Our built and natural heritage are assets of the State, providing economic, social and environmental benefits to us all. They need to be valued and not exploited solely for economic gain. During the economic boom these assets have taken a big hit; we have lost or damaged many habitats and lost forever species of flora and fauna. We will not meet our targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 and the problem is being exacerbated by climate change. I will be highlighting this issue as a significant one during the election campaign. I think there remains a great untapped resource in our communities to preserve and appreciate our natural heritage.
Our farming community as custodians of the countryside have a role to play in maintaining hedgerows and protecting watercourses. In our towns and cities we could plant more trees, create more habitats in our gardens. By restoring grants to the Heritage Council and to Heritage Forums throughout the Country we can incentivise community groups to take care of our wild areas. In pre school and school settings we could offer grants to provide outdoor classrooms and forest schools. All simple but tangible ways of tapping in to the real sense of pride that we all have in our wildlife and natural heritage.
Our built heritage in our cities, towns, villages and rural areas has been systematically destroyed by development and now left to fall in to disrepair and dilapidation. UNESCO has designated all pre 1919 building stock to be of heritage interest. In Ireland we have over 120,000 such buildings. These may range from traditional farmhouses to shops, with traditional signage, to townhouses and even industrial heritage such as factories or old cinemas.
I have worked on issues of built heritage for many years and led Kilkenny in a cross European project on heritage in urban areas (www.urbact/links.eu
). I see a great opportunity for job provision, re-skilling and urban regeneration in schemes such as ‘Living above the Shops’ and in making Kilkenny a hub for Traditional Building Skills. This will have a positive impact our local economies in Carlow and Kilkenny; both counties with an incredible array of built heritage. Moreover it will get people back living in our urban and village centers and reduce demand for social housing.