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«The Economic and Social Aspects of Biodiversity Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland REPORT PREPARED BY: CRAIG BULLOCK, OPTIMIZE CONSULTANTS ...»

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As stated in section 9.5.2, the global costs of the HIV/AIDS pandemic have reached 1.2 billion in recent years. If it had been recognised early on in the 20th Century that increased human encroachment into forest habitats in Africa, and the butchering of wild primates for food, were high risk factors for the emergence of one of the most destructive diseases of recent history, and if appropriate counter-active conservation measures were then implemented, those costs could have been averted. Of course, the root causes of disease emergence are not so simply or easily addressed, since they are often related to broader social, economic and political elements. In the case of HIV/AIDS, social and political upheaval, human migration and economic changes in West and Central Africa may have been important factors, and would have made outright protection of habitats and species extremely difficult. However, a greater recognition of the links between ecosystem integrity and disease ecology within all sectors of government is clearly essential in light of this knowledge. Worldwide, integrating biodiversity conservation and impact assessment into the development of national strategies on social and economic growth, public health, food production and other sectors is no longer seen as optional, but an essential tool in protecting public health and avoiding economic costs.

Costs to be considered include those associated with sick leave, vaccine and immunisation expenditure, education and prevention programmes, monitoring, disinfection, and treatment. At the time of writing, no information was available on the costs of sick leave in Ireland, though a survey carried out by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in 2006 estimated that absenteeism cost an average of £670 per employee per year (approx. 995) amongst 20 Irish employers (CIPD 2006). The National Immunisation Office of the Health Service Executive indicates that expenditure on vaccines in Ireland reached 20 million in 2005, while the total costs of immunisation schemes (including, for example, public information) reached 75.5 million the same year. These costs are largely associated with a small number of diseases that are long established in the human population, such as mumps, measles and rubella. However, if emerging diseases such as HPAI H5N1 become a more serious threat to human health in Ireland, or if other new diseases become endemic in Europe as a result of ecosystem disruption or climate change, these costs will rise.

Emerging disease outbreaks often have wider economic costs, for example in cases where businesses and tourism are affected. A notable recent example of this is the 2007 cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Galway City and County caused by pollution in the Corrib river catchment from sewerage and agriculture. Between February and the time of writing (July 2007), the outbreak has had significant costs for householders, hotels, clinics, restaurants and other public venues and organisations. Over 150,000 was being spent on supplies of bottled water each day with over 36,000 having been spent by the Health Service Executive to provide water to two Galway hospitals. The cost of emergency upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and drinking water treatment systems will run to millions of euro (Irish Independent, 26th June 2007).

9.7 T H E I R I S H CO U N T RY S I D E – P U B L I C ACC E S S, P H YS I C A L H E A LT H


Ireland’s wild habitats and species have been of direct importance to Irish livelihoods for as long as people have inhabited this island. Our biodiversity has influenced the shapes and patterns of the countryside and has influenced many of our cultural, religious and social traditions. Although the substance and history of these connections has generally been forgotten, the Irish countryside is still of great importance to our concept of national heritage and to our individual and community “sense of place” and national identity. Many studies internationally have linked an awareness of endemism (in terms of the unique qualities of an area or landscape) or environmental values with greater social cohesion and well being (Karpela 1991, Pretty & Collette 1994, Horwitz 2001, Dixon & Durrheim 2000, Fried 2000, Kuo & Sullivan 2001, Bird 2004, 2005, 2007).

There is growing evidence that experience of open countryside, wildlife and natural landscapes promotes psychological wellness and physical health; avoiding modern “diseases of affluence”, such as depression, diabetes, asthma, obesity and heart disease. This has lead to the development of the “Green Gym” programme in Northern Ireland, the “Natural Fit” programme throughout the UK, and the development of “Slí na Sláinte” walking routes in the Republic. Even passive appreciation of the natural world is a proven remedy for stress and anxiety. Research in the UK has shown that hospitalised patients suffering some form of morbidity following surgery or major illness, improve faster and experience shorter hospital stays and generally experienced better outcomes when they are afforded a view of the natural environment or green space from their windows (Ulrich 1984, Bird 2005).

Access to green space and an awareness of biodiversity in urban areas has also been linked with increased physical activity, longevity and reduced stress (Tanaka et al. 1996, De Vries 2001, GilesCorti & Donovan 2003). Courneya et al. (2000) have also determined a link between access to green space, increased physical activity and improved pain management in cancer patients.

Furthermore, the development of environmental values, which an awareness of the natural world can foster, has been linked to a reduced propensity to anti-social behaviour in children and young adults, and to an increased sense of social responsibility, community spirit, empathy and connection (Horwitz 2001, Korpela 1991, Kuo and Sullivan 2001). A recent study of the management, use and biodiversity of selected public parks in the Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown area found that park users who were questioned about their opinions and experiences generally felt that their local parks were an important social resource, and that the very existence of their park as an accessible local amenity had positive social and health benefits (Kretsch 2004). The survey found that people often felt a sense of ownership of the parks, and that the level and frequency of use of a park by families and individuals could in many cases be correlated with the level of biodiversity.

9.8 M E D I C I NA L R E S O U R C E S A N D I R I S H T R A D I T I ON A L K N OW L E D G E

OF WILDLIFE Throughout the developing world, many millions of people rely on indigenous knowledge for their health and livelihood security. This knowledge is associated with the gathering and cultivation of foods, clothing and building materials, with local cultural traditions, and with systems of traditional medicines. In Ireland, until as recently as the early 20th Century, traditional knowledge of wildlife, habitats and landscapes was an important aspect of everyday community life (Allen & Hatfield, 2004). The bulk of this knowledge has now been lost to society and is of little consequence to modern Irish lifestyles. Up to 80% of the medicinal compounds currently on sale in world markets have some basis or origin in exploration from wild species. Modern drugs derived from wild species include pain killers (e.g. Zinconitide from cone snail toxin), cardiac drugs (e.g. Lanoxin from Digitalis plants), anti-malarials (e.g. Quinine from Cinchona trees), and anti-cancer drugs (e.g.Taxol from Taxus trees). In recent years, research into peptides produced by sea anemones has revealed new therapeutic possibilities for treating diabetes and other hormone-related illnesses (Kem et al.

1999, Beeton et al. 2006). Many other potentially important species are yet to be investigated.

The importance of wild flora and fauna to the pharmaceutical health care sector is being increasingly recognised. Worldwide, a number of research funding programmes have been established to enhance cooperation between the pharmaceutical sector, drug research institutes, primary health care associations, biodiversity conservationists and local communities, with the aim of identifying, preserving and sustainably exploiting wildlife of potential medical and ultimately economic value. One such example is the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups project initiated by the US National Institutes of Health, which commits several million dollars of funding in this area every year (Katz, 2005, Kursar et al 2006).

In Ireland, during the Celtic Revival of the 1930s, the Government compiled details of traditional herbal practices based on a survey of the parents and grandparents of school children. The results were compiled into over 1,000 volumes and are now stored in the Department of Irish Folklore in University College Dublin (Allen & Hatfield, 2004, Allen 2004). MacCoitir (2003, 2006) has assembled a large body of work on the folklore and practical uses associated with our native flora and fauna, showing that there is still a strong link between Irish wildlife, heritage and culture.

However, the wider cultural and social links with biodiversity conservation have been poorly promoted elsewhere, and the potential values of Irish folklore to modern medicine remain almost entirely unexplored.

The value of biodiversity to drug discovery and technology lies not only in the diversity of species and the various chemical compounds which each species may contain, but also in the genetic variability within species which means that different individuals of a particular species may yield different forms of biochemically active compounds depending on the environment where a species lives. A result of this is that while a particular species may not have been determined to provide relevant yields of a given compound, samples from other locations may show that the species does have medicinal potential. For example, it has long been known that levels and potency of morphine which is obtained from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum (economically one of the most important plants in the world) varies widely from country to country (Ilinskaya & Yosifova, 1956).

For Ireland, this means that our biodiversity may include species, or individual races, with potential medicinal value which may have been overlooked or deemed unimportant in other countries. It also highlights the further importance of an island-wide and ecosystem-based approach to wildlife conservation, conserving and enhancing genetic variability within species and preserving the geographic distribution and integrity of populations and habitats.

9.9. CON C LU S I ON There is an unfortunate and widespread misconception that biological diversity in Ireland is greatly impoverished in comparison to other countries, and that our wild flora and fauna are of little importance to our economic strength and competitiveness. Certainly, the belief that our wildlife includes harmful pests and sources of disease is (understandably) more widespread in Ireland than any understanding of the importance of our nature conservation to sustaining our health. Such sentiments overlook the uniqueness of our biodiversity and the natural features which have evolved here, and the ecosystem services that support our health and well-being, which biodiversity provides. In general terms, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to ascribe a specific quantitative value to any individual species or habitat, excepting those that are harvested by man or that otherwise provide some form of marketable product. Ascribing a value to the protection of any individual species, especially those that have little aesthetic appeal to the wider population, is a difficult task. For example, in recent years, we have seen conflicts arise between the objectives of economic and social development and the aims of nature conservation in which the risks to individual species, such as a rare species of snail, have been highlighted. In an argument of “snail vs.

motorway”, major infrastructure development would seem to have the stronger position in terms of direct benefits to human well-being. Does it really matter if one particular species of snail disappears from Ireland as a result of our economic development? Surely, the loss of one tiny invertebrate will not impact on anyone’s health? It is difficult to find a concrete economic argument in favour of conservation in this sense, however the focus must be on the wider values of biodiversity, and the functions of individual species as part of an ecological system that provides us with essential life-sustaining services. Earlier sections of this report have discussed issues such as redundancy and the functions of individual species within ecological systems.The examples in this chapter illustrate how diversity helps to protect against social and economic risks by providing the basis for a robust, resilient natural environment that can provide a defence against environmental stresses, while also having inherent value in supporting physical, psychological and social health.

In Ireland, we tend to feel relatively cosseted from the more harmful effects and threats of global environmental change. As discussed above, however, our reliance on ecosystem services derived from outside the state increases as we lose our own biodiversity. The recent rapid development of Ireland’s economy and improvements in standards of living, may also have reinforced a sense of protection and isolation from the wider threats of climate change, epidemic diseases, and economic instability. As is the case in most of the world, our well-being is measured more in terms of living standards and economic turnover rather than the availability and security of the life-sustaining resources which biodiversity provides. However, as demonstrated elsewhere in this report, the globalised nature of economic activity, the increased levels of international travel and commerce, and our increased dependence upon external natural resources for food, raw materials and fuel, exposes Ireland to a wide range of threats associated with human impacts on the natural environment.

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