Social Democrats Spokesperson for Biodiversity Deputy Jennifer Whitmore called on the Minister for Heritage to establish a special wildlife crimes unit within the Gardaí. The call comes on national biodiversity week after mass Buzzard kills and large scale deliberate fires in Wicklow.
Deputy Whitmore said “we declared a national climate change and biodiversity emergency last year, a declaration I had hoped was more than just virtue signalling and would be followed by action. In recent weeks we have had the mass killing of 23 Buzzards in Cork and huge manmade fires in Wicklow National Park. We are failing to protect our heritage, our environment, our wildlife.
“Greater transparency and accountability of the State’s handling of wildlife crimes is essential to tackling the damage being carried out by people intent on destroying our natural heritage. Until the true extent of wildlife crimes are laid bare for all to see, they will continue to go unreported, unacknowledged and unmanaged.
“I have called on the Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan to ensure that on a national level we begin to work a lot harder and faster when it comes to crimes against wildlife. The State must step up its game and collect and publish information on all wildlife crimes or suspected crimes. It must engage in smarter heritage-protection decisions that are science-based, ecologically sound and have environmental objections at their heart.
“Being serious about protecting our wildlife and heritage means establishing a wildlife crime unit in the Gardai to support our national parks and wildlife service. There are good relationships between national parks and the Garda at a local level but formalising and resourcing it fully through a specialised, centralised Garda Unit, as is done in the UK, would make a material difference in ensuring that those that perpetrate these types of crimes are held to account.
“Our national parks also need active management plans. Currently, only 2 of our 6 national parks have management plans and both of those are 11 years out of date. Our national parks have very few by-laws to enable the rangers to manage what happens within the parks. And all efforts need to go into making sure that these burns do not happen. This means developing updated management plans and establishing a register of illegal fires as they happen in our national parks and Special Areas of Conservation each year.
“There have been some great developments, particularly by community groups – it hasn’t all been bad. We now need to take those successes, build on them, and give our biodiversity the protection it needs to thrive.”