Sites of Community Importance

423 SENSITIVE WILDLIFE HABITATS HAVE BEEN NEGLECTED

Ireland has been referred to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission for failing to apply conservation measures to hundreds of sensitive wildlife habitats, previously identified as sites of community importance, that were to be designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Legislation setting out EU member states’ responsibilities to these sites dates back to 1992 and the deadline for action expired back in December 2014. A warning was issued 18 months ago, which was not sufficiently addressed, and Ireland is now at risk of more environment-related fines.

SPECIAL AREAS OF CONSERVATION

The SACs are places where species of animals and the habitats of those species receive special protection under law. In total, there are 423 SACs in the Republic of Ireland with 13% of total land designated under the scheme. The legal basis on which SACs are selected and designated derives from the EU Habitats Directive, transposed into Irish law by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011. Most SACs are in the countryside, although a few sites reach into town or city landscapes, such as Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour. Conservation management plans are available for some of the SACs and new ones are announced as they are approved. Irish habitats include raised bogs, blanket bogs, turloughs, sand dunes, machair (flat sandy plains on the north and west coasts), heaths, lakes, rivers, woodlands, estuaries and sea inlets. The 25 Irish species which must be protected include salmon, otter, freshwater pearl mussel, bottlenose dolphin and Killarney fern.

KILROOSKY LOUGH CLUSTER

Our local SAC in County Monaghan is Kilroosky Lough Cluster, which straddles the border with Northern Ireland and is located approximately 2km north-west of Clones. The site consists of several calcium-rich, clean water (oligo-mesotrophic) lakes and their marginal fen vegetation (alkaline fen and Cladium mariscus fen). Kilroosky, Burdautien (pictured), Summerhill and Dummy’s Loughs are of interest for their classic marl lake water chemistry and extensive calcicole plant communities. Marl lakes are relatively low in nutrients, high in calcium and have good water quality. These types of lakes are rare due to their sensitivity to pollution and have been recognised as being of international importance. Kilroosky Lough Cluster is of ecological interest for its diversity of habitats and species, some of which are listed in the Red Data Book. The Red Data Book is a list of plant and animal species that are under threat and are legally protected. It is part of nature that some species become extinct, but today extinction is happening faster than ever. Many habitats are being disturbed or destroyed by the actions of people that are driving climate change and global warming.

PERSISTENT FAILURE

Ireland has now been referred to the European Court of Justice over its failure to designate these special areas of conservation (SACs), more than five years after the deadline expired. Under the Habitats Directive, EU member states must designate such areas with specific conservation objectives and corresponding measures to maintain or restore a favourable status for the species and habitats present. These steps need to be carried out within six years from the inclusion of these areas in the EU list as sites of community importance (SCIs). In Ireland, 154 sites (out of 423) have not yet been designated as SACs in the “Atlantic biogeographical” region, though the deadline expired in December 2014. Environmental groups have claimed this is contributing to biodiversity loss and decline of internationally important species. Site-specific conservation objectives have not been established for 87 sites and the necessary conservation measures have not been established at any of the 423 sites; as a result the European Commision decided to refer Ireland to the Court of Justice of the EU.

NEED TO ACT NOW

New Minister of State for Heritage, Malcolm Noonan, who has responsibility for the National Parks & Wildlife Service, has said he is determined to address this persistent failure and ensure that we make substantial progress on protection of our habitats. He plans to continue with the process of formal designations, development of conservation objectives and management plans for protected areas, as well as delivering on the priorities for biodiversity set out in the programme for government, which, although it offers a “tangible opportunity to advance the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and nature”, is still lacking clear targets, the necessary level of urgency, concrete actions, or funding commitments to address Ireland’s biodiversity emergency, which was declared in May 2019.

Every day that passes without us honouring our commitment to protect these rare and valuable habitats takes us closer to legal action, fines and irreversible habitat and species loss.

Drumlin Nature Watch – by Liam Murtagh

Appreciating bats and giving them room on our planet

As dusk falls on a calm July evening I see a bat emerging from under roof slates and then fly in a crisscross fashion across the darkening sky. This year I notice that there seems to be fewer bats flying than in previous years – this may not be the case elsewhere. As a boy, I had a nightmare after hearing it said that bats can get caught in a person’s hair. While this and other myths are still common, ecologists say that bats play a vital role in keeping nature in balance as they control insect populations.

Recently, bats have been mentioned in discussions on the origins of Covid-19. The virus is thought to have originated in bats in Asia and reached humans through an intermediary animal, most likely the pangolin. Bat Conservation Ireland points out that the risk of a disease like this arising in Ireland or elsewhere in Europe “is extremely low since bats are not consumed here or used for producing medicines”. Scientists are now looking at how bats survive with the virus.

There are nine species of bats in Ireland. The common and soprano pipistrelles are widespread while the lesser horseshoe bat is only found in the West. The other bats in Ireland are Nathusius’ pipistrelle, Leisler’s bat, brown long-eared bat, Daubenton’s bat, whiskered bat and Natterer’s bat. All Irish bats and their roosts are protected under legislation and it is an offence to disturb or interfere with them without a licence.

A bat detector device is usually needed if you wish to identify a bat species. Last year, Tina Aughney of Bat Conservation Ireland led a bat walk in Castleblayney at which she provided attendees including myself with bat detectors which pick up the ultrasonic calls of flying bats.

One bat that is easily identified is Daubenton’s Bat, sometimes called the water bat as it flies just above river surfaces.

A national survey of Daubenton’s Bat has been undertaken annually in recent years. Volunteers have been involved in this and other bat surveys and also in recording bats on the biodiversityireland.ie database.

So how can we help our bats? If you have bats in your roof there is guidance available for you on npws.ie website. Certain types of lighting can be a problem for bats and information on this is available at noticenature.ie. Placing bat boxes on walls, posts or tree trunks can attract bats to roost in an area. A leaflet with plans for making wooden bat boxes and also one on using bat boxes on the farm is available at batconservationireland.org.

Insect Asides – by Patrick Gleeson

Leaf-cutter Bees

Trees and hedges can be alive with insect life. If you take a walk along any hedgerow and have a quick glance at some leaves, you will see the many holes and patterns left behind by insects. Many caterpillars and weevils often eat away chunks and leaf miners leave behind long leaf mines that often look like squiggles on the leaf surface. However it can be a mystery at times, trying to figure out what species or order of insect has been nibbling at a leaf.

There is one insect however that creates unmistakable leaf cuts. The photograph shows very neat, semi-circular holes that are actually created by a bee. The Leaf-cutter bees (Megachile species) cut out small leaf fragments to create little compartments inside their nests.

They nest inside small crevices and tunnels in dead wood and in the ground. Inside these little leaf compartments, they gather a supply of nectar and pollen as a food source to feed the larva that will hatch from the single egg that the female lays inside each compartment. Each nest contains a number of these compartments. This semi-circular cut mark is very often seen on rose bushes but it is harmless and causes no serious damage to the plant.

IN THE NEWS

One-third of plastic exported for recycling ends up dumped or in sea: Up to a third of plastic exported from Europe for recycling is being dumped on land or in the sea or incinerated, a new study has found. The study by NUI Galway and the University of Limerick found up to 7% of all European polyethylene, the most common type of plastic shipped abroad for reuse, ends up in the ocean. In Ireland’s case, an average of 3.15% of plastic exported for recycling in 2017 became ocean debris [independent.ie].

New French study finds 32 toxic pesticides in the air: A new study into pesticides found in the air in France has identified 75 different substances, including 32 deemed to be “a priority [to investigate]” due to their potential toxicity and links to cancer and endocrine conditions. These included glyphosate, folpel (more often known as “vine fungicide”, and deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation) and lindane, an insecticide that has been banned since 1998 [connexionfrance.com].

Mexico Announces Phase-Out and Ban on Glyphosate Herbicides: The Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Mexico’s Environment Ministry, has announced that glyphosate-based herbicides will be phased out of use in the country by 2024 to protect human health and the environment. Dr Adelita San Vicente Tello reiterated that in the face of this problem we all have to act because “beyond productivity, there is human and environmental health” (sustainablepulse.com).

NOTICEBOARD

The Organic Centre: Saturday, 18 July, Mindfulness in Nature; Sunday, 19 July, Make and Recycle Fertiliser Sustainably from Domestic Waste Water; Sunday, 26 July, Summer Garden. See theorganiccentre.ie for more details.

Irish Seed Savers Workshops: Saturday, 29 August, (1) Introduction to Scything and (2) Introduction to Seed Saving; Saturday, 12 September, Introduction to Composting & Green Manures.

Transition Longford Global Goals Programme: (1) Thurs 6 August, Life Below Water; (2) Thurs, 27 August, Sustainable Cities and Communities; (3) Thurs, 10 September, Good Health & Wellbeing. See Facebook pages of Transition Longford and Longford PPN or email transitionlongford@gmail.com for more details.

 

Are you a reader of the column? Do you have something to say? Is there a particular subject you would like to hear more about? Do you want to submit an article? Contact us by texting Dermot on 086 830 3392, even if it’s just to say hello!

Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well,

but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.”

[Seamus Heaney]

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