The Emerald Isle? Taking a Closer Look at Dublin’s Biodiversity
22 May 2020
“Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.”
From Patrick Kavanagh’s Canal Bank Walk
‘Green’ is a word synonymous with Ireland. From the promotional videos used by Fáilte Ireland down to the shamrock bowl presented to the White House every March 17th, Ireland prides itself on this association. Green is also a word associated with environmentally-friendly practices, but the ‘green’ that Ireland prides itself on is certainly not of the ecological variety. Firstly, Ireland ranks among the worst in Europe in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita and is consistently accused of being a ‘climate laggard’. Secondly, we have a poor record on the protection of natural landscape and the biological diversity within them; even as the world declared a Biodiversity Crisis we still fare comparatively poorly. With people realizing the importance of nature and green spaces during their confinement in lockdown, and it being the International Day for Biological Diversity, let’s see how Dublin city stacks up.
Planning for Biodiversity
Dublin City has a biodiversity action plan which is the main tool used by Dublin City Council when considering biodiversity in the city. The language within the plan is non-committal and weak, and many key objectives such as ‘ensure that all plans, programmes, strategies, works, and permissions within Dublin City, comply with biodiversity legislation’, are legal requirements regardless. The plan was criticized by environmental groups when it was released, saying it would not be enough to prevent biodiversity loss and that it lacked ambition in its scope. This is a general trend for such biodiversity plans, where little resources and ambition are put into considering how biodiversity can exist in urban environments. It is estimated that 90% of Ireland’s protected habitats are in bad condition, yet Dublin’s action plans are aimed at maintaining current levels of biodiversity and habitat conditions, rather than improving them.
“There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife”
Dublin city appears to tick the box on green spaces, with Phoenix park being the largest capital park in Europe, but green spaces do not equate with biodiversity. Monoculture parks of mown grass host very low biodiversity, and lack of education and awareness play a part in this. This lack of ecological awareness is both top-down and bottom-up. One element of the Irish Climate Action Plan is to plant 8,000 hectares of new forestry annually, most of which will be outside of Dublin. However, 70% of this will be coniferous trees which do not host as much biodiversity as native broadleaf forest – yet such plantations are more commercially profitable.
Citizens taking the lead
There is a wealth of wonderful initiatives led by citizens to promote biodiversity in Dublin, including (but certainly not limited) to the All Ireland pollinator plan, Crann, Birdwatch Ireland, and the herpetological society. The National Biodiversity Data Centre also has a plethora of workshops and information on recording and encouraging biodiversity. The amount of grassroots initiatives for biodiversity conservation in Dublin shows that the public will is there, the government just needs to harness this and foster it. Education is also an important component as people may be willing to, for example, plant wildflowers but they may plant invasive species and end up doing more harm than good.
The biodiversity action plan helps Dublin maintain its biodiversity – but there is not much of that in the first place. The number of resources that it would take to make Dublin more biodiverse may be better spent in targeting areas which have small human populations. There is simply no sufficient space for biodiversity to be improved in Dublin where there is a lack of habitat for humans, let alone wildlife. In the meantime, initiatives to preserve what is already in Dublin, such as the UNESCO biosphere reserve North Bull Island, should continue and be encouraged by the government. Preserving these habitats is important not only for the intrinsic value of biodiversity but also in preventing further Zoonotic disease outbreaks and supporting overall ecosystem functionality. So, celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity by going for a walk or cracking the window and listening to the birdsong. Then begin plotting how to make one of the next Irish government’s priority improving biodiversity, to make Ireland truly ‘green’.
Featured photo by Freddie Ramm