is needed to address fully the biodiversity emergency. As the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, said in his opening statement, the loss of nature is an issue that extends far beyond the NPWS. This action stems from recommendation 11 in Gerry Kearney’s report on the renew phase of this process, which states:

Consider a wider examination of the remits of the broader constellation of State actors with significant responsibilities in relation to Biodiversity and Climate action.

This would establish clarity as to where responsibilities lie; whether there is ambiguity, duplication or overlap, and most importantly where gaps exist that they are addressed coherently so that the State’s response in relation to Biodiversity and Climate action can be delivered coherently and effectively.

All Departments, agencies and local authorities must meet their responsibilities, not least their statutory ones, related to nature and biodiversity. I warmly welcome this new strategic plan and commend the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Malcolm Noonan. I commend the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the independent authors of the review and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, for his significant support and obvious personal interest in achieving this milestone strategic action plan.

More than 3,000 submissions were made by members of the public in the initial phase of this process, which has informed this strategic action plan. Our natural world fascinates and resonates with us. The sounds and smells of our natural world can transport us to places far away and across time. We are in danger of losing it all and in danger of undermining the ecosystems that have helped to sustain us as a species.