Conservation rather than the current policy of preservation can improve biodiversity, according to the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

The comments follow the first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss on Saturday (May 14).

The assembly comprises 100 members, including an independent chairperson and 99 randomly selected members of the public.

Assembly members are to examine how the state can improve its response to the issue of biodiversity loss and to bring forward proposals in this regard.

INHFA on biodiversity

President of the INHFA, Vincent Roddy has challenged the current thinking when it comes to improving biodiversity.

Roddy claimed that the past 20 years have been “lost” as the State, National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and environmental groups pursued a policy of “preservation rather than conservation”.

“Conservation we see as active management and supporting the growth of biodiversity, while the currently applied policy of preservation has driven stagnation and the ongoing decay of biodiversity,” he explained.

He stated that this policy is best illustrated in the Natura 2000 network.

“Here, based on NPWS reports, we have seen these designated Natura habitats regress or remain static, despite being under the management and care of the NPWS,” the INHFA president claimed.

Roddy believes that current policy has undermined the “active management” of these habitats, with farmers compelled to operate within 38 activities requiring consent (ARCs).

“While biodiversity, and indeed biodiversity loss, is not confined to our Natura sites, it does provide a valuable insight as to where we are on biodiversity and a pathway as to how we address it,” he said.

He called on the relevant bodies to acknowledge that the current policy has failed and to change their approach.

The INHFA president added that farmers all over the country, especially those working on Natura lands, are willing to engage and work on improving habitats.

“However, this engagement must take on board their views and recognise their effort, as ecologists and State bodies don’t have a monopoly of what works best and cannot be the only ones that get a financial reward,” Roddy concluded.