Northern Ireland

Environment strategy consultation launched in Northern Ireland

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs staff monitoring water quality at Minnowburn near Belfast
Image caption Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs staff monitoring water quality

The public has been asked to help shape Northern Ireland's first environment strategy.

The head of the agency charged with looking after it said time was running out to ensure it is properly protected.

David Small from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency said "ambitious, inspiring and targeted actions" were needed.

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

Mr Small said issues to be addressed included climate action, plastic pollution and getting to zero waste.

"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," he said.

A similar public consultation in Great Britain resulted in a 25-year plan and work has begun on taking an Environment Bill through Westminster.

Conservationists will be keen to see whether the same thing might happen here.

They have sometimes lamented the standard of environmental protection here, citing, among other things, the absence of an independent Environmental Protection Agency to hold the authorities to account.

Northern Ireland is also the only part of the UK without its own climate change legislation or targets, preferring instead to contribute to wider UK targets and be bound by Westminster law.

Image caption Invertebrates collected from rivers and streams are studied as they are an indicator of water quality

Dr Sue Christie, from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said everyone knew the problems, including widespread litter, biodiversity and habitat lost.

"What's missing is the public will to change and the political drive to assist and support that change," she said.

She said this strategy offered an opportunity to change that.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will publish a summary of the public submissions before drafting the strategy in early 2020.

It said the plan would be "high level" and will need the endorsement of a future minister.

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