What We Do

Environment Actions and Targets

Introduction: Taking Action for a Sustainable Future

Welcome to the heart of conservation and innovation within the Mourne Gullion Strangford Geopark and the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Our commitment to the environment goes beyond admiration; it extends into tangible actions and ambitious targets aimed at preserving and enhancing the natural and cultural treasures of our region.

Marine and Land-Based Initiatives

In our ongoing endeavor to be stewards of the land and sea, we have organized our efforts into distinct categories: Marine-Based Actions and Targets and Land-Based Actions and Targets. Each section encapsulates a spectrum of initiatives, from managing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and AONBs to exploring sustainable solutions for coastal erosion and restoring peatlands.

Empowering Communities and Nurturing Nature

Our vision goes beyond preserving the landscapes; it’s about fostering community engagement, enhancing biodiversity, and contributing to a sustainable future. From citizen science initiatives to coastal access management, we’re actively involving local communities, farmers, and stakeholders in the conservation journey.

A Visionary Roadmap

As we navigate this complex and interconnected web of initiatives, we invite you to explore the intricacies of our actions, targets, and collaborative projects. From the depths of our marine environments to the peaks of our AONBs, every step we take is a stride toward a sustainable future.

Join us on this journey as we manage, implement, and innovate for the well-being of our cherished landscapes and the communities that call them home. Together, we shape a future where nature thrives, and our shared heritage remains a source of inspiration for generations to come.

Marine-Based Actions and Targets

1. MPA Management Groups and Governance

Establishment and Oversight

  • Manage the three MPA Management Groups for Murlough and Carlingford MPAs.
  • Report on the implementation of MPA Management Plans through the groups’ terms of reference.
  • Establish MPA management groups for Murlough and Carlingford MPAs with relevant governance and stakeholders.
  • Continue managing Strangford MPA, progressing the action plans produced.
  • Act as the secretariat to all three MPA Management Groups.

2. Community Engagement

Citizen Science and Seal Protection

  • Conduct citizen science training and recording schemes in collaboration with MPA partners.
  • Protect seal haul outs from powered craft through interagency meetings, online communications, and engagement ranger services.
  • Implement an annual and targeted Engagement Ranger Service.
  • Develop a Strangford Lough User Code—a voluntary charter.
  • Mobilize coastal communities, outdoor recreation, and fishing industries for restoration projects.

Shared Island Project Implementation

  • Implement the Shared Island Project, fostering cross-border collaboration to address coastal erosion.
  • Identify causes and investigate nature-based adaptation options.
  • Identify demonstration sites for testing innovative solutions.

Education and Species Recording

  • Integrate MPA management actions into existing formal/informal education programs.
  • Signpost existing programs for a range of organizations around the lough.
  • Direct all species recording data to the correct sites through the new Strangford and Lecale website.
  • Support lough communities in tackling marine litter.

3. Blue Carbon

Seagrass Monitoring and Restoration

  • Monitor seagrass at the two AMS in Ballyhenry Bay.
  • Report on AMS and collaborate with DAERA to propose an eco-mooring replacement scheme, especially in areas of sensitive benthic habitats (seagrass, etc.).
  • Explore options for funding support and project development for further Blue Carbon restoration pilot projects.

4. Invasive Species

Control and Prevention

  • Work with partners to manage and control the spread of the highly invasive species – Common Cordgrass – Spartina anglica.
  • Support recreational boaters in reducing the risk of spreading non-native invasive species.
  • Implement recommendations for Scoping and Design of Suitable Washdown Facilities for Sailing Clubs in Strangford Lough.

5. Research and Development

Aids to Navigation Report Implementation

  • Collaborate with all stakeholders to implement recommendations from the Aids to Navigation report carried out in Winter 2023.

Land-Based Actions and Targets

1. Natural Heritage Enhancement and Protection

Geodiversity Profile Enhancement

  • Enhance the geodiversity profile within the AONB through the implementation of the Geoparks 10-year Master Plan and 4-year Business Plan.

Holistic Natural Heritage Approach

  • Enhance natural heritage habitats, species, and designated features across the AONB Landscape.
  • Connect communities with nature through engagement and delivery mechanisms.
  • Increase the area of suitable habitat by encouraging landowners to create and connect important features.
  • Raise local awareness and understanding of local species and habitats through workshops, community events, survey training, and habitat restoration.

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation

  • Support the department in implementing the NI Wildfire Strategy within Slieve Gullion SAC and other high-priority sites.
  • Monitor and address visitor impacts on the Slieve Gullion SAC path corridors.
  • Monitor landscape changes through a program of “fixed point photography.”
  • Increase woodland cover and resilience through various planting schemes and community initiatives.

Conservation and Restoration Programs

  • Increase appreciation of special landscapes through the enhancement of natural heritage.
  • Maintain the outputs of the Ring of Gullion 4-year Invasive Species Clearance Programme.
  • Targeted educational opportunities for young people through the Youth Rangers Programme.
  • Support the Ring of Gullion and Cooley Red Squirrel group to deliver its Management Plan.
  • Develop and implement a targeted program of habitat restoration and species improvement through an Urban Landscapes and Connectivity Programme.

Volunteer Service and Conservation Initiatives

  • Provide a strategic and targeted Conservation Volunteer Service throughout the AONB and Geopark.
  • Monitor, improve, and expand “Don’t Mow, Let it Grow,” and Wildflower sites within NMDDC and ANDBC sites.

2. Improved Access to Sustainable Outdoor Recreation

Enhancing Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

  • Increase the range of outdoor recreation opportunities and improve access to green and blue spaces and the countryside.
  • Implement the Outdoor Recreation Action Plan when needed and opportunities arise.

Mitigation and Path Maintenance

  • Implement targeted mitigation towards recreational users to manage access in a way that mitigates against wildlife disturbance and user conflict.
  • Develop access opportunities from both Outdoor Recreation Action Plans and the Strangford Lough Audit of Access.
  • Maintain the long-distance routes: Ring of Gullion Way and the Lecale Way.
  • Maintain the path corridor on Slieve Gullion SAC from the car park to the summit, the lake, and north to the Ballard Road.
  • Establish a monitoring system for all recreational assets within the AONB and Geopark.

3. Positive Outcomes for Heritage, People, and Communities

Engagement and Planning

  • Remain engaged, open, and transparent in the implementation of both AONB Management Plans.
  • Develop a 10-year strategy (2023-2032) and a 5-year AONB Management Plan (2028-2032) in line with relevant strategies and management plans.
  • Secure appropriate funding to support AONB Partnerships and develop actions for the implementation of the AONB Management Plan.

Legacy Planning and Stakeholder Engagement

  • Put in place plans for secure legacies for any outcomes for this EF and improve future plans where applicable.
  • Facilitate the Partnership, the Strangford Lough Rangers Network, and other stakeholders taking part in knowledge sharing and networking.
  • Communicate to the Partnership, strategic stakeholders, and the wider public to promote the AONBs positively and effectively.

Education and Capacity Building

  • Increase understanding and involvement in the protection of nature, landscape character, and earth science through targeted communications and community involvement.
  • Manage social media channels, regular posts, monthly eZine, press releases, annual AONB Calendar (printed), and annual newsletter (printed).
  • Staff, stakeholder, and community training: Annual Ambassadors, social media training, presentations and communications, WISE (train the trainer), and annual WISE thereafter.
  • Continually improve the Partnership and our ways of working through regular reviews.