The Government body charged with tackling environmental crime has not prosecuted anyone over the last year for damage to protected wildlife areas.
The RSPB warned that Northern Ireland Environment Agency is at risk of failing the environment if it doesn’t tighten up its regulatory system.
The group has called on the NIEA to strengthen its plans for enforcement and prosecution of environmental crimes, pointing out that since the body was set up in May last year, there have been 127 reports of damage to some 48 ASSIs — sites protected for their high-quality wildlife and geological features.
NIEA said the main type of damage was linked to construction and dumping and confirmed it had not taken any prosecutions over the past year, saying it had successfully resolved those cases investigated. But the RSPB insisted that strict and high-profile enforcement is needed as a deterrent to would-be criminals.
The latest assessment of ASSI condition was in March last year and revealed that 56% of habitat features and 22% of species features are in unfavourable condition, the RSPB said.
RSPB conservation manager Dr James Robinson called on the Agency to implement all the recommendations from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate’s report on environmental enforcement.
“Without an independent environmental protection agency, it is up to the NIEA to get tough on environmental crime and be seen to be tough,” he said.
“We need a risk-based system of regulation where those causing damage to our natural heritage face high fines and prison |sentences.”