Almost two years since the Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity crisis, successive governments faced strong rebuke from biodiversity experts as they delivered impassioned appeals for urgent action to protect wildlife in this country.

Pádraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust told the Joint Committee on Climate Action that "Ireland is the most deforested country in the world", with native forests having been reduced from 80% to 2% of land surface.

He said: "Less than 1% of the midland's bogs are still growing."

Despite repeated commitments from Government, the National Biodiversity Forum has concluded that the state is "the biggest transgressor of environmental law", Mr Fogarty said, and recounted how untreated sewage is being pumped into the environment from 35 towns and villages.

No area of the environment escaped mention at the hearing.

Mr Fogarty said neglect of the uplands has left them "in collapse", hedgerows are ignored and "it is a dire state of affairs when the majority of the fishing boats around Ireland scarcely even catch fish anymore", he said, "due to the collapse of the ocean ecosystem".

Committee chairperson and Green Party TD Brian Leddin called the statistics "the bleak truth". There was also repeated mention of the enthusiasm for positive action in communities from around the country.

There was also a call that a champion for biodiversity, a "bio-ambassador", be appointed.

Also addressing the committee, Jane Stout, a professor of botany at Trinity College, said at least one biodiversity officer should be appointed to each local authority to ensure ecological awareness informs all decision making.

Prof Stout believes that healthy peatlands are Ireland's "trump card", as they are carbon sinks, storing ten times more carbon than forests do.

She believes that now is the perfect time to take action on biodiversity, as during the lockdown people have become more aware of the local environment, and more in touch with nature.

Mr Fogarty also underlined the link between climate action and biodiversity.

"Nature restoration is climate action. Healthy bogs, farmland, oceans - all store and sequester carbon," he said, adding that "it's also people action," bonding communities and delivering employment.

But Mr Fogarty acknowledged that trade-offs are often involved, crucially in the area of renewable energy.

He said "wind farms... have been put in the wrong place and have devastated peatland habitats, for instance in Donegal" and pointed to the dangers inherent in renewable infrastructure being sited in marine areas, as increasingly the norm.

Only 2% of Ireland's sea areas are protected, however, Ireland has signed up to an EU requirement to get that figure up to 30% by the end of the decade.

Mr Fogarty said: "Last month, Birdwatch Ireland... reported that an incredible two-thirds of our bird species are heading for extinction. This is a frightening figure."

Dr Liam Lysaght, Director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, noted this represents an almost 50% increase in under a decade.

All contributors emphasised that a healthy ecosystem is essential not just for a stable climate, but also for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Mr Fogarty said all the needed solutions are at hand, such as rewilding, removing "perverse subsidies that promote the destruction of nature", and putting the Biodiversity Action Plan on a legal footing.

This is Ireland's fourth such plan and Mr Fogarty said the State clearly needs a Biodiversity Action Act "to give it teeth".

Prof Stout also emphasised the need to go beyond protecting existing species and reintroduce those which have been driven to extinction.

Dr Lysaght said there is plenty of evidence that "there are a lot of people out there who do want to change" and encouraged the pursuit of a win-win scenario, where biodiversity initiatives and farming can be of mutual benefit.

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley agreed that many farmers are doing their bit, leaving potentially useful lands fallow and so delivering clear benefits.

But, he said, those farmers often have difficulty getting payment from Government support schemes, due to an emphasis on productivity.