The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is committed to having a “less adversarial approach” with farmers and one which is more “collaborative”, according to Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan.

Minister Noonan says a new strategic action plan launched for the NPWS, with a backing of €55m additional investment over the next three budgetary cycles, will see more “boots on the ground” when it comes to the presence of rangers in national parks and across the country for engagement with farmers.

He launched the plan, which commits to the early recruitment of 60 additional “key staff” for the NPWS, in Kilkenny on Wednesday. Additional objectives within the shakeup to create a more “fit for purpose” NPWS include organisational restructuring, a new senior management team, better communications and customer service.

The minister said the plan follows 3,000 submissions and interviews with stakeholders.

Farmers needed

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Minister Noonan stressed that Ireland’s biodiversity goals can’t be achieved “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.

‘Executive agency’

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.

Minister Noonan confirmed that the action plan will see NPWS operate as a new “executive agency” with its “funding returned to 2008 levels”.