Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage
I thank the Minister of State for being present for this debate. Amendments Nos. 37a to 37d, inclusive, relate to proposed changes to the definition of "favourable conservation status" within the Bill. The definition is important, as the criteria it sets out will essentially set out how bogs will be evaluated within the review under this new section 18A, which ones will be determined worthy of receiving special status to preserve into the future and which will be designated as a result. The definition, therefore, of "favourable conservation status" needs to be comprehensive, developed and able to fully capture the current and future environmental value and capacity of a bog habitat. While I recognise the Government has committed €5 million in 2020 to peat bog restoration, this will need to double and treble in 2021 to 2022, as €5 million is unfortunately inadequate given the current state of our bog network and habitats and the important role they will need to play in the future in respect of Ireland's targets on climate action. We, therefore, need to ensure the definitions in this Bill that will cover the review of our national bog network are robust and can be stood over.
Amendment No. 37b proposes to add an additional clause when a bog habitat is being evaluated whereby in addition to judging whether the structure and functions exist for its long-term maintenance and such maintenance into the future, there would be an evaluation of whether such conditions are likely to exist in the future. These are natural biodiverse and organic environments and an assessment of their condition at a single moment in time ignores their future potential. People are also currently being trained in bog restoration and there will be more people with the necessary skills in the future to support work of rewetting, conservation and restoration. By altering this definition to incorporate the potential future growth of long-term sustainability, we need to make this amendment to broaden the definition and to account for the evolving skill base as more and more people become trained in bog restoration.
Amendments Nos. 37a and 37b are important and make a key change to the criteria on which the conservation status of a bog or species can be considered favourable. The current definition uses terms such as "stable" and increasing" in subsection (a) and "favourable" in subsection (c). However these terms are incomplete in fully assessing the environmental value of a bog habitat in terms of its potential dedesigation, which is why we propose that the term "significant" would also be included in the assessment. It is certainly the case that something may be diminished but it may still be significant. Land may have shrunk but it could still be a key wildlife corridor. A species may have diminished but there may be a small number as a reservation which make it significant. To only view the environmental value of these habitats through the prism of the words "stable, increasing and favourable" is limited and inadequate without also an assessment of their significance. "Significance" is a broader term which the Minister of State can cite in making these crucial evaluations where the limited metrics of their current stability or favourable status can be looked beyond in a fuller, more comprehensive analytic assessment. I urge him to accept these amendments considering the now widespread fears this Bill has aroused in the wider conservation and environmental movements in Ireland.