The unimaginable decline of native wildlife in Mayo and beyond must be halted


AN almost unimaginable decline in both the abundance and variety of native wildlife has prompted new legislation to promote and preserve biodiversity.

There almost seems to be an element of panic among those officially responsible for such things.

Some feel it is far too long that Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service has been little more than a bridge-building tool that has tried unsuccessfully to connect the two divergent elements of agriculture and conservation.

Now, local authorities will be compelled to include matters of conservation in their development plans.

We can understand that farmers want to make the best living they can, for themselves and their families.

It is also true that without agricultural subsidies, the rest of us would have to pay the true cost of our weekly shopping.

We are locked into a very imperfect system. We pay our taxes, and a large proportion of our tax bill goes toward the Common Agricultural Policy, the principal means of supporting farmers across the European Union.

Over the seven-year period due to end in 2027, some €386.6 billion will have been distributed among Europe’s 10 million or so farmers.

Nor do we deny a good standard of living for those who work hard to produce the food on which we depend.

I know firsthand how much of a commitment it is to spend one’s working life in agriculture. It can be unrelenting, hands on, 24/7, and is far more a way of life than a career.

In the face of across-the-board inflation, farmers must somehow maintain productivity.

Of course, many will look with jaundiced eye on those ancient hedgerows that divide one field from another in the full knowledge that if only they were to grub them out and level the land, they could keep more cattle or more sheep, or grow an acre more of grain. What price such small habitats?

There is far more to the picture, of course, including the damage done to Ireland’s waterways by decades of abuse and neglect.

Who will begin to put these right, and how?

While aware of the challenges that lie ahead, Tanaiste Michael Martin acknowledges that the ‘time has come for a new era of nature stewardship in Ireland’.

In similar vein, Minister Malcolm Noonan appears very aware of the need for immediate action. “I believe nature can recover,” he says. “We’re finally ready to change our behaviour and exercise our responsibilities to the planet as well as our rights.”

Could this mean an end to the widespread use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other agricultural chemicals?

Just a few weeks ago the EU granted a 10-year extension to the use of glyphosate, despite the growing awareness of how damaging this substance is alleged to be.

Still, many will take courage from Minister Noonan’s words: “It’s this willingness to act that we must hold to most firmly. At a time when the scientific evidence describing the scale of the challenge we face is so frightening, it’s our commitment to action that is the best evidence for hope.”

While the length of time it will take for this country to demonstrate such willingness to act remains unspecified, could we expect to see positive changes in the coming weeks and months? That depends very much on you and I.

While we look forward to living in a world where all living things are allowed to thrive, this will not happen while we continue to spill our toxic load and poison all about us.

The challenges are enormous.

Legislation might be useful, but it is the measure of the human heart that will save the wild, for now at least.