Do you know what 'Natura 2000' is? Good for you if you do, because many people have never heard of it.
First the background. Like the rest of the world, Ireland is experiencing a biodiversity crisis, a catastrophic loss of its native plants and animals and the wild places that support them. And it's not new; the loss has been going on for some time.
Back in June 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations organised 'The Earth Summit' a major conference attended by representatives of most of the world's nations. One of the important outcomes of that global think-in regarding the biodiversity crisis was the Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty that nearly 200 sovereign states are now party to.
The bottom line was that everyone agreed to do something to try to halt the loss of biodiversity. The contribution the European Union (EU) made was to establish Natura 2000. 'Natura' is the Latin for 'the natural world' and '2000' referred to the fact that it was one of several millennium projects.
The plan was to set up a network of special areas across all the member states of the union to protect biodiversity. The plan was, and still is, the centrepiece of EU policy with regard to the conservation of nature and biodiversity.
The plan was a success in that Natura 2000 is now a union-wide network of over 27,800 nature conservation sites comprising more than 18% of the EU's land area and 9.2% of its seas. These protected areas come in two kinds: Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for wild birds and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the habitats and species they support.
The European Commission maintains an on-going interest in how many of the citizens of the union are aware of Natura 2000. The latest report was published in May of this year and it paints a rather bleak picture.
A staggering 82% of the people surveyed in Ireland never heard of Natura 2000; a further 11% had heard of it but didn't know what it meant, and only 7% knew what it meant. So, 93% of the Irish respondents didn't know about the EU flagship project that has been trying to halt the loss of biodiversity for the past 20 years.
There are some 430 Natura 2000 sites in Ireland. The webpages maintained by the government' National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at https://www.npws.ie/protected-sites have all the details. Check out your local site.