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Land restoration, desertification and drought resilience



World Environment Day

In Northern Ireland we have a myriad variety of iconic and special landscapes that help to define our collective identity. From the rugged cliffs of the Causeway Coast to the rolling hills of the Sperrin Mountains and quiet shores of Lough Erne to the iconic peaks of the Mourne Mountains, these landscapes are more than just scenic backdrops. They are how our communities gain a strong sense of place, the source of inspiration in arts and culture, the provision of strong nature connections and increasingly the foundation of our prosperity both in economic and well-being terms.

Photo credits: Joseph Cullen Photography

In line with World Environment Day, our landscapes are hugely important for restoration of our depleted biodiversity, the cleansing of our natural water systems and providing the habitats and ecosystems that are rich with pollinators and the resultant life they bring in a world where this is so needed. Our planet needs people that are inspired to take care of and help nature recover from decades of neglect and mismanagement. Landscapes are the framework and catalyst to get our citizens reconnected and inspired by nature.

My name is Mike McClure and I am currently the Landscapes NI Development Manager. I have been in the role for only 5 months and it has been a great privilege to have taken some time over that period to visit and discuss issues and opportunities with all the landscape management bodies in N. Ireland.

Mike McClure, Development Manager, Landscapes NI

My background was originally in environmental science and education. I worked for over 20 years in outdoor and environmental education both in Scotland and here in N. Ireland. In 2006 I switched to work for Sport NI with a focus on the strategic development for outdoor sports and recreation (i.e. the sports that tend to use natural environment for their activities).

I was therefore in the fortunate position of already having worked with most of the landscape management bodies through these roles and so I was not coming into the role cold.

Within landscapes NI we have 16 member organisations which include 6 AONB management bodies, 2 Landscape Partnerships, 2 UNESCO Global geoparks and numerous other European and national designations for nature conservation within specific areas and sites within our landscapes.

Despite these designations, the legal framework for the management and support for landscapes in Northern Ireland is woefully inadequate. It provides no definitive duties for public bodies but rather espouses the principles of “should and may” leaving landscape management as a discretionary activity. Furthermore, the landscape management bodies here receive no core funding from central government (unlike England, Scotland and Wales) and have to bid for funding through a competitive process against each other.

Landscapes are designated to deliver on for 4 distinct factors:

  1. Conserving or enhancing the natural beauty or amenities of that area.
  2. Conserving wildlife, historic objects or natural phenomena within it.
  3. Promoting its enjoyment by the public.
  4. Providing or maintaining public access to it.

However, the funding that landscape management bodies access takes no cognisance of the cultural or historic elements and very limited cognisance of promoting its enjoyment by the public. There is funding to support the provision of new public access (which in NI is very challenging) but no support for maintenance.

Despite these obvious challenges, I have found that within this sector there is boundless enthusiasm, energy and motivation to continue to deliver on all aspects of effective landscape management by all of the teams across Northern Ireland.

My role is to provide support through a more cohesive and collaborative approach and help them to deliver more in partnership with each other. The role also has a focus on the development of new strategy and policy on landscapes in N. Ireland through a codesign process.

This work has been made possible through the kind support and funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Action Renewables.

Author: Mike McClure (Landscapes NI)

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