Belfast Lough, Northern Ireland

Water and wetlands in Northern Ireland

Both people and wildlife rely on the wetlands of Northern Ireland. We're trying to help get the balance right for farmers and the natural world.

Water and wetlands in Northern Ireland

Wetlands support a rich and diverse array of plants and animals in Northern Ireland.

However, this is one of the most intensively managed agricultural landscapes in Europe and much of the population rely on farming for a living.

Perhaps not surprisingly, therefore, there are problems with deteriorating water quality and wetland habitat loss. The challenge now is to find ways to farm that will reward farmers for protecting and restoring water and wetlands.

Reversing the trends

Our nature reserves are helping to improve the fortunes of Northern Ireland's wetland wildlife.

At Lower Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, our management has led to a dramatic increase in the numbers of breeding lapwings and redshanks. The lough now supports nearly a third of Northern Ireland's breeding redshanks.

In recent years, we have been successful in restoring wetland habitat for lapwings at RSPB Portmore Lough reserve. Chicks have fledged successfully over three consecutive years since 2008. Our work continues on these sites to improve all biodiversity, not just wetland birds.

We are working hard to use these lessons to improve the prospects of birds in the wider countryside. Sensitive management of water levels and careful grassland management are critically important to the success of these projects.

A management plan for Lough Beg, north of Lough Neagh, will soon be implemented as part of our Futurescapes programme. In partnership with local landowners and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, this will help to restore an area of lowland wet grassland. This area is of great significance for breeding wading birds, not only in Northern Ireland, but throughout Europe.

Influencing policy

A Regulatory Impact Assessment, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in 2010, stated that 71 per cent of all water bodies in Northern Ireland were failing to reach the standards set by the European Commission Water Framework Directive.

It also stated it would benefit society double the amount of the cost of implementing sooner rather than later a programme of measures to improve water quality.

We agree with this sentiment and are working closely with government and the National Water Framework Directive Stakeholder Forum to ensure water and wetland management improves for wildlife and people.

We also work significantly with other stakeholders through the work of the Freshwater Taskforce, which campaigns for a sustainable freshwater environment.

The Floods Directive

The Floods Directive, a daughter directive of the Water Framework Directive, places certain conditions on relevant authorities when dealing with flood risk.

We have been working with Rivers Agency to set up a project board to investigate the feasibility of a pilot study to trial Natural Flood Risk Management methods. These have a catchment based approach to managing flood risk which could have multiple benefits to society.