Biodiversity refers to the variety of living things that share this planet with us. The pressures that we exert on the environment are often reflected in damage to, or destruction of, other living things and so the state of our biodiversity reflects in a general way the state of our environment overall.

See separate article on Biodiversity for more information.

Habitats and Species

Habitats refer to the places where species live. Ireland has many different habitats, some of which are rare elsewhere in the world. These include peat bogs, limestone pavement such as the Burren in Co. Clare and sand dunes and machairs (flat sandy plains on the north and west coasts). Because it was separated from mainland Europe a long time ago Ireland has a relatively small number of species but some species found here are not found anywhere else in the world.

A National Biodiversity Plan was published in 2002 and a National Biodiversity Data Centre was established in 2007 for the collection, collation, management and presentation of data on Ireland 's biological diversity. ‘National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021’, Ireland’s third National Biodiversity Plan, can be accessed here.

Habitats and species are protected by EU legislation and member states are required to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect important habitats and species, and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect birds in particular. The legal basis on which SACs are selected and designated is theEU Habitats Directive. The Directive lists certain habitats and species that must be protected within SACs (NPWS, 2013). When compared to other EU member states, Ireland has designated a small proportion of the country as SACs or SPAs. Indeed, some of the protected habitats and species are under significant pressure already and are classified as being of bad conservation status. As such, the protection of Ireland ’s habitats and species is one of the major environmental challenges facing the country. See Ireland's SACs and SPAs on the EPA interactive map by clicking Nature > Protected Areas and turning on SAC and SPA.

A summary of Ireland ’s biodiversity is shown below.

Ireland's Biodiversity - Estimated Number of Species
Courtesy EPA
Species Conservation Status
Courtesy EPA

In Ireland 52 per cent of species listed under the Habitats Directive are in a favourable state. These include most species of bat, dolphin and whale. The number of species considered declining in status is low. Aquatic species are most at risk, although species such as the otter and especially the frog are doing very well. The natterjack toad is assessed as “bad but improving” (EPA, 2019).

Habitat Conservation Status
Courtesy EPA

The majority of Ireland's habitats that are listed under the Habitats Directive were reported in 2013 to be of inadequate or bad conservation status . Only 9 per cent of listed habitats are considered to be in a favourable state (EPA, 2019)

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