In 2019 15% of assessed habitats were found to be at favourable conservation status. Achieving favourable conservation status means that these habitats must have a range across the state which is stable or increasing, and their specific structure and functions, essential for their long-term survival are considered to be in place and expected to continue to do so, and their typical species were also favourable.
85% of assessed habitats were found to be unfavourable. Furthermore, 46% of habitats demonstrated ongoing declines based on a 12-year short term trend period. None of Ireland’s grassland, heathland, bog, mire or fen habitats were found to be in favourable status. Declining trends are particularly notable in marine, peatland, grassland and woodland habitats.
Grasslands, such as orchid rich grasslands and hay meadows have undergone significant changes over the last 10-15 years, with 38% and 28% of the area monitored respectively reported as being lost.
Species assessments under the Habitats Directive are better than those for habitats, with 57% in favourable status. A declining trend is reported for 15% of species, with freshwater species most at risk. 17% of species are reported to have an improving trend, with populations of otter and pine marten as well as a number of bat species on the increase. One of the species of greatest concern is the pollution-sensitive freshwater pearl mussel, as only a few rivers have populations with even near adequate recruitment of younger generations.
Red Lists identify species in most need of conservation interventions. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) coordinates the Red Listing process at the global level, defining the categories and criteria so that they are standardised across all taxa. Recently published Irish Red List assessments include Terrestrial Mammals (2019) and Stoneflies (2019).
The Red List of Irish Terrestrial Mammals updates and supersedes the Red List published in 2009 and covers terrestrial species native to Ireland or naturalised in Ireland before 1500.
The Stonefly Red List assessed the 12,000 records for the island of Ireland dating from 1890 to 2018. Of the 20 species of stonefly (Plecoptera) evaluated, two were deemed under threat of extinction, a third species as Regionally Extinct and the remaining 17 as Least Concern. These species are threatened by a combination of factors including climate change, continuing organic pollution, sedimentation and habitat change.
NPWS also maintains and publishes a checklist of the Protected and Threatened Species in Ireland (2020). Other recently published checklists include the checklist and country status of European Bryophytes – update 2020.
The protection of bird species at EU level is provided for under the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC). Under Article 12 of this Directive, Member States are obliged to report on the progress made with implementation of the Directive. This requires reporting on aspects of the status of all regularly occurring bird species both within and outside protected areas.
Under the Birds Directive, Ireland reported in 2019 on key demographic data for over 200 bird species’ populations, including estimated population size, range and their trends over the short- and long-term periods. The majority of Ireland’s regularly occurring breeding birds as well as some key wintering bird populations were included. Assessment of the main pressures and threats relevant to each species was also undertaken.
The complete 2013-2018 series of season-specific bird assessments for Ireland can be accessed by following this link:
Approximately 30% of the breeding species assessed are estimated to have remained stable or increased in abundance over the long-term. This cohort includes those relatively recent colonists that have strong population growth including Little Egret, Great Skua, Mediterranean Gull, Little Ringed Plover, Bearded Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, as well as the re-introduced raptor species (Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite) and some other raptor species, namely Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon. These recent additions to Ireland’s breeding bird community need to be viewed in the context that, for those breeding bird species in Ireland for which there is available data, almost 20% are considered to be in long term decline.
Acute declines have been recorded for some ground nesting bird species such as Red Grouse, Whinchat, Twite, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Curlew, Corncrake and Redshank. Additionally, it is noteworthy that Ireland’s breeding Corn Bunting became extinct after the Birds Directive came into force in Ireland. Compared to the previous Article 12 report (2013), the number of species that had significant data gaps has reduced but it will be challenging to increase our monitoring effort sufficiently for the next reporting phase (due 2025).
Countryside Birds Survey
The Countryside Bird Survey (CBS) aims to monitor the status of common and widespread breeding bird populations in Ireland. Across many habitats, birds are regarded as good general indicators of the broad state of wildlife and of the countryside. Wild birds satisfy many of the criteria of being useful biodiversity indicators in that they occur higher up in food chains, are sensitive to environmental changes, are dispersed, diverse and mobile.
CBS data, is used to calculate trends of individual species (available on Birdwatch Ireland website) that occur in 30 survey squares or more each year, on average, over the lifetime of the survey. These trends are used to produce indicators which provide an overview of how bird populations are doing more broadly over time. See the graph below to learn more about the Irish ‘Common Bird Index’ and the Irish ‘Common Farmland Bird Index’. While this indicator graph is useful, it is important to be aware of their strengths and constraints when making inferences from them. For further information and details on interpretation go to the BirdWatch Ireland website.