Climate change top of NI public's environmental concerns

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

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Image caption,
A number of climate change protests have been held across NI

Climate change is the number one environmental issue of concern for households in Northern Ireland, according to a government report.

It follows huge focus on the issue in recent years in the media and through the action of climate activists.

Its overtaken illegal dumping which had been the principal concern for almost a decade.

The finding report is compiled annually by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs.

It covers a wide range of topics from biodiversity to waste management and pollution and gives an indication of the state of the local environment.

There are improvements in some areas like overall air quality and recycling rates.

But problems remain, with no improvement in things like the state of the rivers and our levels of greenhouse gas emissions when measured against targets for chosen baseline years.

For the first time, a new indicator was added to the survey, asking people about recyclable waste not being recycled.

Almost one in four households said they were concerned that material that could be reused was ending up in landfill.

Image source, DAERA
Image caption,
The report found no improvement in the state of rivers in Northern Ireland

Increasing ammonia emissions from agriculture remain an issue and farming was responsible for 30% of confirmed water pollution incidents.

But industry, domestic septic tanks and NI Water also affected water quality to a significant degree.

Marine waters have also seen an increased level of nutrients, impacting biodiversity in coastal waters.

And while a significant area of land and some sea have been designated as protected sites only a small proportion of it is currently being actively managed.

The department says it had been focused on site designation in recent years and will concentrate on increasing the amount in so-called "favourable conservation status".

The report finds "statistically significant" declines between 2017 and 2018 in some of our most common and best loved birds.

Pied wagtail, robin willow, warbler, goldcrest and bullfinch are much less common with cold spring conditions being blamed for hitting populations.

Only the coal tit showed a significant increase in numbers over the period.

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