BIODIVERSITY – a crisis in Ireland and globally

I care about Biodiversity.

I have always felt instinctively that Biodiversity has intrinsic value, that we should conserve all of the variety of life on Earth; that we have a responsibility to leave this planet and its catalogue of life as intact as we can when when each of us leave this place – to be enjoyed and celebrated, and to nourish future generations.

Economists have tried to put a monetary value on biodiversity: Ireland’s biodiversity contributes €2.6 billion each year to the Irish economy through ecosystem services. But on top of these tangible ecosystem services – such as water or air quality, soil fertility or pollination services – there are also other countless benefits of biodiversity such as human quality of life and mental health.

Ireland’s last Great Auk was killed in 1834, just 10 years before the entire species went extinct. Tragically, many species in Ireland and abroad are set to follow suit.

Walking by the trees on your street makes you feel good, hearing birdsong when we wake makes us feel good. Walking by a clean stream makes us feel good. Knowing you are not actively causing extinctions of species that have been here longer than us makes one feel good.

I have accepted that if I have great grandchildren some day, tigers may only exist in zoos or nature reserves, I accept that polar bears and gorillas are probably on the way out, drifting towards the cliff edge, towards extinction. Of course that is to say: I have accepted it, but it does make me very very sad. Some charismatic species will inevitably be lost as the global human population continues to explode and land pressures encroach on natural habitats. Saving those species in ‘the wild’ is a huge challenge I’m not sure that us humans are up to.

But what about the rest of our biodiversity – the lesser known reptiles, amphibians, birds, the thousands and thousands of plant and insect species that don’t make the headlines? What about the Crop Wild Relatives that give genetic stability to the crops we eat? What about the medicinal plants still to be discovered? Shouldn’t we try to conserve as much biodiversity as we possibly can?

The global statistics make disturbing reading: one of every four mammals is threatened with extinction; six out of every seven turtles!; one out of every three amphibians, one of every eight bird species. In Ireland, we know that of the species groups assessed, between one fifth and one quarter are threatened with extinction, too. The current rate of extinction is about 1,000 times higher than what it would be in the absence of human activity and exploitation. Wow. Take a minute to consider that… 1,000 times. What legacy is that?

In order to protect our giant bank of valuable unique species, we must first know what we have and where they exist. Having a robust catalogue of data on species allows us to track changes over time in species and habitats. We must have this robust scientific knowledge at our fingertips in order to feed into international conventions, nature protection legislation and national programmes to address biodiversity loss.

In 2002 the Irish Government committed to the establishment of an Irish biodiversity database and a national biological data management system in Ireland’s first National Biodiversity Plan, and five years later, in late 2007, the National Biodiversity Data Centre was established.

The overarching mission of the National Biodiversity Data Centre is to provide national coordination and standards of biodiversity data and recording, assist the mainstreaming of biodiversity data and information into decision-making, planning, conservation management and research, and encourage greater engagement by society in documenting and appreciating biodiversity.”

The National Biodiversity Data Centre acts as a repository for data coming from researchers, wildlife groups, and citizen scientists all over Ireland. It is a safe place to send your records where your data will be conserved forever, instead of rotting away in notebooks or on an old PC. Your data can feed into national policies and management regimes and ultimately help to conserve our precious biodiversity.

The Data Centre currently stores more than 4 million records of over 16,000 speces.

The data held by the Data Centre doesn’t just help to contribute to decision-making in Ireland, it also feeds into international conservation initiatives. For example, the Data Centre’s Butterfly monitoring schemes feed into European butterfly atlases that can identifiy species range changes, changes in emergence times, and help to suggest causes of declines.

Of course, nature doesn’t recognise country borders. Swallows that arrive in Ireland to breed every summer have flown here all the way from Africa. Many of our species have this international aspect and with human travel and imports bringing invasive species to our shores on a regular basis, there is a clear need for countries to work together and share data to build a global biodiversity data network.

That network is the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, GBIF, a network of 57 participant countries, that holds over 1 billion species records.

Over 1.9 million records of Ireland’s biodiversity are published through GBIF. This includes records from 725 different datasets published from 31 different counties.


It’s amazing to think that my humble record of a butterfly in my garden, logged on my mobile phone through the Data Centre’s mobile app, will eventually find its way to this global biodiversity network and can be accessed by scientists anywhere in the world.

So I’m really excited about an event happening this October, when GBIF delegates from all over the world are coming all the way to Kilkenny for their annual meeting. Previous meetings have been held in Madagascar, in the Ivory Coast, in New Delhi, in Finland. So it is a huge honour for Ireland to host this meeting in Kilkenny in 2018. I’m proud to learn that Ireland is at the centre of everything when it comes to this global biodiversity infrastructure, that within GBIF, we are held up as an exemplary country in our management of our biodiversity data, our work standards, and now that Ireland is hosting this important event.

On October 18th, a public symposium will allow us all to learn more about the importance of biological recording on a global and national scale. Why not come along and hear how biodiversity data is managed on a global scale and some of the ways that participant countries, including Ireland, use that data to inform conservation?

When my nephew turns off his X-box, a pop-up screen says “Whatever is not saved will be lost.”

Perhaps we could say the same for our biodiversity. We must try. We must research, record, try to understand, share our information with others, and ultimately we must try to save all that we can.


18th October 2018:  Biodiversity loss in a changing world: local data, global action

The National Biodiversity Data Centre is delighted to host the 25th meeting of the Governing Board of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in Kilkenny from 15th to 18th October, 2018. The event will see delegates from 57 Participant Countries and 36 other Associate Participants across the world attend the Governing Board meeting.

On Thursday 18th October, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is hosting a public symposium Biodiversity loss in a changing world: local data, global action which provides a unique opportunity to hear about some of GBIF’s work and its global network. There will be keynote addresses from Donald Hobern, Executive Secretary of GBIF and Dr Thomas Orrell of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, in addition to speakers talking about how data are used to inform biodiversity action at a regional and national level. Speakers from Ireland will outline a number of use cases where data is used to better inform policy and encourage greater local community engagement.

View the full programme including speaker bios

– Juanita Browne works on the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan.