Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government
332. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if his Department is currently considering applications or initiatives to develop new national parks; the process in place to support and facilitate such initiatives; the criteria that exists for being designated a national park; and his policy on developing new national parks. [29542/21]
Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), my Department manages an extensive network of natural heritage sites of some 87,000 hectares. The 6 existing National Parks of Ireland account for circa 65,000 hectares of this network with a further 22,000 hectares comprising nature reserves and other heritage sites.
Our National Parks are managed as Category II National Parks under the criteria set out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Under this Category, ownership and management should normally be by the highest competent authority of the State. Accordingly, all National Parks in Ireland are fully owned and managed by the State through the NPWS Division of my Department. It is the policy of my Department to abide by the criteria and standards for the National Parks laid down by the IUCN which can be found at www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about/protected-areas-categories/category-ii-national-park
The 6 existing National Parks are managed from a conservation perspective, and attract in excess of 4 million visitors annually. Given the resources available for capital investment within our National Parks and Nature Reserves, I am ever mindful of the need to focus on the core responsibilities relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves lands and have no plans at present to increase the number of National Parks in the country.
In line with the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future, the NPWS is actively looking at Biosphere designation nationwide, and is currently working on an application for submission to UNESCO for the Lough Ree Area. The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to realise our outstanding target of 10% marine protected area (MPA) coverage in Ireland's waters as soon as is practicable, aiming for 30% by 2030. In this regard we have committed to deliver comprehensive legislation for the identification, designation and management of MPAs in Ireland. It is within the framework of such legislation that the Government will deliver the establishment of clearly defined marine protected areas, including processes for their identification, designation and management.
The NPWS is continually implementing "Experiencing the Wild Heart of Ireland", its tourism interpretative plan for our National Parks and National Reserves. This document sets out a road map for investment at these important nature conservation, public amenity and tourism sites and underpins the objectives of Project 2040. While my Department has no specific plans to expand the park network at present it is actively ensuring the preservation, protection and presentation of the assets it already owns. Recent land acquisitions in this regard underpin the Government’s on-going commitment to the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations of citizens and visitors alike to enjoy. These include the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park through purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin Uplands at Glenasmole in 2016 and a further 79.08 hectares at Carrigcurra in 2020 ; the 2018 expansion of Wild Nephin National Park to create a State – owned wilderness project of over 11,000 hectares; and in 2021, the acquisition of 21.96 hectares at Knockauns adjacent to the Burren National Park.