As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity, and other international agreements, Ireland is bound to the principles of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Key legislation dealing with biodiversity conservation and protection in Ireland is outlined here.
The European Union Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) requires Member States to manage, create and restore a variety of biotopes for wild birds and to designate Special Protection Areas (SPA) for birds. SPAs are selected for the conservation of bird species listed in Annex I of the Directive and regularly occurring migratory species, and their habitats. Other Annexes regulate the hunting of other species. The Birds Directive is transposed into Irish law through the provisions of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 .
The European Union Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC), requires Member States to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for a variety of habitat types and species (listed in the Annex I and II of the Directive) that are rare or in danger of disappearance in the EU. SACs and SPAs form a Europe-wide ‘coherent ecological network’ called Natura 2000. Member states are required to maintain or restore the habitats and species within these sites at favourable conservation status. Article 6 of the Directive requires that any plan or project likely to have a significant effect on a Natura 2000 site must undergo an Appropriate Assessment.
The Directive also provides for the conservation and establishment of ‘stepping stones’ or ‘corridors’ between sites to facilitate movement of species and promote continuity within the ecological network. Annex IV lists animal and plant species in need of strict protection wherever they occur. The Directive is transposed into Irish law by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 .
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive requires member states of the EU to carry out assessments of the environmental impact of certain public and private projects before they are allowed to proceed. The Directive is implemented in Ireland by the Planning and Development Acts, the Planning and Development Regulations and the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1989-2006
EIA is mandatory for projects listed in Annex I which are those likely to have an significant environmental impact such as large scale infrastructural projects or developments for the food or chemical industry. Projects listed in Annex II have thresholds above which an EIA is required. Sub-threshold developments may require an EIA if the planning authority deems it necessary. The full list of projects and thresholds for EIA are set out in the planning and development regulations.
The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive requires that plans and programmes must be assessed for their environmental effect before they are adopted and that environmental protection measures are fully integrated into the plans. It applies to a number of sectors including agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, industry, transport, waste management, water management, telecommunications, tourism and land use planning. The SEA Directive is implemented in Ireland by the European Communities (Environmental Assessment of Certain Plans and Programmes) Regulations 2004 (SI 435/2004) and the Planning and Development (Strategic Environmental Assessment) Regulations 2004 (SI 436/ 2004) as amended by SI 200/2011 and SI 201/2011..
The Water Framework Directive aims to achieve ‘good’ ecological status for all waters (rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal and groundwater) by 2015 through
- Protection of high status waters
- Prevention of deterioration of all waters
- Restoration of degraded ground and surface waters
The local authority is responsible for the establishment of environmental measures and making River Basin District (RBD) Management Plans. There are two RBDs covering County Galway, the Western RBD and the Shannon International RBD.
The Environmental Liability Directive is based on the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle. It requires ‘operators’ (persons who are carrying out works/activities) to take the necessary action to prevent environmental damage which includes damage to water, land and protected habitats and species (i.e. habitats and species listed on annexes of the above directives and the habitats of species). Should environmental damage occur the operator is liable and required to restore the natural resource or remediate the damage. The Directive is transposed into Irish law by the Environmental Liability regulations, 2008.
The Wildlife Act, 1976 and the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 are two of the principal legal instruments governing the protection of wild flora and fauna in Ireland. They provide for the establishment of nature reserves and Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs), and regulate the hunting and capture of wild animals. They also forbid the destruction of hedgerows and areas of semi-natural vegetation during the bird nesting season (1st March to 31st August each year).
Currently all bird species, 22 other animal species or groups of species and 86 species of flora are afforded protection under the Acts.
Flora Protection Order 1999 (FPO) is the current list of rare plant species protected by section 21 of the Wildlife Act, 1976. Under the act it is illegal:
– To cut, pick, collect, uproot or otherwise damage or destroy the listed species in any way, or to alter, damage or interfere in any way with their habitats. This protection applies wherever the plants are found and is not confined to sites designated for nature conservation.
– To take specimens of these plants, or to interfere or alter their habitat requires a licence from NPWS Species and Regulations Unit, NPWS, 7 Ely Place, Dublin 2.
FPO list available at www.npws.ie or FPO species in Co Galway at www.galway.ie/biodiversityguidelines
The Planning and Development Acts 2000-2006, and Regulations address biodiversity in a number of ways:
- They require local authorities to address the protection of the environment and nature conservation sites in Development and Local Area Plans.
- They provide for local authorities to protect landscapes and habitats through control of development, designation of Areas of Special Amenity and Tree Preservation Orders.
- They set out the requirements for Environmental Impact Assessments and Strategic Environmental Assessments
Sections 131 and 173 of the Fisheries Consolidation Act, 1959 make it an offence to wilfully obstruct the passage of salmon or trout or the smolts or fry or injure or disturb the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or eels, or any spawning bed, bank or shallow where the spawn or fry of salmon, trout or eels may be.
Under Section 37 of the Forestry Act, 1946 (No. 13 of 1946), with few exceptions, it is illegal to uproot any tree over ten years old or to cut down any tree of any age (including trees which form part of a hedgerow), unless a Felling Notice has been lodged at the Garda Station or from the Felling Section of the Forest Service of the Department at least 21 days in advance. For larger scale felling (forestry, estate management), a felling licence is then issued by the Forest Service