Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland ecosystems on the brink of collapse, says report

By Linda Stewart

Stormont has been accused of presiding over a collapse in ecosystems after a report revealed that just 2% of protected habitats are in good condition.

The UK must report every six years to the EU on key habitats and species of European importance. Latest findings show that only 24 out of 46 protected species are in favourable condition.

The only habitat out of 49 found to be in good condition was natural dystrophic lakes - peaty lakes found in bogland.

Forty habitats including dunes, old oakwoods, limestone pavements, sea cliffs and mudflats, were in bad condition. Six were inadequate and two unknown.

Meanwhile four species - freshwater pearl mussel, white-clawed crayfish, common seal and the fish allis shad - are in bad condition. Nine are inadequate, nine are unknown and 24 are favourable.

The report said the main pressures are agricultural intensification; abandonment; development pressures; water pollution; air pollution and invasive species.

It also warned Northern Ireland could be vulnerable to fines from Europe for not complying with its surveillance obligations. The Areas of Special Scientific Interest monitoring programme is well behind schedule. Friends of the Earth warned that Northern Ireland's habitats were in a sorry state and the figures should be a wake-up call.

"After years of neglect, to have any habitat in bad condition should be of major concern.

"To have 98% in poor condition, and many getting worse, is a scandal," NI director James Orr said.

"Our lakes, peat bogs, rivers, woodlands and coastline are being systemically lost and those that are left are not healthy," he added.

"The silence that greets this information is the real tragedy. There now seems to be an acceptable level of destruction, of violence against nature that is increasing even though we now have so much less to protect.

"We are presiding over a collapse in ecosystems."

Mr Orr said our model of agriculture was not working for nature, while pressures from extractive industries and development in the wrong place showed that the model of planning didn't work either.

The Department of the Environment said the findings were disappointing, but should not detract from the fact that considerable action has been taken to protect habitats and species of European importance.

"It should be recognised that a number of habitats and species are difficult to restore to favourable status because of diffuse, widespread pressures such as air pollution," it said.

"In addition, it can take time for restoration efforts to take effect - for example, to restore active bog-forming conditions on degraded raised bogs.

"We intend to build on the actions already taken, including ongoing designation and an increased focus on management of nature conservation sites."

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