The majority of landscape planting in Ireland, whether in gardens, urban parks, private developments, and retail and industrial estates is dominated by non-native tree, shrub and ground flora species. Where native species are utilised, for example, on national road schemes, it generally consists of foreign provenance plant material from countries such as Holland and Hungary.
The Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched the Native Woodland Scheme (NWS) in 2001. In 2005, with respect to national road landscaping projects, the National Roads Authority adopted the certified traceability system used in the NWS which prescribes the use of Irish provenance native tree and shrub plant material. It has also been adopted by a number of local authorities in relation to their planning conditions.
However, in the absence of appropriate environmental education and awareness, non-native species continue to be utilised in landscape planting across Ireland. Foreign provenance plant material also continues to flood the Irish horticultural market with the result that landscape planting schemes - and even the hedgerows planted on REPS farms - consist of foreign provenance plant material. This has negative consequences, especially for genetic pollution of the native gene pool, co-incident with the threat of disease importation. There also continues to be a tendency to utilise non-native species or cultivars of native species, especially in urban areas and rural gardens. Non-native ground flora species and cultivars can impart negative impacts on the native gene pool, e.g. on native Blubells as a result of crossbreeding with Spanish Bluebells. Furthermore, the availability of non-certified commercial wildflower mixes has led to the planting of non-native grasses and a diversity of flowering plants in order to create wildflower meadows. However, these do not reflect the natural low-lying semi-natural grasslands typical of the Irish landscape as described in Fossitt (2000) and are also threatening the integrity of the native wildflower gene pool.
There is also misinformation and confusion in the public realm concerning native species. This is evident in various guideline documents, advice notes and websites which often list non-native species as native species.
In this regard, the website aims to:
- Provide relevant background information to establish both urban and rural native planting schemes in a broad range of environments and at various spatial scales, e.g. for residential gardens, retail outlets, shopping centres, industrial estates, public urban parks, farms etc.
- Provide a user friendly support system for all stakeholders and web browsers, e.g. gardeners, horticulturalists, landscape designers, landscape contractors, planners, etc.
- Consolidate existing available information including websites (through links) pertaining to the planting of native trees and shrubs
- Provide appropriate tools and knowledge for planting native species in both urban and rural environments
- Provide information relevant to strategic landscape planning, development plans, local area plans and village design statements in relation to the use of native planting schemes
- Provide definitive lists of native species including those with restricted geographical ranges
- Present ‘Key Cards’ detailing ecology and characteristics of all native trees and shrubs
- Provide information which will contribute to the “greening” of Irish businesses
- Increase public awareness of the importance of planting Irish provenance plant material
- Increase market demand and thus, the availability of Irish provenance plant material in the Irish retail horticultural market
- Provide details of native plant communities which can be established in residential gardens, school grounds, retail outlets, housing estates, etc.
Furthermore, the website contributes toward meeting Ireland’s obligations under International, European and national policy and legislation relevant to this area, by promoting current best practise, i.e.
At International Level:
- To contribute, in the area of landscape planning, design and management, to the fulfilment of Ireland’s obligations on the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (1992), as ratified, by Ireland, in 1996.
- In the area of landscape planning, design and management, towards the fulfilment of Ireland’s obligations to the principles of Sustainable Development (as outlined in the Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and Local Agenda 21 criteria.
At European Level:
- To contribute, in the area of landscape planning, design and management, toward the fulfilment of Ireland’s obligations to the European Landscape Convention 2002
- To contribute, in the area of landscape planning, design and management, toward the fulfilment of Ireland’s obligations to the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC
At National Level:
- To contribute to the development of a ‘National Landscape Strategy for Ireland’
- To contribute to the implementation of the National Heritage Plan (2002) in the area of landscape planning, design and management
- To contribute toward the implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan (2002) in the area of landscape planning, design and management
- To contribute to the implementation of Irish legislation including the Wildlife Act, 1976, as amended in 2000, which provides for the conservation and protection of Irelands natural environment
- To contribute to the implementation of Irish legislation in relation to non-native invasive species
- To provide a platform for further policy formulation in relation to the use of native species and the conservation of native biodiversity in Ireland.