Ecosystem collapse in modern Ireland
In our Zoom for Thought on June 16th, 2020, UCD Discovery Director Prof Patricia Maguire spoke to Whittled Away author and Irish Wildlife Trust Campaigns Officer Pádraic Fogarty (pictured), about “Ecosystem collapse in modern Ireland”. In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts.
People’s health is inextricably linked with the wellbeing of animals and the safety of habitats. “Anyone who has been paying attention to pandemics and zoonotic diseases will know that a lot of these diseases are coming from deforested regions; from illegally trafficked wildlife like the Pangolin. It highlights that our health as people is not separate from the health of nature. It really is one and the same thing.”
Closer to home
Nature has “virtually vanished” from Ireland and we live in a “totally collapsed” ecosystem. “We read about destruction of the rainforest and the melting of Arctic ice sheets and we think those things are terrible. But we don’t necessarily look closer to home to ask where have our forests, peat bogs and the fish in our sea gone?”
The new Programme for Government includes plans to create large permanent forests with no commercial use. “We’ve traditionally only ever seen land as useful if it is making money. But if we can change that relationship with nature - to recognise that nature has a right to exist - I think that would be an absolute game changer, far more than any government plan.”
Setting up an independent nature conservation agency is our most urgent ecological issue. The current National Parks & Wildlife Service is “grossly underfunded” and has been unable to implement laws and regulations. “We give more money to greyhound racing, which is a scandal.”
To support wildlife in your garden Fogarty’s top tip is to do nothing, or as little as possible. “If you cut down on mowing, let native trees grow and certainly do not use herbicides and pesticides, you’d be surprised how quickly insects and birds and wildlife will come and visit your garden.”
Rewilding is when you allow land to return to nature. “We pay farmers at the moment for producing beef and lamb and we penalise them for allowing natural habitats to develop on their land.” Fogarty suggested incentivising farmers to do both. “If we can get the balance right for food production and having land that is only for nature, I think people, including farmers, would enthusiastically embrace it”.
Squirrels, bears and wolves
He remembers seeing native red squirrels as a boy; now the non-native grey is more dominant. “I don’t want to vilify the grey squirrels but I wouldn’t miss them if they were gone. I’d love to see the red squirrels coming back. I hope pine martens and wolves and bears come back. I really want to see all our wildlife come back.”
Fogarty says it is no exaggeration to say we are at a “major crossroads in human civilisation”. The effects of climate change are “happening extraordinarily quickly”. It’s up to all of us to work hard for change within our communities and at government level. “The question is will Covid-19 help us focus on those things and change our ways? I certainly hope so. The last thing we want is for people to think that there’s no hope, that it’s gone too far and we just sit back and watch it all unfold. That would be the most disastrous outcome.”
This article was brought to you by the UCD Institute for Discovery, fuelling interdisciplinary research collaborations in UCD.