Black guillemot pair showing typical courtship display

Conservation in Northern Ireland

From its seas to its uplands, find out why Northern Ireland is so special for wildlife - and what we're doing to help.

A special place for nature

Northern Ireland covers just 5,500 square miles but it is home to all sorts of wonderful wildlife. 

Situated on the north-west edge of Europe, with approximately 400 miles of coastline, its position gives it real UK significance in terms of biodiversity.

NI is hugely important for populations of waterfowl and seabird species, even more so in winter with a huge influx of northern species to their wintering grounds. 

Around half of all Northern Ireland’s biodiversity is found in its seas. In 2013 we celebrated as, after many years of campaigning, the Northern Ireland Marine Bill received Royal Ascent to become the Northern Ireland Marine Act.

Currently, we’re working hard to secure the introduction of new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) in Northern Ireland to ensure even more protection for this vital habitat.

Other key habitats include large areas of wet grasslands, particularly around Lough Neagh - the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. Significant peatland areas can also be found in the uplands of Antrim, Tyrone and Fermanagh.  

The importance of Northern Ireland for nature is demonstrated by the huge number of national and international designations it has, including more than 400 Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs).

We believe that NI’s natural environment is both unique and iconic. Our wild and natural places also attract large numbers of tourists and visitors every year.

Puffin with sand eels in beak

Homes for Sealife appeal

Our seas are in deep trouble.

Seabirds sit at the top of a marine food chain that is under serious pressure. Many are starving and failing to raise young because they simply cannot find enough food in the sea. 

That's why we're asking for your help today to raise £400,000 for our Homes for Sealife appeal. 

Donate today
Portmore Lough RSPB reserve, County Down, Northern Ireland

Conservation challenges

Despite its richness for wildlife, it’s not always plain sailing for nature in Northern Ireland. Here are the main challenges that we face:

Changes in land management. Agriculture is the dominant land use in the country and much of our conservation work concentrates on efforts to halt the decline in farmland bird populations. 

Disconnection from nature: more than half of Northern Ireland’s people live in urban areas, despite their historic links to the land. The majority of the population lives around Belfast, but within 15 minutes’ drive of the coast. We want to get the people of Northern Ireland closer to nature.

Unique operating environment. The legacy of decades of political instability continues in Northern Ireland. As a result, nature is often not high up the political agenda.

What are we doing to help? 

We work in partnership with local people all over Northern Ireland, including schoolchildren, farmers, community groups and government officials.

We own and manage nature reserves, run educational programmes, carry out scientific research, provide advice to a wide variety of people and organisations, and aim to influence policy and legislation by working with politicians and other decision-makers. 

Our nature reserves

We own nature reserves right across Northern Ireland, from islands in Lower Lough Erne to land on Rathlin Island off the north coast.

At all of these sites we manage the land to benefit nature, whether that means digging ditches for dragonflies or planting nettles to make homes for corncrakes!

Some of our sites are also open to the public and we love seeing local people getting outdoors and enjoying the wonderful scenery and wildlife on their doorstep.

As well as our own nature reserves, we also lease or manage hundreds of hectares by agreement with landowners and teams on the ground provide advice to help others manage their land in a wildlife-friendly way.

Conservation science projects

Our small Conservation Science team, aided by volunteer field workers, is instrumental in gathering and analysing data on how birds are faring in Northern Ireland. As a science-based organisation, this kind of evidence is crucial in determining where our priorities for saving nature lie.

Among other uses, this data helps shape both the UK and Irish priority lists – Birds of Conservation Concern and Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland.

Joining the dots

We’re working hard in Northern Ireland to ‘join up the dots’ and link important areas for nature together.

As part of the ‘Futurescapes’ project we have worked closely with many different partners, including NI Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. With our advice they have restored areas of blanket bog on the Garron plateau in County Antrim, securing habitat for wildlife, improving water quality and maximiing the bog’s potential as a vital carbon store.

We’re currently working on plans to link up important areas around Lough Neagh, as well as Upper Lough Erne.

Another aspect of the project in Northern Ireland is focusing on the link between nature and physical and mental wellbeing.