Some €55m additional investment is set to be provided to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) over the next three years as part of a new strategic action plan for the service.
The plan, launched by Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan in Kilkenny on Wednesday, will see 60 new key staff recruited, a full organisational overhaul, the appointment of a new senior management team, better communications and customer service.
The “right balance” of these 60 new staff will include more “boots on the ground” when it comes to the presence of rangers in national parks and across the country for engagement with farmers, according to Minister Noonan.
The NPWS reboot follows a government-commissioned review into the service which found that while staff were “dedicated, passionate and knowledgeable”, it was clear the NPWS was “not aligned effectively” to protect the State’s biodiversity. A report following this review was published in February.
Minister Noonan confirmed that the action plan, which he says has come about following the review of 3,000 submissions and interviews with stakeholders, will see NPWS operate as a new “executive agency” with its “funding returned to 2008 levels”.
While launching the plan on Wednesday, the Minister acknowledged that when he started his term as the Minister responsible for the NPWS, there “weren’t enough rangers” present on the ground and said that the plan is about “reversing this decline”.
He said that despite this decline, those staff already existing in the NPWS have showed an “unwavering commitment to nature” and highlighted that they have “literally been putting out fires”.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Minister Noonan stressed that the realisation of Ireland’s biodiversity goals can’t be done “without the support of the farming community”.
He described how he had “positive engagement” with the farm organisations in recent weeks. The Minister said: “We know that from that engagement that the farming community wants to do the right thing and they want to be supported to do the right thing.”
Minister Noonan said that during the development of the NPWS plan he has been travelling the country for face-to-face contact with farmers and suggested that “nothing can beat that”.
“Equally, I think we can do a lot more around wildlife crime, using phone app technology, our ICT system, improving our web materials and social media. All of that, in my view, can be stepped up over the next couple of years and it’s certainly in the [action] plan,” he said.