Written answers

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government

Office of Public Works

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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209. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will provide an update on the action taken by the OPW to protect national parks. [10496/23]

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is the Executive Agency within my Department with primary responsibility for nature conservation, wildlife protection and the presentation and preservation of our National Parks and Nature Reserves. Our six National Parks, Killarney, Connemara, Wild Nephin, Wicklow Mountains, Glenveagh and The Burren are all managed as Category II National Parks under the criteria set out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

This Government, in its Programme for Government, committed to reviewing the remit, status and funding of the NPWS. That independent, multi-phase Review was completed in Spring 2022. It culminated in a Strategic Action Plan with fifteen key recommendations to renew the NPWS, establish it as an Executive Agency within a Government Department, and made it a more resilient, more effective organisation, fit to meet the current challenges. This Action Plan was accepted by Government and is now being implemented. One of the actions arising has been the strengthening of the management of our National Parks through the appointment of a dedicated Park Manager for each Park. The Park Managers are supported by dedicated teams of regional staff.

All of our National Parks are managed for nature conservation, as well as for education, and public access for the enjoyment of nature. Each of our Parks has its own unique requirements, however, there are some management challenges that are tackled across a number of sites. For example invasive species management is a long standing and ongoing practice in a number of our Parks. The culling of the deer herd is another regular and on-going management operation within our National Parks. The culling of deer is undertaken periodically when resources, weather and timing allows. The NPWS is working towards sustainable herd management, and, as such, there is, and will continue to be, a need to remove a certain percentage of animals from the herd on an on-going basis.

In 2017 the partnership between the NPWS and Fáilte Ireland was created to achieve the shared goal of further developing quality experiences at our National Parks and Nature Reserves. One major output from the Strategic Partnership with Fáilte Ireland, was a Masterplan for the six National Parks. This provides a high level and integrated blueprint for the NPWS to invest in and better manage the Parks for conservation, biodiversity and visitors alike. In effect, it enables the aligning of conservation objectives of the Parks with increasing visitor appeal and numbers. The Masterplan guides the phased development of these enhanced visitor facilities and improved visitor experiences based on research into international best practice. The Department intends to produce visitor and management plans for its National Parks on an on-going basis, the availability of resources permitting.

As part of the NPWS' continuing commitment and contribution to protecting our heritage and recreation product, it has been exploring ways to optimise the sustainable potential of heritage sites under our control in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives. In this context, it should be noted that the NPWS negotiated the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park by purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin Uplands at Glenasmole in 2016. And in 2017 the entire Wild Nephin area was consolidated into the ownership of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This creates a State–owned re-wilding project of over 11,000 hectares and aims to provide increased nature conservation benefits and biodiversity as well as enhanced recreational and social benefits through the ‘re-wilding’ of the forest which adjoins the National Park.

Given the resources available within our National Parks and Nature Reserves, I am of course mindful of the need to focus on the core responsibilities relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves lands; my focus is on conservation objectives for Natura 2000 sites in the first instance. Ireland's National Biodiversity Plan captures the objectives, targets and actions for biodiversity to be undertaken by a wide range of stakeholders in Government, society and private sectors to achieve Ireland’s vision for biodiversity not just in our own National Parks but countrywide.


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