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Rural Areas in Serious Need of Summer Love

David McCann   Fri 22 Jun 2018

The image conjured up when you hear the words ‘summer’ and ‘countryside’ is normally one of rolling green hills, quiet country roads and hedgerows bustling with wildlife, but when tourists visit one of our rural areas they are likely to encounter a much different scene – one filled with rubbish.

The most recent Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report published by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful shows that 39% of rural roads surveyed across the country failed to meet the accepted standard for litter in 2017/18. This is 13 times higher than the 3% of transects that failed in city and town centres.

While no data was collected to show the frequency of littering events in these areas and whether one was higher than the other, it is clear that city and town areas are cleansed on a much more frequent basis than their rural counterparts. Most Councils dispatch cleansing teams to their towns and cities on a daily basis, but some country roads are only cleaned once every six months and even less than that in some cases.

According to a recent NISRA bulletin, there have never been more tourists coming to Northern Ireland, with an estimated 2.7 million overnight trips from external visitors in 2017 contributing a massive £657 million to the local economy. With the route between our two most visited attractions involving travel along rural roads, tourists are almost guaranteed to catch an eyeful of our littered hedgerows, perhaps making that return trip all the less likely.

Freddie Harris, the Cleaner Neighbourhoods Manager for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “The case for keeping our country clean is clear cut. The results from our surveys show that rural litter is a real problem and it will have a real impact on both our environment and our economy. It is sad that some people are so inconsiderate that they don’t recognise the damage even one small piece of litter can do to our environment. All of our waste ends up somewhere and sadly in most cases it is our beautiful countryside that is bearing the brunt.

Studies have shown that litter can have an adverse effect on tourism and it is really important that our local authorities are proactive in keeping the greenest parts of our province beautiful for the millions of visitors to enjoy.

While we understand that limited resources may have to be stretched thin, the indirect costs of littering can spiral into the hundreds of millions of pounds with negative effects on property values, crime rates and mental health. We are ready and willing to help our local Councils alleviate this issue as much as possible and for us that starts with litter prevention through a variety of public engagement, behaviour change and awareness programmes.”

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have presented Beach and Marina Operators with 12 national and 11 internationally recognised awards for excellence in facilities, environmental management, education and water quality.

The international Blue Flag will be flown at 9 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). 45 countries participate in awarding Blue Flags to more than 4400 beaches, marinas and boats 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. 11 beaches have been recognised by this award and can be identified by the Seaside Award Flag or Plaque.

1 of our more rural beaches has 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 2018, in time for the bathing season, which runs from 1st June until the 15th September each year.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “We can turn up just about anywhere along Northern Ireland’s coastline and lough shores and know you will enjoy world beating scenery. It is thanks to the hard work of dedicated beach and marina operators, achieving prestigious awards, that our experience is matched by impressive standards for facilities, cleanliness and safety that we all want and expect. The pride they take in their work is evident for us all to see when we visit our own special places.”

When it comes to litter, rural areas have the highest amount of litter across the country, with up to 13 times the amount of litter found in our town and city centres. That’s according to this year’s Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report from the environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

Across all Council areas, 39% of rural transects failed the accepted standard for litter, compared to 13% for secondary retail areas and only 3% for primary retail zones. This may be due to scarce resources increasingly being focused on areas with a higher footfall, or Councils being careful not to put their staff in harm’s way on country roads. Subsequently, the proportion of litter coming from motorists overall has increased from 26% to 30%, as 95% of the litter in rural areas comes from passing vehicles.

It’s not all bad news, however. The percentage of transects completely free of litter has seen a leap from 5% to 12%, the highest it has been since the litter reports began in 2010. Furthermore, the report also states that the average number of surveyed transects across all land uses that failed has remained steady from last year at 15%, while those suffering from dog fouling has also stayed the same at 6%.

Levels of engagement and education have also increased proportionately this year, with over 111,000 people getting involved with civic pride initiatives through the Live Here Love Here campaign and 273 schools earning the right to fly the coveted Green Flag, the pinnacle of the Eco-Schools programme. The number of Fixed Penalty Notices issued by Council Enforcement Officers has dropped however, down 13% on last year’s figures. Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful says the answer to the litter issue lies in a balance to these approaches. He added, “We know people will stop littering if they think they will be fined. So removing the postcode lottery from this important measure is a must. Supporting education through Eco-Schools and positive community action through Live Here Love Here are also key facets of the overall solution. Finally, we must all play our part in challenging those who defile our towns and countryside.”

The report concludes with a number of recommendations for combating the litter problem, which tie in with the publication of recent EU Waste Directive Amendments that are also included in the work. It’s yet to be seen how much of this legislation will survive the Brexit process, much less be adopted by the Northern Ireland Assembly, but steps clearly need to be taken to stem an issue that is disproportionately effecting our countryside.

New Marine Litter Report Reveals Extent of Plastic Pollution on Northern Ireland’s Beaches

David McCann   Tue 06 Mar 2018   updated: Fri 09 Mar 2018

The 2017 Marine Litter Report, published today by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, has laid bare the state of our beaches in Northern Ireland when it comes to the litter landing on our shores. The organisation began these surveys in 2012, with an average of 510 items of litter being found per 100m of beach between then and now. An astonishing 79% of this litter was made of plastic, a figure that rises to 82% when you look at the 2017 data in isolation. Incredibly, 30% of the litter was a 'single use plastic', so called because the item is used once and then thrown away.

Much has been made of the plastic problem in the media recently, with shows like ‘Blue Planet II’ and the ‘Sky Ocean Rescue’ campaign shining the spotlight on what is a global issue and requires a global response. The Marine Litter Report also lends some insight into the matter, looking at the specific harm that plastic poses to some of our most beloved and protected marine animals. From leatherback turtles to the iconic Atlantic puffin, it seems that no creature is immune from the ubiquitous material and it is estimated that up to 99% of all seabirds will have ingested plastic by 2050 if no fundamental changes to plastic and waste consumption occurs. Furthermore, tiny fragments of plastic known as ‘microplastics’ have been found in 83% of tap water samples taken all around the world. This, combined with the plastics being found in our seafood, is a clear pathway for entry into the human body.

Dr Ian Humphreys from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful thinks the tide is starting to turn on marine litter, saying, “The damaging effects of littering, particularly of single use plastics that end up polluting our oceans, is clearly highlighted in this year's report, which shows four items of litter for every step that we take along our coast. Thankfully, most people don't litter, and growing awareness and calls for action spell the beginning of the end for this highly anti-social behaviour.”

The report also highlights the fantastic work being done by groups of volunteers from a range of different organisations. Over the course of 1,345 hours, 461 volunteers lifted 850 bags of rubbish across the ten beaches surveyed. This is just one form of environmental leadership outlined in the publication, which also draws attention to Ards and North Down Borough Council, who recently passed a motion to promote eco-friendly alternatives to single use plastics such as coffee cups and plastic straws. Schools have also been getting involved, with Mill Strand Integrated Primary School banning all plastic straws after one of their pupils saw a disturbing image of a turtle with a straw up its nose on social media.

The full report can now be downloaded from the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful website.

The marine litter surveys are carried out four times a year by trained members of staff and dedicated volunteers. The data collected is also used by DAERA and the OSPAR Commission.

ENDS//

To speak to a programme spokesperson, please contact Freddie Harris, Cleaner Neighbourhoods Manager, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful at freddie.harris@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org or on 028 9073 6920 / 077 9664 7012 or Chief Executive, Dr Ian Humphreys on 028 9073 6920/ 07905613546

Council spending on cleaning streets, roads and open spaces has seen a significant increase of 5% during the last financial year, amounting to a total of £45,562,532 across Northern Ireland. This comes as a result of deploying extra resources to keep our streets clean. However, the practice of issuing Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) for dropping litter and dog fouling has dropped by 13% on last year. As such, there is a greater focus on cleaning up after litterers across the province rather than fining offenders in the first place.

The figures, which were gathered by environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful from Council financial statements and records of enforcement, show the true cost that litter passes on to all of us, despite being dropped by only a few. To put the spend figure into context, it’s almost half the amount spent on constructing the iconic Titanic Belfast museum, or the purchase cost of over 100,000 new street bins.

The money used to pay for the clean-up costs comes from our rates, with the average charge to every domestic rate payer in Northern Ireland sitting at just over £57 for last year.

This is particularly interesting given the amount of money being recovered in fines compared to the amount being spent on cleaning. The stand out performer here was Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, who managed to recoup 0.77% of the amount through the payment of Fixed Penalty Notices. This may seem a small number, but it was 37 times more than the Council who recovered the least through fines, thus showing potential to offset some of these costs to the ratepayer. The total raised by Fixed Penalty Notices to be set against the cost of cleansing was just £169,588, less than 0.5% of the total cost.

Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “Fining litterers is a part of the solution to the global problem of litter and with the real dangers of particularly plastic pollution now widely understood, there is no excuse for littering behaviour. Relying on the hard working Council street cleaning teams, and the army of volunteers who are dedicated to quietly cleaning up their local patch, is no longer acceptable. Thankfully, most people put their rubbish in the bin and many are joining Live Here Love Here and helping create cleaner, more responsible and prouder communities.”

Those penalised for dropping litter has decreased from 3,724 to 3,158 – a worrying trend considering the fact that we are spending more on the clean up operation. Surveys carried out by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have shown that the percentage of our streets that failed to meet an acceptable standard has remained at 15% from last year. On a more positive note, however, the same surveys indicate that there has been a remarkable 7% rise in streets categorised as completely free of litter. Equally encouraging, more enforcement action has been taken to curb dog fouling on our streets.

Councils are also investing in anti-litter initiatives such as Live Here Love Here, a public engagement campaign supported by nine of the eleven Councils, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, NI Housing Executive, Choice Housing, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

The full 2017/18 Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful will be published at the end of March.

Green Key Launches in Northern Ireland

David McCann   Wed 10 Jan 2018

Local environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is introducing Green Key to Northern Ireland. Green Key is an internationally recognised eco-certification for the hospitality sector, thereby boosting the local tourism and hospitality industry and championing sustainable best practices.

Green Key is one of five programmes run under the auspices of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and will be locally operated by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. The eco-label is currently available in 56 countries across the globe and boasts over 2,700 certified establishments, making it the largest eco-label in the hospitality industry. Green Key criteria are recognised by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council – a key indicator of environmental quality assurance – in an otherwise often unregulated market for eco-labels. Green Key is available for hotels and hostels, small accommodations, campsites and holiday parks, conference centres and restaurants.

Dr Susann Power, Operations Manager at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Green Key National Operator states: “A Green Key stands for an establishment’s promise to its guests that by opting to stay with such an establishment, they are helping to make a difference on an environmental and sustainability level. Researchers at the University of Québec have demonstrated that customers generally perceive eco-certifications as favourable and that customer satisfaction levels increase when a hotel has adopted sustainable operations and has been awarded an eco-certification. Green Key is thus a real opportunity for hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland to target those discerning visitors.”

Finn Bolding Thomsen, International Green Key Director at the Foundation for Environmental Education explains: “Green Key is a well-proven and recognised international programme for establishments in the hospitality industry. More and more establishments wish to work with its sustainability efforts, so Green Key is experiencing a growth in number of participating establishments and number of countries with awarded establishments. I am very happy to see the programme now also being launched in Northern Ireland so that interested businesses can obtain local support from Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful for the implementation of Green Key.”

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, a member of the Foundation for Environmental Education, is ideally placed to operate Green Key locally, already managing the Blue Flag, Seaside Awards, Green Coast Awards, Green Flag for Parks, Green Business Award and Eco-Schools and EcoCampus as well established eco-labels in the province. The charity is committed to providing guidance and support for businesses, schools and destinations to reach their full sustainability potential.

Hospitality businesses interested in learning more about Green Key and how it can help them boost their green credentials should contact Dr Susann Power at susann.power@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org or on 028 9073 6920, or visit www.greenkey-ni.org.

Belfast pupils turn recycling into a tasty treat.

David McCann   Fri 15 Dec 2017

Schools across Belfast are tackling the important topic of food waste with the launch of the exciting Wheelie Big Challenge run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Eco-Schools and supported by Belfast City Council. With alarming figures like 7 million tonnes of food being thrown away from UK homes every year, pupils are investigating what can be done in school and at home to reduce waste.

Pupils from Botanic Primary School have discovered that recycling food at school and at home means great compost, and great compost means great veggies! They have seen the process full circle to the benefit of their school vegetable patch. They also know it is not just their vegetables that benefit, but the environment as well, as food waste going to landfill is a top contributor to greenhouse gases – 7% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Last year saw pupils from 34 Belfast schools investigate and engage in practical actions to reduce waste, particularly food waste, in school and at home by reducing, reusing and recycling. Botanic Primary School placed food caddies in all their classrooms and managed to reduce the food in their bins by over 90%. They went on to impress the judges at the Wheelie Big Challenge competition in June and scooped first prize and £500 for their eco work.

Ruth Van Ry, Environmental Education Manager, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said: “The Wheelie Big Challenge is an action based, fun project and competition for all schools in Belfast to think about how they could improve the environment by reducing waste and recycling more. We are delighted to be once again supported by Belfast City Council and are looking forward to seeing all the interesting ideas from schools. We invite all school pupils in Belfast to put their eco-thinking caps on and get involved”.

Alderman Tommy Sandford, Chair of the People and Communities Committee, Belfast City Council said: “We are pleased to be working with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful again on this competition, building on the success of the past few years. This competition gives schools the opportunity to win great prizes while helping to protect the environment and reduce waste disposal costs. With research showing that around a third of food is wasted, we hope this competition will encourage pupils and their families to think about the food they waste at home and in school and do something about it. ”

The Wheelie Big Challenge is open now to all schools in Belfast City Council and will run until April. You can register your interest in the competition and receive resources and information by emailing cathy.gorman@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org or by calling 02890 736920.

The Eco-Schools Programme is the world’s largest environmental education programme which aims to make environmental awareness and action an intrinsic part of school life. Eco-Schools work through a simple seven step process to implement behavioural change and study a range of topics, such as waste, litter and energy. By participating in projects such as the Wheelie Big Challenge schools throughout Belfast will be able to reduce their environmental impact and become more sustainable as they work towards their prestigious, internationally recognised Eco-Schools Green Flag award. To find out more please visit www.eco-schoolsni.org.

Pupils on a Mission to Tackle Food Waste

David McCann   Fri 15 Dec 2017

Schools across the country have been tasked with taking on the Food Waste Challenge, run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and supported by the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA).

DAERA was delighted to recently report that Northern Ireland has achieved a 50% recycling rate across the country for all types of waste for the first time. New food waste legislation introduced last April has helped households reach this target, and so it is pertinent that this project is focusing on food waste in particular. Around 10 million tonnes of food, with a value of £17 billion, is wasted in the UK each year - 60% of which could be avoided.

Food is an expensive part of our weekly budget with families in Northern Ireland spending, on average, £64 every week on food. The food we waste can be worth up to one third of the value of our shopping spend. Across Northern Ireland we waste the equivalent of up to six meals per week. As such, food waste going to landfill is placing a strain on our purses and the environment, 20% of the UK’s CO2 eq. emissions comes from food and waste.

The Eco-Schools programme, run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, is a pupil-led, environmental education programme, which encourages a hands-on approach to creating a more sustainable school and home environment. With an estimated half of all waste in schools being food waste it is a really important issue to tackle.

Pupils will be asked to highlight the great resource that could be produced from recycling food waste, namely compost. Not only will pupils learn about the 3R’s of Reducing, Reusing and Recycling food waste, but they will also learn about the great benefits to the environment that making compost has too.

Owen Lyttle, Head of Waste Policy, DAERA said: “With more household waste being recycled now than being landfilled in Northern Ireland this Food Waste Challenge provides a timely reminder to families to keep up the good work. Christmas is just around the corner and now is a good time to re-emphasise the need to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as much as possible. The Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs applauds the enthusiasm of all the schools and pupils involved in the Challenge through their Eco-Schools work.”

Ruth Van Ry, Environmental Education Manager, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said: “We are delighted to be supported by DAERA in this Food Waste Challenge. It is a great opportunity for pupils to examine the issue and take real practical actions to make a positive change in school and at home. We are looking forward to seeing all the fabulous ideas they will have.”

Participating schools will have the chance to win prizes for their photos of school and home based actions. £200 for the best photo – in each council area - and a further £300 for the best overall school actions.

By participating in projects such as the Food Waste Challenge schools will be able to reduce their environmental impact and become more sustainable as they work towards their prestigious, internationally recognised Eco-Schools Green Flag award. To find out more please visit www.eco-schoolsni.org.

Belfast, 7th December 2017: A cross-border research project for developing a system for live bathing water monitoring is launched today at a prestigious event at Titanic Belfast, including presentations from project funders, partners and a stakeholder forum. This project has been funded by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.

The EU SWIM Project – as it is known – combines the expertise of lead partner University College Dublin and Northern Irish project partners Agri-Food Bioscience Institute and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, aiming to develop a system that will allow bathers to check the water quality of their chosen bathing spots live before taking the dip. The development of a bathing water quality prediction model will directly tie into software to support the collection of data and delivery of information to the public.

Match-funded by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in Ireland, this research takes place across sites in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – a cross-border initiative supported by the Interreg VA funding scheme.

Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, CEO of the Special EU Programmes Body said: “This innovative cross-border project represents a real step-change in how bathing water quality is monitored and will provide invaluable, real-time information on water quality for the general public on both sides of the border. It will make a significant contribution towards meeting the EU’s Bathing Water Directive, and therefore help meet one of the core environmental protection objectives of the INTERREG VA Programme.”

Professor Gregory O’Hare of University College Dublin explains “The EU SWIM Project will not only develop a bathing water prediction model and allow water sampling and microbial tracking, it will also result in the creation of an app and a website with real-life updates; which crucially promotes good management, environmental standards and sustainability for beaches on the island of Ireland.”

The research is scheduled to take place between now and December 2019. Regular updates can be found on www.swimproject.eu

ENDS//

To speak to a press spokesperson, please contact Dr Susann Power, Operations Manager, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful on susann.power@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org or 02890 736920.

University College Dublin

UCD is one of Europe's leading research-intensive universities; an environment where undergraduate education, masters and PhD training, research, innovation and community engagement form a dynamic spectrum of activity. The international standing of UCD has grown in recent years; it is currently ranked within the top 1% of institutions world-wide. USC is also Ireland's most globally engaged university with over 30,000 students drawn from over 120 countries, and includes 5,500 students based at locations outside the Republic of Ireland. As Ireland's largest university, with its great strength and diversity of disciplines, UCD embrances its role to contribute to the flourishing of the island of Ireland; through the study and discussion of people, society, business, economy, culture, languages and the creative arts, as well as through research and innovation.

Agri-Food Bioscience Institute

The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) is a multi-disciplinary scientific institute offering world-class scientific services to a wide range of customers in the agri-food sector. They provide analytical & diagnostic, research & development and scientific training & advice in agriculture, food, animal and plant health, marine and freshwater ecosystems and the agri-environment. They operate across seven sites in Northern Ireland and have a purpose built marine research vessel which operates in the Irish Sea from the Port of Belfast. Their state-of-the-art equipment is used by world-renowned scientists to provide sophisticated and reliable results. They participate in top-level research consortia with some of the world’s most well-respected research organisations, universities and agencies globally, including China, the United States and Canada.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is a charity working towards the vision of a cleaner, greener Northern Ireland by running environmental education programmes and awareness raising campaigns, increasing volunteering opportunities and reporting on local environmental quality. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful runs a range of awareness raising and volunteering campaigns including the BIG Spring Clean and the Clean Coast programme as well as local environmental quality programmes such as international Eco-Schools and Blue Flag programmes, the Seaside Award, Borough Cleanliness Surveys and Live Here Love Here Green Business Awards. For more information, visit www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

Call for Action!

Cathy Gorman   Tue 14 Nov 2017

The Global Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP), of which Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are a member, announces a global Call for Action for the field of environmental education (EE). Watch the video below and visit www.actnowforee.org to help shape the future!

#ecoschoolsni #ActNowforEE #theGEEP #NAAEE #enviroed #environmentaled

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GEEP Call for Action