New EPA online tool will assist with nature conservation in Ireland

Date released: May 17 2018

A new GeoTool has been launched today to assist those involved in Appropriate Assessment. The bespoke tool was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, to automate and streamline part of the data gathering process needed for Appropriate Assessment. 

Dr Karen Creed, Environmental Licensing Programme, EPA, said,

“Appropriate Assessment is a key protection mechanism that considers the nature conservation implications of a plan or project on Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas before a decision is made on whether to allow the plan or project to proceed. The new tool will remove a lot of the time consuming manual data gathering for these assessments. It will be of benefit to a wide range of users from public authorities with consenting functions to those applying for consents which are subject to the Appropriate Assessment process, as well as to the public, ecological consultants, researchers and students with an interest in nature conservation in Ireland.”

The Geotool is now available on the EPA website.  It provides a valuable visual aid allowing a user to search for all Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas within a user specified distance, a critical step in an appropriate assessment.  The tool pulls data directly from a data web service provided by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. 

Dr Ciaran O’Keeffe, NPWS Scientific Unit said,

“The NPWS is committed to producing and sharing quality scientific data and information on the Irish environment and biodiversity.  The new EPA application is a really useful tool which enables users to access all the relevant NPWS information in a very efficient way.”

The Appropriate Assessment GeoTool can be found on the EPA website.

Notes to Editor

Appropriate Assessment An assessment carried out under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive and Regulation 42 of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 as amended of the implications of a plan or project, either individually or in combination with other plans and projects, on a European Site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. 

Special Areas of Conservation are sites designated under European Communities Directive 92/43/EEC known as the ‘Habitats Directive’. This requires the conservation of important, rare or threatened habitats and species (not birds, which are protected by Special Protection Areas) across Europe.

Special Protection Areas are sites designated under the European Communities Directive 79/409/EEC, known as the ‘Birds Directive’, to conserve the habitats of certain migratory or rare birds.

European Sites means—

(a) a candidate site of Community importance,
(b) a site of Community importance,
(c) a candidate special area of conservation,
(d) a special area of conservation,
(e) a candidate special protection area, or
(f) a special protection area;
Qualifying Interests Habitats and species of interest, listed in the annexes to the Birds and Habitats Directives, that establish the reason/s for designating a site or making a site a candidate for designation as a Special Area of Conservation or Special Protection Area.

Conservation Objectives in relation to a European Site, means the maintenance and restoration of the habitat and species in respect of which the site has been identified as a European Site at favourable conservation status or their restoration to such favourable status, and shall include such particular objectives as the Minister may from time to time establish for those purposes under Regulation 26;

The GeoTool: The tool allows a user to search for all Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) within a user specified distance.  The distance selected by the user is dependent on the level of potential environmental impact from a plan or project.  The tool then returns the user with the distance of each European Site from the users selected starting point, the qualifying interests for each European Site and a weblink to the Conservation Objectives for each European Site.

This project has been developed in line with many of the objectives of the Public Service Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Strategy including:

  1. Build to Share by delivering a solution that can be made available to other public sector bodies;
  2. Digital First by removing the time consuming manual data gathering exercise for these assessments; and
  3. Data as an Enabler by establishing live data sharing agreements between the EPA and NPWS.

The project supports many of the objectives of the Public Sector Reform plan to which the ICT strategy is aligned.