‘Essential action’ must be taken now to safeguard North’s environment

Agency says ‘particular challenges’ due to North’s ‘very different characteristics of economy, geographical location’

NIEA’s freshwater ecologist Andrew Doran checks out good and bad bugs from a kick sample from Minnowburn River, Belfast. The abundance of good bugs such as the Stonefly or Mayfly, which are less tolerant to pollution, are used as an indicator of water quality - an essential part of a healthy environment

NIEA’s freshwater ecologist Andrew Doran checks out good and bad bugs from a kick sample from Minnowburn River, Belfast. The abundance of good bugs such as the Stonefly or Mayfly, which are less tolerant to pollution, are used as an indicator of water quality - an essential part of a healthy environment

 

“Essential action” must be taken now to safeguard the environment in Northern Ireland, the head of the North’s Environment Agency has warned.

If nothing is done, “every aspect of it is threatened - the land we walk on, the air we breathe and the water we drink”, said David Small, the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

Mr Small was speaking at the launch of a discussion document which asks for the public’s help to formulate Northern Ireland’s first environment strategy.

It was published on Wednesday morning by the North’s Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

In states that while Northern Ireland is “fortunate” to have a “relatively good” environment, “recent assessments have identified that our environment is under threat and we are faced with the challenge of how to protect our important natural asset, while supporting its sustainable use.”

It refers to the “particular challenges in Northern Ireland, due to the very different characteristics of our economy, our geographical location and other factors, such as the continued prevalence of coal and oil as fuels, all of which increase pressures on the environment from agricultural, transport, energy supply and residential sources.”

The environmental issues, it says, are “wide-ranging and complex” and therefore an environmental strategy is required “to form the basis for a coherent and effective set of interventions that can deliver real improvements in the quality of the environment.”

The document invites the public to respond in connection with four themes - environmental engagement, prosperity, efficiency and quality.

The consultation will run for 14 weeks. DAERA will publish a summary of the findings before drafting the Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland in early 2020.

The final strategy will require endorsement from a future environment minister and from the Northern Ireland Executive.

There has been no devolved government in Northern Ireland since January 2017, when the Stormont Assembly collapsed amid a row over a botched renewable heating scheme.

This is addressed in the document, which states that “under normal circumstances, at the outset of this project officials would have taken our policy direction from the Minister .”

In the current absence of ministers, it says, “we wish to obtain as broad a view as possible on what a future Environment Strategy might seek to address in order to inform an incoming Minister.”

“Our precious environment is an essential part of our economy,” said Mr Small, “supporting many of our industries, from food and farming to fishing, forestry, tourism and energy. It’s part of our global marketing strategies. It’s part of our DNA.

“It’s now time-critical to protect this vital natural resource with ambitious, inspiring and targeted actions that keep it at the very heart of what we all do. There is no alternative than to act now, time is running out and standing still is not an option - there is no Planet B.”

The full document, and the opportunity to respond, is available at https://consultations.nidirect.gov.uk/daera-neq/esni