Time Is Running Out To Protect Our Endangered Environment Warns Chief

    If we don’t take radical action now to protect our environment then every aspect of it is threatened the head of Northern Ireland’s Environment Agency (NIEA) has warned.

    David Small has ignited a public debate on how we can enhance and protect our Environment by launching a discussion document asking the public to help us draft Northern Ireland’s first ever Environment Strategy.

    NIEA Chief Executive David Small with the cover of the Environment Strategy Discussion Paper.

    “Addressing climate change, becoming carbon neutral, tackling plastic pollution and achieving zero waste are essential measures to safeguard our environment,” he warned.

    “In Northern Ireland our beautiful landscape is our most important asset but we can no longer afford to take clear air, good water quality and green and blues spaces for granted.

    “Our precious environment is an essential part of our economy, 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,” cautioned David Small, who is also Head of Environment, Marine and Fisheries within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

    He added that big challenges need big ideas so today DAERA, with the help of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB), young people from both Belfast Hills Partnership and Ulster Wildlife and volunteers from Ligoniel Improvement Association, is kick-starting an extensive public debate on the issue.

    David Small urged everyone to take part as their feedback will help shape a future long-term strategy. “We want the public to help us identify the solutions to protect, preserve and enhance our environment and are very keen to ensure our plans accurately reflect what it is we all want to achieve for this and future generations.”

    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.

    Dr Sue Christie, OBE, from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said: “We know the problems, and we know they’re serious.  We’re drowning in rubbish, killing off species and destroying habitats at an unprecedented rate and facing climate catastrophe in just ten years.  But we also know the solutions – a few major changes can halt all of these problems and pave the way to a truly remarkable future.

    “What’s missing is the public will to change and the political drive to assist and support that change.  This strategy offers an opportunity to start making these changes, and to make Northern Ireland a global leader in addressing environmental challenges.  Have your say – show that you care.”

    Gillian McKee, Deputy Managing Director of Business in the Community said: “We welcome any move towards creating a strategy for a better environment in Northern Ireland. There is extensive evidence to show a positive link between green spaces and good mental health and we would hope that this would be a key impact to which the strategy would aspire.

    “In addition, we would be strongly encouraging DAERA to consider the impact business has on our environment and the potential for a strategy to set bold targets towards addressing climate change – targets that all sectors in our society can work together to achieve.”

    It is intended that the Environment Strategy will sit alongside other Executive strategies such as the sustainable development, economic and public health strategies.

    DAERA will publish a summary of the findings before drafting the “Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland” in early 2020. The Strategy is intended to be high level and will require endorsement from a future Minister and Executive.

    The public discussion is open for 14 weeks and will close on 23 December 2019.