The word biodiversity is a relatively new one, encompassing the whole rich variety of life that surrounds and sustains us. Governments from across the world, including Ireland, have pledged to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Each country made a commitment to maintain and enhance their native biodiversity. And while the primary emphasis is placed on maintaining threatened habitats and species, there is also a legitimate role for enhancing our native biodiversity through rigorously controlled reintroduction programmes.
Alongside the more commonplace efforts to recreate habitats, for example reafforestation, there have been over 400 reintroductions of wildlife species in 80 different countries worldwide. So the Golden Eagle, White-tailed Eagle and Red Kite Reintroduction Programmes are part of a global effort to increase native biodiversity using increasingly common conservation management techniques.
County Donegal is the most peripheral of counties in the Republic of Ireland, as it is isolated in the extreme northwest of the country and is almost entirely cut off by Northern Ireland. The infrastructure is less well developed and unemployment, though low, is higher than in other parts of the Republic of Ireland.
Tourism is the main source of income in Donegal and also the biggest source of employment. Tourism numbers in Donegal have been dependent to some degree on the stability of neighbouring Northern Ireland. Donegal Tourism and the North West Tourism have both been consulted and are anxious to see the project progress as they believe Golden Eagles will become an attraction themselves, especially in the quieter shoulder seasons (Spring & Autumn), and they can also be used to promote Donegal in a wider sense. North West Tourism are part of the project Steering Group.
Apart from some quality agricultural land in eastern Donegal, the majority of farm holdings in Donegal are small and livestock numbers are generally small. A large minority of Donegal’s farmers are part time farmers and the majority of hill farmers have "full time" jobs. Compulsory changes in stocking densities and the immenent change from headage to acreage payments are resulting in lower sheep numbers and better sheep husbandry. There is a better rapport between the farming community and conservationists in Donegal than elsewhere in similar counties such as Mayo or Kerry. The Irish Farmers Association (Ireland’s biggest farming union) has been consulted. At a recent IFA County Executive meeting, the Project Manager gave a presentation about the project. The Donegal IFA Chairman, George O Hagan, said at the meeting that he had consulted farming colleagues in Scotland and he accepted that the level of threat to Donegal lambs was minimal. The IFA has written a letter acknowledging that they are happy for the project to proceed and they too are part of the project Steering Group.
Donegal also has a large area classified as Gaeltacht areas – where Gaelic is the predominant language and the Gaelic culture is still vibrant, through music, literature and the media. Nonetheless there is a general feeling of encroachment and threat from the mass English media. As many of the potential Golden Eagle home ranges are in Gaeltacht areas, we are anxious to promote the project in Gaelic whenever/wherever possible. The project manager is a competent Gaelic speaker. Údarás na Gaeltachta, who are the local development agency with responsibility for job creation and enhancing the Gaelic culture, were approached and they are backing the project financially and are also assisting us in translations and media work in Gaelic.
Unemployment, and resultant emigration, has been a traditional social problem in County Donegal, perhaps particularly near those remote mountainous areas considered suitable Golden Eagle habitat. Local communities here are consequently eager to see job opportunities develop locally and are conscious that they too must have a say in shaping their environment. We have already consulted with individuals and with the wider community through high profile local radio and print media coverage in English and Irish. We will continue to meet local elected representatives, interest groups, schools and parish councils and development groups throughout the course of the project. We have emphasised that Donegal was chosen above all other Irish counties due to the quality of habitat and the attitude toward wildlife, reflected in the populations of other species. There is a growing view within the county that the project will have economic, cultural, aesthetic and educational benefits alongside its conservation enhancement.