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Plan to recruit citizens to new wildlife Conservation Corps


INVASIVE SPECIES: Connemara National Park has suffereding

INVASIVE SPECIES: Connemara National Park has suffereding

INVASIVE SPECIES: Connemara National Park has suffereding

Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan has proposed setting up a new Conservation Corps to train and pay people to remove invasive plant species, as part of efforts to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency.

The Green Party TD also wants to encourage more people to become "citizen scientists" who plant trees and test river water quality. He has also pledged to establish a new Wildlife Crime Unit this year to help gardaí investigate animal cruelty.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Noonan painted a stark picture of the biodiversity emergency facing the country.

"We're facing effectively a mass extinction of species," he said.

"Invertebrates, fish, mammals, plant species, pretty much everything is in decline. There is very little that is not under threat.

"In Ireland we have a significant problem as well because the fate of species lies around the quality of habitats. In that regard it's around having a land use strategy that is fit for purpose, that takes on farm interests but also ensures farming and nature can work hand in hand."

A new five-year biodiversity action plan will be published by the Government in the coming months.

Mr Noonan wants people to involve themselves in initiatives like TidyTowns and also projects like planting trees and taking water quality samples from rivers.

A Conservation Corps could be established within the National Parks and Wildlife Service, where people would be trained and paid for the removal of invasive species, he said, citing a "real problem" with Himalayan balsam and rhododendron in areas like Connemara and Killarney National Park.

Mr Noonan has also proposed setting up an all-island biodiversity data agency to record species like Daubenton's bats, that feed off the river surface.

"I would have spent the guts of 14 or 15 years just as an amateur recorder, a bat detector and a torch standing by the riverbank," he said.

On plans for a new Wildlife Crime Unit, Mr Noonan said it would be based within the National Parks and Wildlife Service and will be set up this year with a core staff of five or six people.

"There's significant training involved with conservation rangers, around gathering a book of evidence, around liaising with the gardaí, protecting the crime scene, all of that, so we'd have a standardised approach to investigating wildlife crime."

He said there had been a significant number of events in recent years, citing the recent shooting dead of a buzzard in Co Laois, as well as other incidents involving the poisoning of raptors, persecuting badgers, and the capturing of birds.

Mr Noonan also called for an overhaul of the greyhound racing industry, arguing that while funding cannot be shut off there needs to be a review into its viability.

He said money had compromised the sport, and added: "If it has a future it should have some grounding back in its origins and perhaps that may be its future. So perhaps I would like to see either a commission or something to investigate its future viability."

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