From the Irish Times, 3rd February 2022

Hard-hitting report mirrors EU comments on water, biodiversity, nature and ecology

By Tim O’Brien

Review finds that for “the taxonomic groups that have undergone formal conservation assessments, more than one in five species were threatened with extinction”.

The State agency charged with protecting the natural environment, including habitat and biodiversity in national parks, protected sites and nature reserves, is not fit for the task, according to a Government-commissioned report.

The Review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service found that while staff were “dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable”, it was clear the NPWS was “not aligned effectively” to protect the State’s ecology and natural heritage.

The hard-hitting review was prepared by Jane C Stout and Micheál Ó Cinnéide. It was commissioned at the behest of the Government, under an agreement between the parties to the programme for government.

A spokeswoman for Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State with responsibility for the NPWS, said the review, entitled Review of the NPWS 2021: Final report on the key findings and recommendations, was in fact a draft review. She said Mr Noonan would not be commenting as a final version was as of yet unpublished. She said the Minister would bring a separate strategic action plan for the future of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

The review findings mirror sharp criticism of the State’s stewardship of the natural environment from the EU Commission’s environment directorate, which in January cited “serious challenges” and “urgent need” for reform in the areas of water, biodiversity, environmental impact assessments and governance issues – particularly access to justice.

The NPWS reviewers said their assessment came at a time when the quality of Ireland’s environment was “not good, giving rise to complex issues, across biogeochemical systems of air, water, soils, climate, and biodiversity” .

Extinction threat

The authors said in 2019 some 85 per cent of Ireland’s protected habitats were in unfavourable condition, with 46 per cent displaying trends of ongoing declines over the previous 12 years.

In addition, 43 per cent of protected species were in an unfavourable status, “and for the taxonomic groups that have undergone formal conservation assessments, more than one in five species were threatened with extinction”. The review added that more than one-quarter of Irish birds were now of conservation concern.

Citing the need for widespread “crucial reform”, the NPWS review made 24 recommendations including organisational change; operational reforms to meet the multiple mandates of protection, science and engagement; and increased resourcing to deliver a more effective service.

The review said: “There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of structures and governance, a clear strategic plan and leadership to implement it, better internal and external communications, and re-energised teams, working together effectively inside and beyond the organisation.”

‘Challenges and legislation’

As it stands, the review said the NPWS “cannot meet current obligations, let alone plan for and respond to future challenges and legislation, including the Climate Action Bill and EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030”. It noted a number of EU environmental directives had not been fully implemented and multiple infringement cases were outstanding against Ireland.

The comments of the NPWS review are similar to those made by a senior official in the EU Commission’s environment directorate Aurel Ciobanu-Dordea, when he addressed the online Environment Ireland Conference in January.

Mr Ciobanu-Dordea said he wished to raise “a number of elements which we see as important and as quite challenging in an Irish context”. He mentioned water, nature and biodiversity, environmental impact assessments and governance issues and in particular access to justice”. His comments ranged from infringements of EU environmental directives to the cost of accessing justice in the Irish courts. He said: “Ireland continues to be the most expensive member state in which to make an environmental claim before the courts . . . Many have accumulated significant costs simply litigating the question of cost clarity itself. This needs to be addressed. And we are not saying this for the first time.”

(end of Irish Times report)


The Review of NPWS structure and activities highlights perceived failings and puts forward a number of recommendations. Deer receive scant attention in the 114-page Review document, dealing mainly with a statement of the current position regarding deer hunting licences. Section 4.10 of the Report covers Licensing and Country Sports and references submissions received from different representative groups. Section 4.10 reads as follows:

One of the core functions of the NPWS is the licencing and regulation of activities relating to wildlife, including hunting, possession, import and export, capture for scientific purposes and disturbance of certain species (as governed by Habitats or Birds Directives, Wildlife Acts, CITES). The Licensing Unit issues approx. 6,500 De hunting licenses per year, derogations are given to agricultural sectors to shoot certain birds and licenses are issued to coursing clubs to gather (net) hares. A full listing, showing the breadth of licenses issued by NPWS in 2020 is given in Appendix 8. During the consultative phase of the Review, it was stated that “NPWS credibility within the country sports community, whom it has a statutory obligation to serve, is at an all-time low”. Many of the members of these voluntary groups and gun clubs are landowners and active members of their rural communities, with a keen awareness of the natural world.

There were a number of recurring themes from the submissions and engagement with the representative groups:

Only 25% of the Deer hunting licenses were issued on
time in the 2020 season, during which processing work
was constrained by the COVID-19 pandemic and
database restrictions.
● The current annual Deer licensing system should be
reviewed and modernized.
● The NPWS should create a mechanism for greater
consultation with the representatives of the hunting and
county sports community (along the lines of the Wildlife
Advisory Council, which was provided for in the
Wildlife Act, 1976 but was later abolished).
● The NPWS should be transferred to be under the aegis of
the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine,
where there could be ‘joined up action on land use

The full report, as yet unpublished by the Minister, can be accessed HERE, courtesy of the Irish River Project.