Bird species are in decline everywhere – but in Ireland it’s worse

Bird species are in decline everywhere – but in Ireland it’s worse

Some 63 per cent of Irish bird species are in “serious trouble” compared to almost 50 per cent globally, according to Birdwatch Ireland and RSPB Northern Ireland.

Yet there was no funding in yesterday’s 2023 Budget for nature preservation in a move branded as “shameful”.

State of the birds

The comments followed the release of the latest State of the World’s Birds report which “paints the most concerning picture yet of the future of avian species and, by extension, all life on Earth”.

BirdLife International found one in eight bird species worldwide is now threatened with extinction, almost half are in decline and just 6 per cent increasing.

“Humans are responsible for most of the threats to birds,” the report states.

“Foremost among them are agricultural expansion and intensification which impacts 1,091 globally threatened birds (74 per cent); logging affecting 734 species (50 per cent); invasive alien species which threaten 578 (39 per cent) species; and hunting and trapping which puts 517 (35 per cent) species at risk.”

Stark picture in Ireland

In Ireland, the bird decline is greater than the global average. While around the world, 49 per cent of bird species are in decline, in Ireland, 63 per cent of birds are.

Campaign officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), Padraic Fogarty said on the report that “as usual Ireland is ahead of the game”, beating as 63 per cent of the country’s bird species are on the red or amber lists.

The 2021 Bird of Conservation Assessment Birds of Conservation Concern assessment was published by Birdwatch Ireland (BWI) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Northern Ireland.

It found 25 per cent of Irish birds are in severe decline and a further 37 per cent showing moderate declines.

Farmland birds like Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe, Kestrel, Skylark were found to be most at threat with upland and lowland wetland birds also faring badly.

Habitat loss and degradation, river and lake pollution, rodenticide use, overfishing, disturbance by people and dogs, plastic pollution and bird flu add up to make the countryside less and less hospitable for birds, says Oonagh Duggan, Head of Advocacy at BWI.

“The pressures and threats on bird species keep mounting,” she added.

“Largely, sectoral policies in Ireland continue to take from the land and sea without giving anything back to protect and restore habitats for the wildlife they also support,” Duggan said.

Lack of financing

Duggan criticised yesterday’s Budget for its lack of financing in this area.

“Budget 2023 failed to acknowledge or financially address the biodiversity emergency that the Dáil declared in 2019,” Duggan said.

“The 20 per cent increase in funding for the National Parks and Wildlife Service that Minister Malcolm Noonan secured is welcome.

“[But] the stark loss of biodiversity is not getting through to the whole of the government.

“This is deeply worrying as some bird species may go extinct in the next five to 10 years and habitats may be unrecoverable and that will bring terrible shame to this first world European country.

“Birds are indicators of the health of our environment because they are so well studied. If we fail to restore nature, it means that we are failing to safeguard our own futures on a healthy planet.”

Biodiversity in Ireland

In spite of acknowledging that biodiversity loss is an emergency, Ireland has a very poor track record on protecting nature and ecology.

Although both climate change and biodiversity were declared emergencies in 2019, neither came with binding targets.

IWT has repeatedly warned that Ireland is facing a mass extinction event with a third of all species groups examined threatened with extinction or ‘near extinction’.

This includes plants, birds, butterflies, freshwater fish, dragonflies and sharks. Changes to farming have meant that a third of all bee species in Ireland could be extinct by the end of the decade. IWT has also warned of ‘extinction denial’.

An unpublished, government-commissioned report on the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) found that the state body charged with protecting the habitats and biodiversity in national parks, protected sites and nature reserves, is not able to protect the natural environment effectively.

Although there is a National Biodiversity Action Plan, very few of the critical action points have been completed.

Even when peatlands are designated as Special Areas of Conservation, they are still being destroyed.

The European Commission has 15 open infringement cases against Ireland over environmental issues.

An investigation by The Journal last year found that just over 60 per cent of legally protected nature areas have conservation objectives that are specific to the species and habitats that are designated to protect.

Almost no site has a management plan.

Ireland, which has a lower natural species population than the rest of Europe due to the last ice age, has documented 120 species as extinct since the arrival of people. The real number is likely significantly higher than that.

Just 2 per cent of Ireland’s seas are designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). That is well below what it needed to protect species and there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law and are urgently urging the government to create robust and ambitious legislation to protect, manage and monitor Irish waters to the edge of the continental shelf.

This article by Shauna Corr and Eithne Dodd was first published by Buzz on 28 September 2022. Lead Image: Atlantic puffins seen during a breeding season seen during the breeding season on the Great Saltee Island. The Saltee Islands are made up of two uninhabited little islands off the southeastern coast of Ireland. The islands are a paradise for seabirds and a breeding ground for fulmar, gannet, shag, kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill and puffin as they lie on an important migration route and are a popular stopping point for spring and autumn migratory birds (Image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images).

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