Call to map ecosystems
The country's ecosystems should be mapped to measure the value of biodiversity and ecosystems to the economy and society, experts said today.
Comhar Sustainable Development Council (SDC) called for a green infrastructure policy to protect and enhance important wildlife in the planning process.
The group said Ireland's ecosystems are worth about €2.6bn to the economy each year.
Cathy Maguire, director of research at Comhar SDC, said biodiversity is declining because its value is not reflected in decision-making by business and government.
"Development has been a major driver of habitat degradation and biodiversity loss in Ireland," Dr Maguire said.
"While tools such as Strategic Environment Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment have become part of our development process, they are essentially reactive measures.
"The introduction of a green infrastructure approach to planning policy would help to protect, create and manage green infrastructure in an integrated and proactive way. It would also enhance Ireland's biodiversity and improve resilience to climate change."
Comhar SDC said green infrastructure would be a network of areas conserving ecosystems and benefiting populations through water purification, flood control, carbon capture, food production and recreation.
It said the green spaces include large habitats such as woodlands, coastlines and flood plains down to hedgerows, city parks and street trees.
Dr Maguire said the infrastructure plan would minimise conflicts between environmental and economic goals such as the eight-year struggle between locals and energy giant Shell over the Corrib gas project in Mayo.
The Comhar SDC report, Creating Green Infrastructure for Ireland, also looked at improvements which could be made in north-east Dublin City including the water quality of rivers and streams flowing into Dublin Bay, cycling amenities to link green spaces and greater use of green spaces for flood attenuation and food production.
In Offaly-Westmeath it said lakes, rivers, drainage ditches, eskers and woodlands are key features of the local green infrastructure.
It said these areas could be enhanced by developing the local peatland network and that old cutaway bogs should not be designated "disused industrial" or "brownfield sites", but areas of important ecological value. It suggested re-wetting peatlands to enhance their function as carbon sinks.