Government report says Irish countryside under increased pressure

A new report by the Irish Government says that the rural environment is being placed under increased pressure as a result of agricultural intensification, population growth near urban areas, industrial development, rural depopulation in remote areas, afforestation and the growth of the tourism sector.

Rural Environmental Indicators: A Discussion Document on Key Indicators in Ireland, compiled by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), presents 29 key indicators describing the various economic sectors and their impact on the countryside, which is undergoing rapid change as a result of population growth near urban areas, rural depopulation in more remote areas, industrial development, and growth in the tourism and forestry sectors. The rural environment is of special significance in a nation where 42% of the population live in the countryside, a proportion almost unheard of in developed nations, and where it is the key attraction for the booming tourist industry.

The main findings of the report, which will soon be available on the Irish EPA website, are:

  • changes in agricultural practices over the last few decades have impacted on the environment to a significant degree, with main concerns including the emission of methane and nitrous oxide), detrimental impacts on soil and biodiversity and the increasing incidence of water pollution (see related feature);
  • in a ‘business as usual’ scenario, Ireland will significantly exceed its international obligations in relation to limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, and has already exceeded them by 5%;
  • Ireland’s current booming tourism industry is increasingly putting pressure on natural resources and the environment, with the main challenge identified as the need to achieve a wider seasonal and regional distribution to contribute to the sustainable development of the industry;
  • loss of habitats due to agricultural intensification, building development and afforestation means that Ireland’s natural resources, flora and fauna are coming under increasing pressure; and
  • most of the current 9% of afforested land consists of coniferous species, which can lower the amenity value of an area and have an intrusive affect on the landscape.

It is intended that the environmental indicators in the report will contribute to the National Spatial Strategy presently under development. Among the reports main recommendations are:

  • appropriate farm management and nutrient management planning on all farms in order to minimise pollution of rivers and lakes;
  • full implementation of the National Climate Change Strategy (also see this months feature) in order to control and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases;
  • integration of all policies sections such as land-use planning, transport, energy and the environment into an integrated rural policy;
  • careful management and planning of tourism and recreational activities to minimise environmental damage; and
  • improve the availability of data on biodiversity and natural resources to guide their protection and conservation.

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