Guest blog by Emily Hunter, RSPB NI Nature Protection Policy Officer

The Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has launched a consultation on an Environment Strategy for Northern Ireland – this will be Northern Ireland’s first long-term strategy to help protect the environment and restore nature.

With our environment in crisis, it’s clearly needed. The UN has warned that we have only 12 years to avert a climate catastrophe and globally species are declining at a rate not previously seen. Northern Ireland is not immune to this: one in five NI species is at risk of extinction; at just 8%, woodland cover here is far below the European average of 46%; while sea level rise linked to climate change could see parts of our coastal towns and cities submerged if global temperatures increase by 2°C.

Time is running out. The destruction of our environment is happening now and we need action now to stop it. The consultation is an exciting opportunity to make sure that Northern Ireland has the right policies in place to safeguard the environment for future generations. 

DAERA wants to hear people’s big ideas for the environment and we have three that we believe could make a huge difference.

Firstly, the Strategy should include plans for a Northern Ireland Climate Act. Thousands of people came out to call for action on climate change as part of the Global Climate Strike in September, so it’s clear that this is important for people in NI – yet we don’t have our own legislation or targets for reducing carbon emissions. The Strategy should set a target for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2045 with clear and measurable interim targets to achieve this.

Climate change is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, but action on this alone won’t restore nature in Northern Ireland. Nature is in trouble here, with even common birds including starlings and house sparrows in decline. We must restore our best sites for nature to favourable condition and we welcome the Strategy’s focus on this. However, we also need to ensure that they are connected through a network of habitats outside protected sites where wildlife can recover and thrive. The Strategy should include a target to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and reverse the downward trend so that it is on a path to recovery by 2050.

Finally, we must ensure that strong environmental protections are backed up with strong environmental governance. Currently, Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland that does not have an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). An independent EPA would have the power to monitor implementation of the law and take action when people or organisations are carrying out activity that could harm nature or the environment. We believe that the Strategy must include plans for an independent EPA to be established in NI as soon as possible.

Despite past promises, current policies are failing to protect the environment we all share. It is clear that more of the same is not enough; the Strategy must include bold and radical measures if it is to be meaningful.

We have an opportunity to put in place policies that will protect local species from extinction, help save our planet from runaway climate breakdown and safeguard the environment for future generations. 

RSPB NI has launched an e-action and we need you to take part. We believe that if the Strategy includes the measures we propose, then we will give nature a fighting chance to recover. We hope that as many people as possible will support us in demanding that DAERA include these policies in the Strategy.  
Nature and our world are facing challenging times.

We depend on nature for our survival; it’s time to take action to protect it.

Add your voice for nature by following this link:

Photo credits: Puffin by Michael Harvey, starling by Ben Andrew and corncrake by Graham Goodall (all