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  • Shirley Clerkin

An All-Island Vision for Climate and Biodiversity - Shirley Clerkin

Natural Capital Ireland is pleased to reproduce here the remarks of our member Shirley Clerkin, Heritage Officer with Monaghan County Council. Shirley presented her remarks at the Shared Island Dialogue on 5th February 2021. The event was an online civic dialogue with 100+ representatives from the North and South of Ireland aiming to foster constructive and inclusive civic dialogue on all aspects of a shared future on the island of Ireland.

Photo of Shane Barnagh’s Lough, Sliabh Beagh - a cross-border area of blanket bog. Photo by Paul Sherlock, Monaghan County Council Heritage Officer and CANN project.

This wonderful island, to which we are fortunate to be tethered, is a single bio-geographic unit.

The scientific evidence – and our eyes and ears – tells us that we have collectively driven biodiversity downwards at a frightening pace. This sixth mass extinction is not a rehearsal. We are crossing planetary boundaries.

But we also know that biodiversity benefits when people and organisations work together, take responsibility, building partnerships, sharing knowledge and undertaking common actions.

Which attitudes or cultural behaviours do we exhibit towards our biodiversity? Are we a ruler, a steward, partner, or participant? Are we engaging with our hearts and minds? Biodiversity is part of our shared heritage – our natural and cultural capital.

Biodiversity is beyond a public good: it is crucial for environmental function and ecosystem services. It also acts as a cultural anchor, providing social stability and health especially in times of change.

A heritage community consists of “people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations”. If we consider ourselves to be part of a heritage community with a multiplicity of values and interests, we can embrace a cultural-natural understanding of biodiversity and its services.

Today, I will focus on four suggestions on how to address the biodiversity crisis on this island.

1. The Shared Island Dialogue could catalyse an All-Island Vision for Biodiversity. This could be an empowering positive vision for nature, culture and people, that incorporates nature-based solutions. The statement would identify and communicate the material benefits and cultural values associated with biodiversity and capture our symbolic relationships with nature. It would set out our common ambition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and build all-island alliances for nature.

2. Deliver big, local and familiar. We need large-scale green infrastructure on this island, which delivers ecosystem services – landscape and corridor connections which go from the very local to all-island landscapes North and South. We can deliver an all-island hedgerow project and charter delivering wildlife corridors and habitat stepping-stones. We need a “necklace of Peace-lands”– Peatlands along the border to knit the landscape together with common biodiversity objectives, restoration actions and community buy-in.

3. Roll out the Farming for Nature programme across the island – The biggest threat to North-South collaboration post Brexit lies in agriculture. The Farming for Nature programme demonstrates innovative farmer-to-farmer approaches to reduce impacts on biodiversity and improve the marketing of agricultural products.

4. Systems change. We urgently need to address backstage issues so that the biodiversity show can go on. This will save money in the long run, too. To achieve real progress, we must fix the structural issues, such as mis-matched designations and low numbers of biodiversity staff in local authorities. Addressing these systemic issues will allow us to deliver joint conservation plans, mapping, data collection, memorandums of understanding on biodiversity North and South.

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