Northern Ireland Campaigns Officer Christopher McAteer explains why we need your help to secure the one thing that gives nature across the UK a real chance to recover and flourish in the future. Don’t live in Northern Ireland? Find out why this matters just as much in England, Scotland and Wales.

The four countries that make up the UK are each responsible for their own environmental policy, but nature doesn't respect political borders. We urgently need them to work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for the environment after we leave the EU. 

We need the main political parties in Northern Ireland to start fighting for nature’s future. While talks continue at Stormont, we must urgently remind our politicians to prioritise nature and stop the environment from falling off the agenda. We need a system that works across borders for all our wildlife. 

A letter from you now could influence the design of the new laws and institutions needed to protect our environment post-Brexit. Read on to find out more, and how to take action.


If there are gaps in the law, the environment will suffer

There are glaring gaps in UK Government's Withdrawal Bill that aims to convert EU environmental law into domestic law. This means we risk losing the important legal principles stating, for example, that polluters should pay for the damage they cause and that the risks of serious environmental damage should be taken into account and acted on by decision-makers even in the absence of full scientific certainty.


We need an environmental watchdog to protect nature

Gannet Morus bassanus, faces the camera head on against a dark background, Saltee Island, Ireland, April

It is not enough to have strong laws that protect the environment on paper. We also need the tools to ensure they are being properly applied on the ground. Currently, several EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, largely fulfil that role. Outside the EU, we will need our own institutions to ensure that our environmental laws are implemented in full and that governments and other organisations can be held to account.

If we want a healthy and sustainable future for nature, we need a strong, independent environmental watchdog. Without the means of holding our governments to account, present and future environmental laws won’t be worth the paper they are written on. It is essential that members of the public, like you, can trust that an independent watchdog is there to look out for the environment.


We must get political leaders across the four nations working together to fill the environmental governance gap 

The UK Government has promised in their 25 Year Environment Plan that they will consult on a new world-leading body on environmental standards. However, their proposal is for an England-only watchdog that the devolved nations will be free to “make use of” if their governments decide to.

We don’t want to be lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to protecting the environment. But, while the deadlock in talks continues at Stormont, there is a real danger that the environment in Northern Ireland will get left behind. 

We cannot allow this to happen. Our political leaders must acknowledge the gap in our own environmental governance and find ways to address this collaboratively with the Westminster and other devolved governments.

Given that nature does not respect borders, we need to make sure that all four nations have similarly high standards after Brexit, overseen by an independent body – co-owned by the four nations – with the power to hold all four governments to account for upholding and advancing our environment laws.

We need a consistent approach to nature’s protection and recovery. We need a shared means to hold our governments to account for upholding and advancing environmental standards.

At the RSPB, we understand that we need to come together to get the best outcome for nature. That’s why we are working together with other eNGOs in Northern Ireland to achieve the best Brexit for nature. Our politicians need to work together too if we are to have a nature-friendly Brexit.


Challenge NI party leaders to stand up for nature

Any solution to the governance gap needs to enable individual citizens to hold our governments and decision-makers to account. As campaigners, letter-writers and people who already speak up for nature, that means you!

You can influence the future of our nature laws and how we enforce them by writing a letter or email to one or more of the leaders of the main parties in Northern Ireland. 

Urge our political leaders to explain how they intend to respond to the environmental governance gap, and encourage them to work together to protect our shared natural heritage.

Here are some other key points you might want to include in your message: 

  • Northern Ireland has a unique and beautiful environment that is home to over 20,000 different species. However, we have seen greater loss of biodiversity than any other region of the UK. We need to do more to protect nature here.
  • We need an environmental watchdog that can hold all four governments across the UK to account. Nature isn’t bound by our political borders so collaboration is essential.
  • Part of the function of the new body should be to ensure that environmental principles continue to fulfil their three functions:
    •  to guide how the law is interpreted
    •  to guide future decision-making
    •  to give a basis for legal challenges when the law is broken
  • To be durable, the new body must be established in law and report to the legislatures in each of the four nations.
  • It should also have a presence in all four nations to ensure effective communication with and between relevant stakeholders.

If you need some inspiration about how to write a strong letter, our Guide to Campaigning can help.

You can help us track the impact of the campaign – please let us know at if you've written to one or more of the party leaders, and any replies you receive.

If we are to restore nature in a generation, we urgently need to see a much more open, transparent, consultative and collaborative approach between the UK and devolved governments in relation to the future of our environment. And we need a much greater focus on securing the best possible environmental outcomes across the four nations. You can help make this a reality, thank you.


Contact one or more of the NI party leaders

You can use the same letter or email for each of them by simply personalising the name.

Mrs Arlene Foster
27 East Bridge Street
BT74 7BW

Sinn Féin
Mrs Michelle O’Neill
79 Quarry Road
Co Derry
BT45 8NT

Mr Colum Eastwood
Northside Village Centre
Glengalliagh Road
BT48 8NN

Mr Robin Swann
13-15 Queen Street
BT42 2BB

Mrs Naomi Long
56 Upper Newtownards Road

Green Party
Mr Steven Agnew
76 Abbey Street
BT20 4JB