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Five council areas rewarded for excellent environmental management

The local winners of the international Blue Flag Award and the UK-wide Seaside Award have been revealed for 2023. 

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful announced that 18 beaches and marinas at home earned the prestigious Blue Flag Award distinction after reaching world-class standards in criteria that includes water quality, safety, accessibility, cleanliness and environmental education.

A further nine beaches received Seaside Awards, the UK’s mark of quality that ensures visitors are guaranteed to find a clean, safe, attractive and well-managed coastal stretch. Seven Seaside Award sites returned excellent water-quality results, while two more rated as good, the second highest classification in this area.

The benchmarks for blue spaces were shared across councils, with Causeway Coast and Glens claiming 12 awards and Mid and East Antrim landing three Blue Flags and three Seaside Awards. 

There were also five flags for aquatic spots in Ards and North Down, and three wins for beaches in Newry, Mourne and Down. Ballyronan Marina in Mid Ulster retained its Blue Flag status for the 14th consecutive year.

Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said:

"We are extremely pleased that 27 beaches and marinas have achieved either a Blue Flag Award or Seaside Award. Each flag is a symbol that these special places are managed to an excellent standard and an important trust signal to the public that they can expect a high-quality experience when they visit one of these award-winning sites.

"At a time when budgets are tight and difficult decisions are never far away, we want to thank councils and other organisations for continuing to invest in our beaches and marinas that are much loved and valued by tourists and people at home alike."

Owen Lyttle, DAERA’s Director of Marine and Fisheries said “We are delighted to see so many beaches and marinas awarded for their excellent environmental management. The assessment of water quality is a core component of these Awards and highlights that Northern Ireland continues to have some of the cleanest beaches and marinas in the world. We will keep working with all those who help to manage these valuable blue spaces to ensure that Northern Ireland continues to have beaches and marinas we can be proud of.”

Beach and marina operators and Mayors from across councils were invited to collect the awards at a presentation ceremony in The Arcadia, Portrush on 25 May. The occasion was organised by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, who manage the accreditations locally. 

The award-winning locations will now have their respective flags in place for the duration of the Northern Ireland bathing season, which runs from 01 June to 15 September.

To see the full list of Blue Flag Award and Seaside Award winners, visit www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org


Notes for editors

1. Blue Flag Beach Award winners – Benone Beach, Castlerock Beach, Cranfield Bay, Downhill Beach, Murlough Beach, Portrush East Strand Beach, Portrush West Strand Beach, Tyrella Beach, Whiterocks Beach.

2. Blue Flag Marina Award winners – Blue Flag Award Marinas winners – Ballycastle Marina, Ballyronan Marina, Bangor Marina, Carrickfergus Marina, Coleraine Marina, Glenarm Marina, Portglenone Marina, Portrush Harbour and Marina, Rathlin Marina.

3. Seaside Award winners – Ballycastle Beach, Ballygally Beach, Ballywalter South Beach, Brown's Bay Beach, Carnlough Beach, Cloughey Beach, Groomsport Beach, Millisle Beach, Waterfoot Beach.

4. Northern Ireland’s bathing water quality is monitored by DAERA Marine and Fisheries Division during the bathing season. The bathing season runs from 01 June through to 15 September, during which time water quality is assessed on 20 different occasions at each location.

5. Bathing water is monitored at 26 sites in Northern Ireland, with results classified as excellent, good, sufficient or poor.

6. In 2023, 18 out of 26 bathing-water sites received either a Blue Flag Award or Seaside Award

7. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is a charity working towards the vision of a world where people and nature thrive, by running environmental-education programmes and awareness-raising campaigns, increasing volunteering opportunities and reporting on local environmental quality. Programmes include the national civic-pride campaign Live Here Love Here, Tackling Plastic NI, Tackling Textiles, Carbon Literacy training, and local environmental quality programmes, such as Eco-Schools NI, Blue Flag Award, Seaside Award, Green Flag Award, Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Marine Litter surveys. For more information, visit www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

For further information about the Blue Flag Award and Seaside Award, please contact Claire Irwin at claire.irwin@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org

Environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has developed a new plastics guide to encourage all schools in Northern Ireland to eliminate their use of single-use plastics.

The free resource, entitled ‘How to remove pointless plastics from your school’, asks senior leaders in schools to swap items such as plastic bags, straws, bottles and food packaging in favour of sustainable alternatives, and invites them to start a conversation with pupils about the effects discarded plastics have on the environment and wildlife.

Chris Gourley, Waste and Pollution Solutions Strategic Lead at Keep NI Beautiful comments, “We do not expect schools to be totally plastic-free. Our aim is tackle the single-use plastic: the unnecessary paraphernalia that’s everywhere. It’s these throwaway plastic items that are having a huge impact on our environment, and with some simple changes in schools, they can be eradicated.”

So how can teachers begin to make a difference? The guide explains how starting a conversation with pupils can really have a big impact. Already in Northern Ireland schools such a St Colm’s Draperstown and Willowbridge School in Enniskillen have harnessed their pupil power and implemented changes through the charity’s Eco-Schools NI programme, cutting their use of plastic cutlery in canteens and using refillable drinks bottles.

Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the booklet is designed to enable schools to make a difference to plastic pollution as soon as possible. There are five practical steps to follow so that schools can cut down on the amount of plastic that is used inside and outside of the classroom, helping to create a cleaner, greener environment.

Chris continues, “We want to support teachers in enthusing and preparing our young people to solve the plastic-pollution challenge, while helping their schools and local environment to become plastic-waste free.”

The guide can be downloaded from https://bit.ly/41XvZor


For more information contact:

Maria McLaughlin

Tackling Plastic Communication Officer



Notes to editors

Included picture of cover of new e doc for schools

Plastic Facts

1. 81% of litter found on NI beaches in 2021 was plastic.

2. Over 7.5 billion tonnes of plastic has never been recycled. If measured in plastic bottles, this could cover the whole of NI (CIWM)

3. Single-use plastics are in people's lives for an average of 2 minutes.

4. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 6 times the size of the UK! This is just 1 of 5 plastic patches in our oceans (The Ocean Cleanup).

5. There could be more plastic in our sea than fish by the year 2050 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

6. 100,000 marine mammals & turtles are killed by marine plastic pollution every year (KIMO).

About Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is a charity working towards the vision of a world where people and nature thrive, by running environmental-education programmes and awareness-raising campaigns, increasing volunteering opportunities and reporting on local environmental quality. Programmes include the national civic-pride campaign Live Here Love Here, Tackling Plastic NI, Tackling Textiles, Carbon Literacy training, and local environmental quality programmes, such as Eco-Schools NI, Blue Flag Award, Seaside Award, Green Flag Award, Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Marine Litter surveys. For more information, visit www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

About Eco-Schools NI

Eco-Schools is a programme for environmental management, certification and sustainable development education for schools. Eco-Schools was developed in 1994 on the basis of the need for involving young people in finding solutions to environmental and sustainable development challenges at the local level. The programme was initiated by member organisations of the Foundation for Environmental Education with the support of the European Commission. Eco-Schools shares the same methodology and concept across 74 participating countries and with 20 million participating students, and is identified by the Eco-Schools and Green Flag logos. Northern Ireland was the first country in the world to award a Green Flag to one of its schools. Visit www.eco-schoolsni.org for further information.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is launching our manifesto for the 2023 Local Elections.

In our manifesto you will find concrete ideas for how local government can help fight the climate emergency.

We have designed six simple steps for how you and your colleagues can lead the change for our planet.

Northern Ireland can become leaders in how we protect our environment and this manifesto helps chart the way.

We would be delighted to have your support for our ambitious proposals. Please help spread the word.

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KNIB Manifesto

A Day of Sprucing-Up The Office Garden

Christopher Walsh   Wed 19 Apr 2023

Our office sits just off the Albertbridge Road in East Belfast, and it has very little green space.

That’s perhaps a surprising admission for an environmental charity. But we are very fortunate to have a little verdant oasis in this concrete jungle, and we are pleased to share it with the teams at Business in the Community (BITC) and WRAP.

Our garden acts as a resting point for many birds on their daily journeys across the city - we even have a robin who likes to inspect our work - and it also provides habitat for many invertebrates.

Nevertheless, we knew that we could increase our efforts to improve the quality and quantity of these habitats. We also wanted to attract more pollinators into our green space. That’s why, just before Easter, working alongside our building buddies at BITC and WRAP, we got busy with the bee-eautification of our little patch of paradise.

Here are the steps that we took to move us further along our own journey of biodiversity recovery:

• We sourced flowering perennial plants, such as achillea, rudbeckia, ox-eye daisy, nemesia and heathers specifically to attract pollinators and provide shelter for invertebrate populations. During the planting, we found a few queen bumblebees and a ladybird, so these flowers will provide them with new habitat opportunities. We used peat-free compost during the planting to reduce our impact on peat bogs (which are important ‘carbon sinks’ in the fight against climate change);

• Noted that the main planter in the garden had fallen into disrepair and arranged for replacement wood. However, the original wood will remain in the garden as an insect metropolis to retain the habitat for the many woodlice that we found;

• Planted Clematis varieties alongside the iron fences to soften their industrial appearance and to provide food and shelter to invertebrates;

• Established a new veggie patch by layering recycled cardboard and covering it with peat-free compost. We hope that we can visit the garden for lunchtime in the near future and maybe even steal some snacks from the veggie bed – reducing our food miles and making sure to leave some for the earthworms; and

• Marked out large swathes of grass for transforming into natural long-flowering meadow. We are reducing the frequency of grass cutting to allow native wildflowers to come through, such as dandelions, clovers and daisies – all of which are essential for supporting a thriving population of pollinators! No Mo May is coming, so why not give this a go yourself in your own garden?

This is, of course, just a start. Our next steps are to install bird and bat boxes and bug hotels to provide further habitat opportunities and shelter from bad weather. With all this hard planting and maintenance, we will also need to put in a compost bin to make everything more sustainable.

Why not try some of these nature-nurturing actions yourself? Then you can join us in setting up your own monthly gardening club with fellow work colleagues or friends and family!

Environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has today launched a Plastic Free Events Guide. The manual aims to support positive change and build momentum to tackle the plastic problem here in Northern Ireland.

Funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), the guide provides wide-ranging actions that go beyond decreasing individual plastic consumption and focuses on how events, regardless of their size, can implement practical achievable measures for long-term change.

The guide is geared towards encouraging local businesses, councils, clubs, and all events organisers to reduce their dependence on single-use plastics, highlighting reusable alternatives that minimise unnecessary waste and pollution.

Chris Gourley, Waste and Pollution Solutions Strategic Lead at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful comments, “Our aim is to increase awareness of the issues surrounding the use of plastics and in particular single-use plastics, which are typically thrown away after just one use. We want to motivate action to reduce consumption and get people to reuse and recycle. So, if you are an event organiser or venue, this guide is most certainly for you.”

The electronic booklet ensures that with some creative planning and practical steps, groups can work together on a journey to reduce their plastic footprint and create low – or zero – plastic events. It comes complete with 10 simple steps that organisations can follow along with two inspirational case studies from right here in Northern Ireland.

Chris continues, “Changes don’t have to cost a lot; in fact, by cutting down on some plastic-riddled giveaways, you would actually be saving money. But most importantly, by cutting down on single-use plastic, you are working towards repairing our environment and protecting our future.”

The Plastic Free Event Guide is available to download from www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org/businesses-tackling-plastic

Welcoming the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme

David McCann   Fri 27 Jan 2023

The recent announcement of Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is welcome news, and will have a positive environmental impact for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Deposit Return Scheme, announced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and set to be introduced in 2025, will incentivise correct disposal of single-use drinks containers through a small, refundable deposit. Materials captured in the NI scheme will be single-use drinks containers made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, steel, and aluminium.

The need for such a scheme is clear. During Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s 2021/22 Cleaner Neighbourhoods Survey, 50% of transects (streets, roads and reactional spaces) were recorded as having some form of drinking litter present. This ranged from plastic bottles and metal cans to caps/lids and straws.

The 2019 Litter Composition Analysis revealed that, at any one time, there are potentially 114,368 plastic bottles on our streets, and 158,556 drinks cans (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). This is despite spending tens of millions of pounds on street cleansing.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has consistently advocated for a Deposit Return Scheme, most recently in our No More Time to Waste policy document published earlier this month. This is because Deposit Return Schemes have the potential to increase recycling rates, reduce carbon emissions and reduce litter. The scheme should also greatly reduce the number of plastic items reaching our seas, therefore helping Northern Ireland play its part in tackling marine plastic pollution.

We note that there are differences between the DRS schemes being introduced across the UK. Scotland will launch a DRS in August 2023, while those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland won’t be introduced until 2025. Another point of difference is that the schemes in Scotland and Wales will include glass containers, while those in NI and England will not.

While we would welcome a universal ‘all-in’ Deposit Return Scheme, introduced across the whole of the UK, and preferably also Ireland, at the same time, and accepting the same material types, the scheme outlined will nonetheless have a positive impact for Northern Ireland. We would like to see glass considered for inclusion at a future date and will be calling for any scheme implemented in NI to allow for this expansion in future, thus removing another dangerous and often littered product from our environment.

Our CEO, Dr Ian Humphreys said, “While it would be great to see a consistent DRS scheme being introduced across the UK and Ireland, this remains good news for Northern Ireland. By adopting new progressive policies such as a Deposit Return Scheme we can positively change the way key sectors operate. In the past, we have seen new policies such as the Carrier Bag Levy achieve a great deal and this has now become just a normal part of our retail experience.”

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is launching our policy for Single Use Plastics and Textiles. This document outlines the politics and future direction that we need to take in Northern Ireland. As a public representative, we want all levels of our government to pursue the sensible and deliverable policies outlined in it.

The aim of this policy brief is to support you in your work of changing Northern Ireland for the better.

We really have no more time to waste.

Read our policy in full.

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Maximum Littering and Dog Fouling Fines Spike to £200

David McCann   Thu 22 Dec 2022

Littering and dog fouling fixed penalty notices are set to increase across Northern Ireland under new regulations introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Taking effect from 30 December 2022, the maximum penalties for offenders will rise to £200, more than double the existing fine of £80 for both pollution issues.

Dave Foster, Director of DAERA’s Natural Environment Policy Division commented; “In Northern Ireland we are very fortunate to have some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world. However, the scourge of litter is harming our precious environment and dog fouling is something most of us will have seen far too often in our local areas.

“This new measure to increase the maximum fixed penalty for littering and dog fouling offences from £80 to £200 will help us achieve our draft Environment Strategy goal to create cleaner communities with less litter by 2030. We all have our part to play and I would like to thank everyone who has removed litter from our environment and would encourage everyone not to litter.”

Welcoming the increased penalties, Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said, “In times when the cost of living is going through the roof this is one unwanted cost we will all want to avoid. Putting litter in the bin is simple and can now save you a hefty fine and a possible criminal record.”

The increase fines deliver on a target set out in the DAERA-led draft Environment Strategy that aims to create cleaner communities with less litter by 2030. The strategy also aspires to bring about a societal behavioural shift, including making littering socially unacceptable by 2035.

In their Cleaner Neighbourhood Reports 2021/22, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful reported that 2,052 fixed penalty notices were handed out by local councils for littering behaviour in the years 2019/2020. A further 279 fines were issued for dog fouling. The charity estimates that a total of £31,390,472 was spent on street cleaning across Northern Ireland in the same period.

Outside of the cost to the public purse, the dual problems pose significant threats to human and animal health, with dog fouling potentially leading to toxocariasis or blindness, while plastic littering risks ingestion from wildlife that can work its way up the food chain.

One of the businesses Tackling Plastic in N. Ireland is the Ionad Fíona Wine Centre (www.AbsoluteOrganicWine.com ) in Draperstown. Established in 1984 the company began specialising in organic and vegan wine in 2009 for those also on a journey of sustainability and accountability.

The Ionad Fíona Wine Centre is certainly doing its bit as it tries to make the business more environmentally friendly by removing single use plastic from deliveries and balancing its carbon footprint by planting trees and re-wilding land on their estate.

The team Eugene McKenna and Brigid McKenna Moore, from the Wine Centre are both wine and environmental enthusiasts as Eugene explains, “Our mission is to provide responsible quality products so removing single use plastics from our deliveries was a deliberate and conscious decision. We want to encourage consumers to reflect on the journey, delivery and origin of products as we believe that every business and person can make a difference when it comes to being environmentally responsible”.

Eugene continues, “We are trying to engage with organisations like Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful so that we can communicate our mission with authority and integrity. We are mostly an online delivery company but we have already completed our Carbon Literacy Training and are now tackling single use plastic throughout the business.”

Future plans

Next year they are planning the first Organic and Vegan Wine Festival for November 2023. Brigid explains, “We are passionate about the mission of vegan wines and food- we would like to help enlighten people and provide products that take care of the environment and preserves it for future generations. We are proud to be a wine company that focuses on organic, biodynamic, vegan wine, we will always try to keep things real. Our philosophy is to provide all our products and services in a sustainable manner”.

If you would like to get involved in Tackling Plastic in your business please get in touch info@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.com

#TacklingPlasticNI #PlasticFree #CarbonLiterate #EUWWR22

Environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has released its annual Cleaner Neighbourhoods report, which reveals a snapshot of the local environmental quality of all eleven council areas across Northern Ireland. While the overall picture of the streets has slightly improved after a worrying spike during the lockdowns of 2020, drinks packaging, including plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups, continues to be a major problem, with rural roads being disproportionately affected.

The report also recommends the use of nudge behaviour from councils to encourage the public to use bins where available. The number of areas surveyed that failed to meet acceptable standards of cleanliness is revealed within the report, down 3% from last year’s results with 15% of the areas surveyed now below standard. Dog fouling has also returned to pre-pandemic levels, following a dramatic increase in 2020, with instances of dog fouling recorded down 7% from last year to 6%.

Commenting on the report, Charmaine Beer from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said, “Whilst payments for ground litter by producers of packaging are not currently planned for Northern Ireland, they will pay costs for the management of packaging in street bins and will also pay for prevention activity for littered packaging such as communication campaigns targeting litterers. Under the new Extended Producer Responsibility scheme payments will be made by packaging producers to NI councils for management of household packaging waste from 2024, which will amount to £35million per year in NI. There will be clearer binary labelling on all packaging from 2026 to help consumers recycle correctly and plastic flexibles and film will have household collection for recycling from 2027. All of these will provide a great incentive to do the right thing.”

The findings from this year’s survey took a close analysis of litter related to food packaging, particularly drinks, with plastic bottle, hot drinks cups, lids and straws found in 50% of the areas surveyed. Most surprisingly, 90% of rural roads featured littered drinks packaging and cigarette butts remained the top item of litter found in NI, with 65% of all areas surveyed having so form of cigarette litter present.

Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said, “With the environment once again on the top of the agenda as COP27 is underway, we are reminded that action is required globally and here in Northern Ireland.

“The amount of litter we are now having to deal with is extremely concerning – it’s not only unsightly but it has a real impact on council budgets, wasting money that could be spent on other public services and helping deal with the cost-of-living crisis. There’s no evidence to suggest that human nature has fundamentally changed over the past number of decades, but what has changed is the amount of plastic packaging being produced, which grown exponentially over the past 15 years, which is why it’s misleading to lay the problem entirely at the feet of the public. We need to have an honest conversation about this issue and that is why manufacturers and retailers need to step up and take their share of the cost of cleaning up the mess on our streets.”

Although the report reflects the army of litter-picking volunteers across Northern Ireland doing their best to keep our streets free from litter and a safe place for the public to come together, Charity CEO says more needs to be done to try and stop litter at the source.

Ian added, “We are very disappointed in the recent announcement that litter will not be retained in UK wide Extended Producer Responsibility legislation. This means the loss of millions of pounds annually which would have funded clean-up operations and alleviated the pressure on ratepayers. We believe this is a missed opportunity to ensure that packaging producers take on their share of the responsibility for this societal problem.”

For more information and to read the full Cleaner Neighbourhoods report visit: Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report (keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org)