'We must get maximum value from our natural resources'
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
Planting trees in the right places and encouraging natural pest controls, including wasps and spiders, must be pursued to boost economic growth and make maximum use of the environment.
Academics at Trinity College Dublin have called for research in technology and ecology to be merged, and partnerships formed with industry to help extract as much value as possible from the natural world.
Studies value Ireland's natural capital - or the wider environment - at €2.6bn a year. This includes the economic value of timber which can be harvested, the value that pollinators play in growing crops and the recreational value of the outdoors.
But Professor of Zoology Yvonne Buckley and Professor Jane Stout from the School of Natural Sciences said a new approach to managing this asset was needed.
"It's about changing the way we think about management," Prof Buckley said.
"The next challenge is how do we manipulate natural capital to get the services we want? Instead of managing water quality or quantity directly, we should be managing the capital to get those services."
One example is planting trees or different types of vegetation in certain areas around river catchments to reduce the amount of sediment getting into the water. This would lower water treatment costs, as less sediment would need to be removed.
Wildflowers and other vegetation would encourage pollinators including wild bees to form a hive, rather than moving beehives into cropland areas.
Hedgerows should be managed to provide habitats for natural pest controllers such as wasps and spiders, which would reduce use of pesticides, lowering costs and reducing pollution.
Decisions also need to be taken around restoring bogs, which can absorb large quantities of water in flood-prone areas. Forests could also be planted in at-risk areas to suck water out of the system.
"It's changing how we think," Prof Buckley added. "It's about managing landscapes, instead of treating the symptoms.
"Part of the problem is recognising the value we get from nature, and understanding how we can put monetary values on those.
"It's about helping understand why environmentalists are lobbying for these things.
"You can see that developers are using natural capital to sell homes - they say there are trees or a nice wildlife walk.
"They're using that to put a premium on houses. That can be an eye-opener."