Environment Fund Projects 2023-2028

Welcome to the Environment Fund Projects 2023-2028 page, where we present the impactful initiatives undertaken by NMDDC for the Geopark through the Ring of Gullion and Strangford & Lecale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), alongside the Strangford Lough, Murlough, and Carlingford Lough Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Our focus is on achieving tangible environmental outcomes, guided by strategic, policy, and legislative commitments.

At the heart of our funds mission is the enhancement of wellbeing for all, achieved through the creation of vibrant landscapes that communities can relish. By fostering environments where people desire to live, work, and visit, these projects and programmes aim to fulfill its environmental obligations and make a positive impact at a sub-regional scale.

The implementation of the projects and programmes is made possible through substantial contributions from; The Northern Ireland Environment Agency; two local authorities; Newry Mourne and Down District Council, and Ards and North Down Borough Council; and the invaluable assistance of volunteers. Together, we are committed to delivering a project that transforms landscapes into living, working spaces cherished by everyone. Join us on this journey as we strive to create healthier and more enjoyable communities while fulfilling our environmental responsibilities.

Environmental Impact Priorities

  1. Nature and Climate Recovery: Building Ecological and Climate Resilience We strive to maintain and improve the condition and extent of landscapes, water bodies, habitats, and species with strategic interventions.
  2. Connecting People with the Environment: Fostering Understanding and Action At a significant scale, we aim to connect significant numbers of people with nature through increasing the quality, quantity, and accessibility of nature to people. This involves connecting with the natural environment, understanding it, and taking action to have a positive effect on it.

Environmental Outcomes

  1. Maintaining and Improving Landscape, Water, Habitats, and Species We aim to increase the quality of priority habitats and support Nature Recovery Networks, enhancing habitat connectivity, increasing species abundance and diversity, and supporting species of conservation concern. This includes:
  2. Protected Areas: Enhancing Conservation Measures We aim to develop and deliver management measures that significantly contribute to maintaining and increasing the area of protected areas in favorable condition, including:
    • Improvement in the condition of Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs), peatland habitats, and designated sites in the terrestrial environment.
    • Improvement in the condition of Marine Protected Areas; designated sites in the marine and coastal environment.
    • The number of transitional, coastal, Bathing Waters, and Shellfish Waters reaching good status under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017.
    • The number of components (habitats, species, pressures) of the marine environment reaching good status under the Marine Strategy Regulations (2010).
  3. Nature Recovery Networks We aim to significantly contribute towards the development and implementation of landscape-scale management and restoration of priority habitat. This includes:
  4. Climate Adaption and Resilience We aim to develop and deliver actions that contribute to climate adaption and resilience of our natural environment and put in place measures supporting the environment sector to reduce its carbon footprint. This includes Green Carbon initiatives detailed in the two AONB Management Plans and Blue Carbon initiatives detailed in the three MPA Management Plans.
  5. Essential Evidence and Coordination Our aim is to develop better reporting mechanisms for outdoor recreation using existing infrastructure within the AONB and Geopark. We aim to map the numbers of visitors and assess the condition of certain assets, which will be displayed on the AONB and Geopark Websites for users to access, as well as for both councils to better manage their suite of outdoor recreation facilities.
  6. Connecting People with the Natural Environment This program over the period 2023-2028 aims to design, create, and improve our nature-rich core path networks, strategic routes, waymark ways, and trails in urban and rural locations and provide associated infrastructure to enhance accessibility for all. The goal is to increase the percentage of households that have publicly accessible quality natural space. Routes will lead to a quality experience of the natural environment, provide nature-rich paths or sustainable access to designated sites, and not charge for their use.
  7. Understanding and Behavioral Change We aim to deliver and coordinate strategic environmental engagement on behalf of a wide variety of stakeholders to achieve long-term behavioral changes. This includes reducing pressures on the environment, improving local environmental quality, and making good environmental practice and civic action intrinsic parts of all aspects of life. We will achieve this through targeted communications, community involvement in communications, managing social media channels, and providing educational opportunities and access to nature.
  8. Creation of ‘nature networks’ at a landscape scale of green spaces for habitats and species to address habitat fragmentation.
  9. Enhancing habitat connectivity, nature reserves, connecting wildlife-rich habitats, and supporting higher species populations or greater species diversity through wildlife corridors or ‘stepping stones.’
  10. Recovery of threatened native species, including helping to reverse species decline.
  11. Measures to tackle specific pressures and threats to the natural environment, such as invasive non-native species and wildfire.
  12. Strategic and sustainable environmental management of our AONB through a strategic approach to achieve significant environmental outcomes.
  13. Increasing the size of habitats through expansion and buffering.
  14. Improving the condition of degraded habitats.
  15. Mitigating against habitat fragmentation and degradation, which may result in higher species populations or greater species diversity.
  16. Joining up fragmented habitats or creation of wildlife corridors connecting sites.

Indicators, Targets, Baselines, and Milestones

Manage the two AONB Management Groups through their terms of reference and report on the implementation of AONB Management Plans, including all sub-groups and thematic working groups.

Carry out actions from the two AONB Management Plans

  1. We will value, enhance, and protect our natural heritage, including adaptation and mitigation measures against the impacts of climate change.
    • Enhance the geodiversity profile within the AONB, mainly carried out through the implementation of the Geoparks 10-year Master Plan and 4-year Business Plan (See appendices).
    • Enhance natural heritage habitats, species, and designated features across the AONB Landscape with a holistic and strategic approach through engagement and delivery mechanisms: Connecting communities with nature to conserve; increasing the area of suitable habitat by encouraging landowners to create and connect important features; increase local awareness and understanding of local species and habitats through workshops, community events, survey training, and habitat restoration.
    • Support the department to implement 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.”
    • Work with stakeholders to increase woodland cover and woodland resilience through various planting schemes and community initiatives.
    • Increase the appreciation of our special landscapes through the enhancement of natural heritage.
    • Maintain the outputs of the Ring of Gullion 4-year Invasive Species Clearance Programme with annual surveys and spot sprays.
    • Targeted educational opportunities for 15-24 young people per annum 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 working with communities, businesses, households, and other urban landowners (hedgehogs, frogs and newts, bats, pollinators, squirrels and pine martens, swifts, woodland and hedgerow birds)
    • Provide a strategic and targeted Conservation Volunteer Service throughout the AONB and Geopark Experts; working with all NMDDC Dept and other external partners. There will be a weekday and weekend volunteering opportunity in the AONB and Geopark every week of the year budget.
    • Monitor, improve and expand on the “Don’t Mow, Let it Grow” and Wildflower sites within NMDDC and ANDBC sites.
  2. There will be improved access to sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities in the AONBs.
    • Increase the range of outdoor recreation opportunities and improve access to green and blue spaces and the countryside, mainly carried out through the implementation of the Outdoor Recreation Action Plan when need and opportunity arise.
    • 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 in good condition 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.
    • Put in place a monitoring system for all recreational assets within the AONB and Geopark; scope out the possibility for volunteer input, asset management database, and asset management workflow.
  3. Managing the AONBs and Geopark to produce positive outcomes for heritage, people, and communities
    • Remain engaged, open, and transparent in the implementation of both AONB Management Plans.
    • Develop a 10-year strategy (2023-2032) and 5-year AONB Management Plan (2028-2032) in line with all other relevant strategies and management plans.
    • Secure appropriate funding to support the AONB Partnerships and develop actions for the implementation of the AONB Management Plan. (Successful applications to be implemented 22.23/23.24: Shared Island – Biodiversity in Peatlands; Shared island – Coastal Erosion mitigation using natural systems), (PEACE+ Applications currently being worked up for 23.24 submission)
    • 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; strategically network with relevant bodies; and engage and inform relevant individuals and groups about the AONB; and build capacity among partners; network with relevant bodies.
    • Communicate to the Partnership, strategic stakeholders, and to the wider public to positively and effectively promote the AONBs, avoid duplication and displacement, and have a coordinated approach to the management of the AONBs and Geopark.
    • Increase understanding and involvement in the protection of nature, landscape character, and earth science through targeted communications and community involvement in communications: Manage social media channels with regular posts, monthly eZine, regular press releases, annual AONB Calendar (printed), annual newsletter (printed) up-to-date and well-maintained AONB interpretation panels.
    • Staff, stakeholder, and community training: Annual Ambassadors 12 trainees, social media training, presentations and communications, WISE (train the trainer) and annual WISE thereafter, Leave no Trace (train the trainer) and annual LNT thereafter.
    • Continually improve the Partnership and our ways of working in contributing to the coordination and facilitation of the management of the AONBs through regular reviews.

Manage the three MPA Management Groups and report on the implementation of MPA Management Plans through the group’s terms of reference. We will establish MPA management groups for Murlough and Carlingford MPAs, and put relevant governance in place, with relevant stakeholders, and continue to manage Strangford MPA, to progress the action plans produced; and act as secretariat to all three groups.

Carry out actions from the three MPA Management Plans

  1. Community Engagement
    • Citizen science training and recording schemes through and with MPA partners.
    • Protect seal haul outs from powered craft – convene interagency meetings, continue with online communications, roll out of engagement ranger services.
    • Implement an annual and targeted Engagement Ranger Service.
    • Develop a Strangford Lough User Code – a voluntary charter.
    • Mobilizing the communities of interest (coastal communities, outdoor recreation, and the fishing and aquaculture industries) to help with restoration projects. (Implementation of Shared Island Project: The goal of this project is for Local Authorities to work on a cross-border basis for the first time to identify the causes of and to investigate various nature-based adaptation options to address coastal erosion. The project will identify a number of demonstration sites for testing these innovative solutions, which will form the basis of a final investment project)
    • Integration of the actions for MPA management into existing formal/informal education programs – opportunities for a range of organizations working around the lough. Signpost existing programs.
    • Ensure that all species recording data is being directed to the correct sites. New Strangford and Lecale website will provide direct links to reporting sites.
    • Support lough communities to tackle marine litter.
  2. Blue Carbon
    • Monitor seagrass at the two AMS in Ballyhenry Bay.
    • Report on AMS and work with DAERA to prepare proposals for an eco-mooring replacement scheme especially in areas of sensitive benthic habitats (seagrass, etc).
    • Further Blue Carbon restoration pilot projects – explore options for funding support and project development.
  3. Invasive Species
    • Work with partners to manage and control the spread of the highly invasive species – Common Cord grass – Spartina anglica in the three MPA (NOTE: Workplan being developed Jan-Mar 2023 with Challenge Fund project; final workplan to be agreed by MPA Management Groups, DAERA Marine and Fisheries and Spartina Working Group).
    • Support recreational boaters in reducing the risk of the spread of non-native invasive species – implementation of recommendations for Scoping and Design of Suitable Washdown Facilities for Sailing Clubs in Strangford Lough.
  4. Research and Development
    • Work with all stakeholders to implement recommendations from the Aids to Navigation report carried out in Winter 2023.

Assessment and Monitoring Methods

  • Number of programmes developed and delivered
  • Number of groups, institutions, and individuals engaged
  • Number of restoration projects developed and delivered
  • Restoration projects mapped, area calculated
  • Restoration projects monitored using best practice at the time of restoration development
  • Number of new species records submitted
  • Project reports
  • Quarterly and annual reports to NIEA
  • Quarterly reports to the councils
  • Quarterly reports to the MPA Management Groups
  • Quarterly reports to the AONB Partnership
  • Quarterly reports to the Geopark Management Group

This project is funded through the following partners

Sustainable Development Goals

UNESCO Global Geoparks contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals helping to transform our world for the better.

This project contributes through these SDG:

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