IRELAND is rich in animal and plant life but many of these are under threat, despite our commitment to protecting the country's biodiversity.
Ireland is home to about 815 flowering plants, about 80 native ferns, more than 700 mosses and liverworts, 3,500 fungi, over 1,000 lichens and 1,400 different types of algae. There are 32 terrestrial mammals, ten bat species, two species of seals and about 24 whales and dolphins. About 425 species of birds have been recorded in Ireland, about half of these birds breed here.
Many of these species are already under threat, some are even endangered. The freshwater pearl mussel, which lives in Irish rivers and is Ireland's longest living animal is facing extinction. If we want all of these species to survive, we must ensure that there are enough suitable areas where they can flourish. Ireland also has an extensive coastline rich in biodiversity and so we should not forget our surrounding seas. There is a huge array of life in our seas, most of which we may never see. Unfortunately, this too is being negatively affected in a variety of ways - overfishing, coastal activities and pollution are some examples, and so it is important that our marine habitats are also protected.
Reductions in Ireland's biodiversity will have serious economic and social consequences. In 2001, Ireland agreed, along with other EU countries, to ' halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010'. This has recently been extended to 2020. In order to achieve this we need to make a concerted effort on a local and national level. Individuals, schools and communities can can and do play their part in halting this alarming loss of biodiversity and Ireland has come a long way in the past decade, but we are still a long way off. Failure to protect our most endangered natural habitats and species will result in substantial fines for Ireland by the EU.
Biodiversity is certainly under threat in Ireland. This year we have seen a further decline in the number of common butterflies sighted, mostly due to the unseasonal weather. Unfortunately this has been the trend over the past few years. Some common species such as the Green -veined White butterfly, Speckled wood, Peacock and Common blue declined by up to 50 per cent between 2010 - 2011, and have certainly fallen further in 2012. This data comes through a National Biodiversity Data Centre scheme which allows the general public make records of local sightings. From similar research there is some evidence that the Irish Bee population has also been in decline for the past few years and 2012 has seen no signs of improvement. These are worrying trends.
Furthermore, attempts to track two Hen Harriers with satellite tracking has ended unsuccessfully. Both Hen Hariers, named Sky and Blackwater, flew the flag for their species. The researcher behind the study, Barry O'Donoghue and his volunteers, wanted to see what is happening to the Irish Hen Harriers, where do they go, what do they do? They wanted to see why so few wing tagged birds were returning to the population. Through this satellite tracking, they have gained a clearer picture as to why the Hen Harrier population is decreasing and why they have been lost from so much of Ireland. Even when, against the odds, they manage to rear young to fledging, those fledglings are finding it very difficult to survive and may be dead within weeks of leaving the nest, which is unfortunately what happened Sky and Blackwater. For further details visit www.henharrierireland.blogspot.ie