EPA-funded research identifies the importance of biodiversity and the human activities that threaten it

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has today released a major research report which provides the first comprehensive assessment of impacts of our changing environment on Ireland’s biodiversity.

Ireland has a wealth of biodiversity from peatlands to woodlands, hedgerows, sand dunes and seas to all the animals and plants that depend on these habitats for survival. These habitats surround us and go towards making up the biodiversity of this small island. Biodiversity is currently declining at rates comparable to major extinctions in history. This is being driven by human impacts, yet biodiversity underpins the ecological functions that provide the many natural goods and services on which life, and livelihoods, depend. For example, our important and strongly growing agriculture industry would be impossible without essential ecosystem services such as pollination by insects and soils conditioning by earthworms. In our own daily lives, natural ecosystems work to supply benefits from storing & filtering drinking water to providing locations for a stress-relieving woodland walk.

This new report, Biochange, is based on a large scientific study led by Trinity College Dublin, and funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The report identifies the impact of human activities on biodiversity, describes the economic and social costs of biodiversity loss and highlights how even small actions can bring big benefits in terms of improving our biodiversity.

The research identifies four main drivers of biodiversity loss – all caused by human activity:

  1. Habitat destruction and fragmentation
  2. The spread of non-native invasive species
  3. Pollution
  4. Over-exploitation of natural resources

EPA Director General, Laura Burke, said

“This research underlines the importance and value of protecting our ecosystems and highlights the requirement to mainstream biodiversity considerations into planning and governance at national and local levels. The findings of this research will be of real benefit to policy makers in a range of areas such as agriculture, planning and environment management.”

The financial implications of biodiversity loss are very significant. In 2008, the European Commission reported that the value of annual loss in ecosystem services resulting from the cumulative loss of biodiversity is estimated to be €14 trillion globally by 2050. At a national level, a recent study valued ecosystem services in Ireland at over €2.6 billion per annum.

Lead researcher Dr Steve Waldren said:

“While this research points strongly to the need for strong national and international action on biodiversity, it also found that sometimes relatively small actions can bring big benefits in terms of boosting species and their functions. By ensuring that small fragments of habitat are protected in developed areas and by conserving hedgerows in agricultural lands we can take some immediate positive steps towards halting biodiversity loss.”

A key finding of the BioChange study is that easy-to-access information is fundamental in halting biodiversity loss and as part of the project, NUI Galway created a database of Irish living organisms which currently documents some 16,000 Irish species and can be seen at http://www.species.ie/. BioChange has also developed an invaluable suite of monitoring sites that can form the basis of on-going study and research to provide real insight into long-term impacts of pressures on biodiversity.

The report BioChange: Biodiversity and Environmental Change: An Integrated Study Encompassing a Range of Scales,Taxa and Habitats (STRIVE 68) is available on the EPA website.

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