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Record Number of Parks Achieve the Green Flag Award

David McCann   Fri 28 Jul 2017

Today, environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, in association with Heyn Environmental Solutions, revealed the parks and green spaces that have been awarded a prestigious Green Flag Award.

Bangor Castle provided the perfect backdrop as a record 60 parks and green spaces in Northern Ireland received their Green Flag Award for exceeding tough environmental standards for green space management and visitor facilities. The Green Flag Award is an internationally recognised certification for environmental quality management for parks and open, green spaces.

For the 2017/18 season, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful saw a continued increase in public parks, gardens, country parks, cemeteries and green spaces meeting the demanding standards.

There were 14 first-time winners this year across all participating council areas, including: Jordanstown Loughshore Park, Hazelbank Park and Gideons Green, Mill Race Trail, Valley Park and Wallace Park in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council; Ballymenoch Park and Londonderry Park in Ards and North Down Borough Council; ABC Canal Greenway, Lough Neagh Conservation Area and The Mall Armagh City in Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council; Dunmurry Village and Tullycarnet Park in Belfast City Council; Brooke Park in Derry City and Strabane District Council; Grange Park in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council and Carrickfergus Mill Ponds, Shaftesbury Park & Marine Gardens in Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful also celebrates The Green Flag Community Award and The Green Heritage Award for sites which conserve, enhance and help people enjoy the heritage value of the site.

Ballyeaston Church Ruin received a second Green Flag Community Award for the site which is managed and maintained by volunteers from Ballyeaston Village Committee. Palace Demesne in Armagh receives its first Green Heritage Award with Antrim Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House and Sentry Hill Historic House and Visitor Centre receiving their second Green Heritage Awards. There are now more places than ever for the public to enjoy high quality outdoor spaces in Northern Ireland.

This year 36 sites in the Republic of Ireland have also received the Green Flag Awards, further highlighting the growth of this top quality award. In Ireland the scheme is managed locally by An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland.

The Green Flag Awards are judged annually by green space experts, who volunteer their time to visit applicant sites and assess them against eight strict criteria, ranging from horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said:

“We are delighted to be celebrating another record-breaking year for the Green Flag Award scheme.

Parks matter to our society; this year more than 37 million people throughout the UK will visit a park, this is five million more than voted in June’s General Election.

The Green Flag Award is a sign of a well-managed, clean and safe park and with many people increasingly relying on their local park as a place to exercise, relax and have fun, quality green space has never been more important.

Research shows that people will only visit a park if they perceive it to be clean and safe; and the Green Flag Award is an easy way for the public to see at a glance that their park meets the highest standards.

All the flags flying this year are a testament to the efforts of the hundreds of men and women, both staff and volunteers, who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award.”

Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) is an international programme run by the Foundation for Environmental Education in 34 countries. The programme aims to empower young people to take a stand on environmental issues they feel strongly about and give them a platform to articulate these issues through the media of writing, photography or video in an annual reporting competition. YRE in Northern Ireland is administered by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful through the Eco-Schools programme and is open to students aged 11-21 years.

Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus, a Green Flag Ambassador Eco-School, has been working with Lycee Pole School in Madagascar on a number of environmental projects this year. They teamed up to enter an article in the International Collaboration category of the YRE competition 2017.

The combined project has been very interesting for the two schools, seeing the different issues pupils face in both countries but also their shared concerns and passion to care for the environment. Their article focused on the production and consumption of coffee. The pupils in Madagascar, a coffee growing region, considered the challenges of growing and selling coffee faced by Madagascar farmers. Ulidia pupils considered the benefits of purchasing Fair Trade coffee here at home and how it helps farmers around the world get a fair deal for their crops.

The article was submitted to the International YRE Jury in Copenhagen in June and both schools were delighted to win first place in the International Collaboration category. Their article will now be published in the Huffington Post and is available to read from the YRE website www.yre.global

Ulidia pupils in Year 10 also decided to raise money for the community in Madagascar and together through various activities raised £1500, enough to dig a well for a local primary school close to Lycee Pole.

Ruth Van Ry, Eco-Schools Coordinator Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said: “We are so pleased that this international collaboration has resulted in a first place prize for these two schools. The environmental issues we face are global and will require a global solution. These young people are setting an example for all of us to follow. Well done to Ulidia for running such a successful Eco-Schools and YRE programmes, we hope they will inspire others to take part too.”

The Eco-Schools programme is delivered to schools throughout Northern Ireland in partnership with a range delivery partners including DAERA and most Councils. For more information or take part in YRE please contact eco-schools@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org or visit www.eco-schoolsni.org

Northern Ireland schools continue to excel in the international Eco-Schools programme, achieving a record number of Green Flag awards for the 6th consecutive year and awarding their 1000th Green Flag.

Eco-Schools is the world's leading environmental education programme. It is a pupil-led initiative with the aim to make environmental awareness and practical action an intrinsic part of school life.

Eco-Schools is operated by environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, which is dedicated to inspiring everyone to help make Northern Ireland a cleaner, greener and healthier place in which to live. The programme which has gone from strength-to-strength in recent years is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

This year marked a landmark moment when Walker Memorial Primary School, Dungannon, received their first Green Flag and Northern Ireland’s 1000th Green Flag.

Diane Lockhart, Eco-Coordinator at Walker Memorial Primary School said: “The children were totally delighted that we got the 1000th Green Flag. All pupils are very involved with the areas of the Eco-Committee’s action plan it has brought these areas of learning alive. Pupils are highly motivated, inspired and focused to partake in lessons related to Eco-Schools. The programme provides pupils with another avenue of learning, those who are more practical and creative thrive on being involved in identifying the needs of the school and sharing their ideas for future action.”

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful added:

With support from the Department, Local Councils and many other partners, Eco-Schools is engaging our young people, who will be the next generation of business and political leaders, in developing eco-friendly behaviours that also help our economy. The programme is growing every year with more and more schools and young people making a real, tangible and positive impact on our environment through saving energy, reducing waste, picking up litter, travelling sustainably, providing biodiversity habitats and much more. Congratulations to Walker Memorial and all our schools who have achieved their Green Flag award; together we have reached this landmark 1000th Green Flag.’

This school year 149 schools achieved the prestigious, internationally recognised Green Flag award in recognition of the excellent progress they have been making in protecting the environment and moving towards a more sustainable future. The first Green Flag in the world was awarded to Downpatrick Nursery School in 1994. Since then the programme has consistently grown. There has been a year-on-year increase in the number of schools achieving the award for the 7th year in a row - increasing from 55 in 2010/11 to 97 in 2011/12; 103 in 2012/13; 114 in 2013/14; 128 in 2014/15; 136 in 2015/16 and now 149 in 2016/17.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have presented Beach and Marina Operators with 14 national and 10 internationally recognised awards for excellence in facilities, environmental management, education and water quality.

The international Blue Flag will be flown at 8 of Northern Ireland’s beaches and 2 marinas to signify world class facilities and destinations. The Blue Flag is an award programme certified by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). 47 countries participate in awarding Blue Flags to more than 4000 beaches and marinas worldwide making this award accessible to local beach goers and tourists alike. Beaches and marinas with a Blue Flag are demonstrating their commitment to protecting the coastal environment, excellent water quality, safety, and access for all. Blue Flag beaches and marinas also offer environmental education activities, as an important part of the award criteria. Beaches and Marinas may only fly the Blue Flag if all the criteria are successfully met throughout the summer season.

The Seaside Award is the national standard for beaches across the UK. The standards required by this programme ensure visitors are guaranteed to find a clean, safe, attractive and well-managed coastal environment with varied levels of facilities provided depending on the location of the beach. 12 beaches have been recognised by this award and can be identified by the Seaside Award Flag or Plaque.

2 of our more rural beaches have received the Green Coast Award, which recognises an agreement between the operator and the local community to protect and promote a natural beach environment rather than developing visitor infrastructure. Green Coast Award beaches can also be found in the Republic of Ireland and in Wales, but due to their more natural state, may not be flying a flag.

Northern Ireland’s coastline has some iconic sights, and many of our awarded beaches include or are next to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with specially protected habitats and species forming a large part of the experience visitors enjoy. The aim of these award programmes is to improve the connection between people and their surroundings by encouraging them to learn more about and spend time in their outdoor environment. Most award winning beaches and marinas provide information points to showcase the best of our wildlife and how visitors can enjoy these natural wonders without disturbing or damaging them.

Information on all the award winning beaches and marinas can be found at www.beachni.com or by picking up an Award Winning Beaches Leaflet from your nearest Tourist Information Centre.

The awards were presented on 24th May 2017, in time for the bathing season, which runs from 1st June until the 15th September each year.

Tony Wilcox, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “Having Northern Ireland’s world class beaches managed to such high standards is helping improve the quality of our lives as well as attracting visitors. Beach operators are inspirational people showing that all of us can play our part in loving where we live. And, in most council areas, the Live Here Love Here campaign is building on this to inspire everyone to get involved in creating cleaner, greener and healthier places to live, learn and work.”

With weeks of fine weather in early May prompting hopes of a fine summer, beaches around Northern Ireland are gearing up for an influx of visitors. To help everyone find their ideal award winning beach or marina Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have created a visitor map highlighting the facilities offered at each beach and also including suggestions for activities or attractions to make for a memorable day out. The guide will be available online, via all Tourist Information Centres, at award beaches, in larger bus and rail stations and from local councils.

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

For reference:

Awards Presented

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

Blue Flag

1. Cranfield West Beach

2. Murlough Beach

3. Tyrella Beach

Green Coast Award

4. Minerstown Beach

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

Blue Flag

5. Benone Beach

6. Downhill Beach

7. West Strand

8. Whiterocks Beach

9. Ballycastle Marina

Seaside Award

10. Ballycastle Beach

11. Castlerock Beach

12. Portrush East Strand

13. Waterfoot Beach

North Down and Ards Borough Council

Seaside Award

14. Ballywalter Beach

15. Groomsport Beach

16. Millisle Beach

Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)

Seaside Award

17. Crawfordsburn Beach

Green Coast Award

18. Helen’s Bay Beach

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Seaside Award

19. Ballygally Beach

20. Brown’s Bay

21. Carnlough Beach

Mid Ulster District Council

Blue Flag

22. Ballyronin Marina

National Trust

Blue Flag

23. Portstewart Strand

Seaside Award

24. Portstewart Strand

For Interview:

Contact the office on 028 9073 6920 or at chris.allen@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

More resources than ever are being devoted to maintaining a clean and welcoming environment in Northern Ireland, according to the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

In a report published today, the environmental charity said that 2016-17 had seen a record £43Million spent on cleaning the streets. In response the year ahead will see nine of the eleven councils working together to tackle littering behaviour. Among other figures the charity highlighted was 233 groups ‘adopting a spot’ in order to keep it clean and inviting, and 24,500 children taking part in anti-litter education.

This intensification of efforts by Councils was welcomed by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful CEO, Dr Ian Humphreys, who said “The rising street cleaning bill, being met by ratepayers, is simply unsustainable. This is why many organisations are joining forces to change littering behaviour. Together we can begin to make a difference and this move is being supported by tens of thousands of volunteers who show they live here and love here through clean-ups. With over a third of the public admitting to littering we still have some way to go and so if we want a better place to live we all have to do our bit and get involved.”

While the year saw a slight rise in the percentage of places that were unacceptably littered, it also saw the biggest annual drop in the rates of dog fouling since their surveys began in 2008, and the highest percentage of spaces with no litter – not even a single cigarette butt – at 5%.

One of the surprising facts Dr Humphreys pointed out was that the availability of a bin appears to have little or no impact on the likelihood somewhere will suffer unacceptable littering: “Having a bin in sight in an area makes no statistical difference to how much litter ends up on the ground. This suggests that for many people bins are either deemed irrelevant or invisible. We need to change people’s mind-set so that they look for and use a bin, or take their rubbish home.”

The charity has made a number of recommendations that it believes would go a long way to achieving its vision of a cleaner country.

The charity says that fiscal measures should be explored further as part of a wider system of measures.

The development of programmes that reward desirable behaviour such picking up after your dog have been put forward as ways of preventing littering – like giving a vaccine rather than treating an illness.

Perhaps more controversially, the charity is suggesting that the government and Councils consider introducing American-style parking restrictions, where on-street parking is banned in a particular area for a few hours once a week to allow thorough cleaning; their surveys suggest that mechanical sweepers are regularly prevented from doing their job because of parked cars.

Dr Humphreys concluded “As the evenings lengthen and we look to spend more time outdoors we all want to enjoy spaces free of litter and dog fouling. To achieve this requires us all to do our bit and show we live here and really do love here.”

Councils, community groups and charities gathered in Belfast on Tuesday 7th to share the latest approaches to holding back the tide of litter sweeping the country. While the total cost of cleaning up after litterers in Northern Ireland topped £43 million in 2015-16, some of the projects discussed here which prevent littering in the first place were free or nearly so.

The Environmental Charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful organised the event, bringing in three of the UK’s most experienced practitioners in what is popularly known as “nudging” alongside local speakers whose projects have been making a difference in their community.

One project described saw flowers bloom in a Belfast alleyway and was highlighted as a great example of people caring for the place they live, which has been shown to drive down anti-social behaviour. Another reduced littering in a park by making using a bin the objective in a game of hopscotch, so people used the bin without thinking.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said “A nudge is a way of encouraging a person to act in a particular manner – in this case not dropping litter – in a simple way that does not limit their choice to act differently if they really want. We’re not telling people what to do; we’re helping them make a decision to act in a way they know they should.”

“Thankfully, most people don’t litter. A small number litter and don’t listen when you say stop; for those people we have fines and enforcement teams, who should be supported every step of the way. Everybody else that litters does it without really thinking about it and they are the people the nudge approach works for. We’re trying to make it easier for them to decide to act in the way they would if they stopped and thought about it, without actually having to stop.”

Alongside what might be described as traditional TV and radio advertising were strange ideas like glow in the dark posters to deter littering after dark, spraying dog fouling with vivid dyes so people start to notice it as a problem, and even the straightforward such as incentivising dog owners to carry an extra bag in case they meet someone who has forgotten. All simple ideas, but with a potential to make a big hole in a £43million problem.

Ian continued “it’s great to see ten of the eleven councils represented here, as well as community groups, charities and environmental groups. When you factor in the support the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs gave to facilitate the event you get a feel for the commitment that’s being made to tackle litterer’s expensive and damaging habit.”

Around one in seven of Northern Ireland’s streets and parks failed to meet the accepted standard for litter during 2016, Environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has said. This is despite Councils spending a total of £43,285,212 on cleansing during 2015-16; a rise of over 8% on efforts during the previous year.

Based on a survey of 1,100 sites across all of Northern Ireland, the survey shows that 15% of sites were described as having a “widespread distribution of litter with minor accumulations” or worse. The worst affected places were industrial estates, where more than one in three sample sites failed to meet the standard. By contrast, 99% of low density housing areas were rated clean or very clean, with 14% of those completely free of any litter.

Chris Allen, who manages the survey for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “It’s clear from the data that councils are struggling to keep pace with people’s irresponsible habits. They’re being forced to spend a totally unsustainable amount of ratepayers’ money – our money – on treating an entirely preventable problem. The average annual charge to every ratepayer in the country is around £58.”

One positive note within the survey was dog fouling, a perennial issue across Northern Ireland, but one which showed signs of improvement – sites with dog fouling dropped from an average of 11% over the previous 4 years to 6% during 2016. However, one in five sites in public parks still had dog fouling, and even 3% of children’s play areas. Amazingly, this is a significant improvement over the 2015 survey, when 10% of children’s play areas were observed to have dog fouling in them.

The survey also throws out some interesting specifics: Although a lack of a handy bin is often cited as a reason to drop litter, more than two out of three sample sites in city and town centres and other retails areas had at least one bin. Of all the retail sites that were considered unacceptably littered, 63% had at least one bin, with one site having four bins available – one approximately every 12 metres. In parks and play areas 85% of sites had a bin, including 81% of the sites that were unacceptably littered.

Councils are also investing in anti-litter education initiatives such as Live Here Love Here, a campaign supported by seven of the eleven councils, the Housing Executive and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as businesses like Coca-Cola and Choice Housing. Many Councils also run local initiatives directly in schools and communities.

There is an average of 528 items of litter for every 100m of coast around Northern Ireland, a new report has found – that’s about five bits of litter for every step you take on some beaches. Perhaps more shockingly, this figure compares favourably against the rest of the coast of the UK and Ireland.

The report, by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, is an analysis of surveys on ten reference beaches from Runkerry Strand in the North West to Rostrevor in the South East. Staff and volunteers have covered a total of 56 kilometres over fourteen survey rounds since September 2012 to collect the data and remove the litter.

Chris Allen, who manages the survey for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “This new analysis looks at all the data we have collected since 2012. We’ve found tremendous variation between the surveys, so taking them all together allows us to get the best picture of the amount and composition of litter washing up on our beaches.”

Over the four years of the study, there was no significant change in the overall litter count, although the number of plastic bags and sanitary waste items have both reduced, which has been attributed to the carrier bag levy and improvements to treatment works by NI Water respectively.

Chris went on “When you compare our reference beaches against the reference beaches in the UK, Ireland and the countries around the North Atlantic, we actually come out with less litter per 100m. That we can have over 500 bits of litter per 100m and still be cleaner than other places is pretty worrying. This stuff damages boats; kills marine life, and could cause contamination of fish and shellfish that end up on our plates. Not to mention it looks pretty disgusting when it washes up on our beaches.”

As well as highlighting the amount of litter, the report praises the work of volunteers in cleaning beaches around the country. 4,187 bags of rubbish have been lifted by volunteers taking part in just this project – once the litter is counted, it is removed to ensure it isn’t counted in the next survey.

One group of people working hard to control litter are the residents of the Fishing Village of Ardglass in County Down. Kevin Quigley of the NI Fishery Harbour Authority said “We know litter is a problem – the tides wash it up here from all over the place – but our staff have pride in this beautiful harbour village and so can be seen regularly with local and other volunteers undertaking beach cleans.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful revealed recently that Councils in Northern Ireland spent £43 million cleaning up litter in 2015-16, and it’s clear that some of what’s left is making its way into the sea. However, there are a number of initiatives taking place around the country to tackle the problem, including Council-led strategies specifically to remove and reduce beach litter, and education programmes run by NI Water and Eco-Schools to teach responsible disposal of litter. Fishing vessels have even begun to bring litter caught in their nets back to shore for responsible disposal.

You can read the full 2016 Marine Litter Report at http://www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org/cgi-bin/generic?instanceID=50

Northern Ireland’s eleven Councils spent a total of £43,285,212 on cleaning our roads, streets and open spaces in 2015-16; a rise of over 8% on spending during the previous year. This expression of serious intent to clean up our streets and parks has however been somewhat blunted by a fall of almost 20% in the number of people actually caught and fined for littering.

The figures, which were gathered by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful from Council financial statements and records of enforcement, show how hard councils have to work to hold back a tide of unsightly and harmful litter. To put the figure in context that £43 Million would pay the annual salary of 1,995 newly qualified nurses. The total expected cost of the new build Royal Victoria Hospital Maternity Unit is £46.2 Million.

Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said of the figures “Council staff work day and night to keep our streets clean but we spend more and more each year just to stand still. And research shows litter costs society the same again with losses to business and tourism and our health. That’s why most councils have now come together, with others, to deliver Live Here Love Here. This is building community pride and starting work on the real solution, which is to prevent litter being dropped in the first place.”

Many people will wonder where the money for street cleansing comes from, and the answer is that councils pay it from their rates, with the average annual charge to every rate payer in the country around £58.

At the other end of the bargain, the number of people actually caught littering has dropped by almost a fifth, from 4,443 to just 3,724. In addition, just 310 people were penalised for not clearing up after their dog last year. As Dr Humphreys points out “In a fair society the polluter would pay for the clean-up, but at this rate that would mean that the penalty for dropping a crisp packet would need to be over £10,000. Most people don’t drop litter. So we need to give the people who do litter a clear signal that their dirty, selfish behaviour is not acceptable. We all have a part to play in encouraging litterers to stop.”

The total raised by fixed penalties to be set against the cost of cleansing was just £191,530, less than half of one percent of the total cost.

The difference between Councils was stark, with over half of all fixed penalties issued in Belfast, but just 1% issued in Lisburn and Castlereagh. Dr Humphreys Welcomed Belfast’s approach, saying they had “grasped the nettle of penalising litterers for the good of everybody living and working within the Council area.”

Councils are also investing in anti-litter education initiatives such as Live Here Love Here, a media campaign supported by seven of the eleven councils, the Housing Executive and the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as businesses like Coca-Cola and Choice Housing. Many Councils also run local initiatives directly in schools and communities.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is currently collating results of 1,100 surveys across the country to see if the additional money spent is having the desired effect and reducing the amount of litter on streets and in parks.

ENDS

For more information please contact:

Chris Allen, Local Environmental Quality Co-Ordinator

Chris.allen@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org

028 9073 6921

Note to Editors

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is an environmental charity working towards the vision of a beautiful Northern Ireland by inspiring people to take responsibility for creating cleaner, greener and more sustainable communities.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful runs a number of awareness raising campaigns including the BIG Spring Clean volunteering and public engagement campaign, the Clean Coast programme which supports coastal volunteering groups. The charity also runs the Seaside and Green Coast Awards, the international Blue Flag (for beaches and marinas) and Eco-Schools programmes all of which set environmental quality standards.

Live Here Love Here is supported by The Department of the Environment; Tourism Northern Ireland; Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Ards and North Down Borough Council, Belfast City Council; Derry City and Strabane District Council, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Mid and Est Antrim and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Choice Housing, the Housing Executive and Coca Cola.

Find out more about it at www.liveherelovehere.org/What-s-it-all-about.aspx

Figures used in this release

• Spending figures were collected from individual Council financial statements, which are available on Council websites

• FPN figures were provided by Councils in response to requests for the information

• A new nurse starting at band 5 on the pay scale will earn £21,692 pa. https://www.rcn.org.uk/employment-and-pay/nhs-pay-scales-2015-16

• The Royal Victoria Hospital estimated costs http://www.belfasttrust.hscni.net/pdf/1108__Annual_Report_14_to_15_final_copy_29_June2.pdf

• Cost to ratepayers based on projected figure of 744,800 households in Northern Ireland in 2015, source http://www.nisra.gov.uk/archive/demography/population/household/household_project.pdf

Record Number of Parks Achieve the Green Flag Award

Nicola Murray   Thu 22 Sep 2016

Environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, in association with Heyn Environmental Solutions, revealed the parks and green spaces that have been awarded a prestigious Green Flag Award.

Armagh Palace Demesne provided the perfect backdrop as a record 51 parks and green spaces in Northern Ireland received their Green Flags, awarded for exceeding tough environmental standards for green space management and visitor facilities – the Green Flag Awards is the mark of a quality park or green space recognised throughout the world.

For the 2016/17 season, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful saw a continued increase in public parks, country parks, cemeteries and green spaces meeting the demanding standards.

First-time winners this year included Antrim/Belmont Cemetery (Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council); Castle Park (Ards and North Down Borough Council); Clare Glen and Palace Demesne (Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council); Carnfunnock Country Park, Ecos Nature Park and Eden Allotment Gardens (Mid and East Antrim Borough Council) and Maghera Walled Garden (Mid Ulster District Council).

In 2016 Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have announced two new Green Flag Award categories: the Green Flag Community Award and the Green Heritage Award. Ballyeaston Church Ruin received a Green Flag Community Award for the site which is managed and maintained by Ballyeaston Village Committee. Antrim Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House and Sentry Hill Historic House & Visitor Centre received the Green Heritage Award, these sites conserve, enhance and help people enjoy the heritage value of the site. There are now more places than ever for the public to enjoy high quality outdoor spaces.

This year 22 sites in the Republic of Ireland have also received the Green Flag Awards, further highlighting the growth of this top quality award, in Ireland the scheme is managed locally by An Taisce.

The Green Flag Awards are judged every year by green space experts, who volunteer their time to visit applicant sites and assess them against eight strict criteria, including horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Michelle McIlveen said:

“Our parks and open spaces are frequently enjoyed by people of all ages, providing an opportunity to relax and unwind from everyday life.

“We recognise and reward the achievements of all those who work to improve the quality and environmental standards of our parks and open spaces.

“It is a credit to all those involved that the Green Flag Award scheme has continued to grow over the last four years. I am delighted that this year we have seen a record number of applicants to the scheme.

“I look forward to the continued success of the Green Flag Awards in the coming years in helping more and more of our public parks and green spaces achieve higher environmental standards.”

Dr. Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said:

“We are delighted to be celebrating another record-breaking year for the Green Flag Award scheme. All the flags flying this year are a testament to the efforts of the hundreds of men and women, both staff and volunteers, who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award.”

If you are interested in finding out further information about the Green Flag Award or other programmes run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful please e-mail us on enquiries@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org call us on 028 9073 6920 or check out our website www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.