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Green Flag Awards for Parks and Open Spaces Revealed

David McCann   Mon 11 Oct 2021   updated: Mon 18 Oct 2021

~ Park fans encouraged to branch out this autumn! ~

Fans of Northern Ireland’s many popular parks and open spaces have been waiting to hear if their favourite place has received a coveted Green Flag Award for 2021.

Today, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, the environmental charity that runs the international awards locally, revealed a list of old favourites and new entrants, reflecting the many types of open spaces that are used and cherished by local communities. 84 parks and open spaces have been recognised with a Green Flag Award for 2021, including 4 new Green Flag Awards, 1 new Community Award and 1 new Green Flag Heritage Award.

The Green Flag Award is an internationally recognised certification for environmental quality management for parks and open spaces and is increasingly sought after in Northern Ireland, with a 27-fold increase in participants since the local programme opened in 2008.

Rachel Vaughan, who manages the Green Flag Awards programme, said she hoped people would use the awards as an incentive to visit some new places in one of the nicest seasons of the year. She said;

“We all love a walk through the autumn leaves and it’s uplifting to discover a new spot to enjoy. When you visit a Green Flag park or open space you can be reassured that the location is being managed to a really high standard as they’ve been through a rigorous judging process that assesses sites across a range of issues including their horticultural standards, cleanliness, biodiversity and safety. And at time when many people’s finances are under pressure, it’s important to highlight the fact that all Green Flag spaces are free to everyone.”

Parks and open spaces play a hugely important role in supporting the health and wellbeing of local communities and come in many shapes and sizes. The expert judges, who are all volunteers themselves, were delighted to include several community spaces in this year’s selection, which are also run and managed by volunteers at a local level. These include: Shellinghill Park and Millennium Path, Sentry Hill Community Garden, Footprints Women’s Centre, Rathfern Activity Centre, Toome Linear Walk and Ballyeaston Church Ruin.

Special Green Flag Heritage Awards were presented to Stormont Estate and Park, Brooke Park, Sentry Hill Historic House and Visitor Centre, Antrim Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House, Queen’s University Belfast, Warrenpoint Municipal Park, Newry Canal and Belfast Botanic Gardens. These sites are making the most of unique heritage features, which enhance the experience of visitors to their sites.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful will be celebrating our award-winning parks and open spaces through a social media campaign the week beginning Monday 11 October. Please consider following us on Twitter and Facebook to see the impact of our programme

Full list of winners can be found here https://www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org/cgi-bin/generic?instanceID=28

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.

The 2020 Marine Litter Report found an average of 375 items of litter per 100 meters of beach surveyed, the environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful can reveal. This equates to a total of 18,767 items of litter recorded on the 12 beaches surveyed.

As was the case in 2019, plastics were the most commonly recorded items of litter, making up 67% of all litter counted. On average, 37 plastic drinks containers and 48 lids were found per 100 meters surveyed. Additionally, short pieces of string, cord and rope were found across the beaches, with an average of 70 lengths of string counted per survey.

Despite the significant challenges presented by COVID-19 there is room for optimism as this report shows that there has been a reduction in the amount of litter and in particular the amount of plastic recorded on Northern Ireland’s beaches from previous years. Speaking about the findings in the report, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, Dr Ian Humphreys said;

‘This report once again demonstrates the continuing pollution of Northern Ireland’s seas and shores. Whilst it is welcome that we have seen an improvement, we cannot take any progress for granted and must ensure that we keep this downward trend going. There is no hiding place anymore for ignorance about the impact that litter is having on our beaches, seas and waterways. We need to see greater emphasis on behaviour change campaigns and also a stronger requirement on producers of our waste to take more proactive steps in helping pay for the cost of cleaning up our waste.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is grateful to all those who dedicate their valuable time to survey, record and remove litter from beaches in Northern Ireland. It is their dedication and work that makes all the difference in the battle against litter. But they cannot do this alone, we all need to play our part in tackling this problem’.

The surveys in Northern Ireland are funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the data collected is fed into the International OSPAR Commission database to help in developing a global scientific understanding of this significant problem and to inform actions to address the issue.

Throughout 2020, while carrying out marine litter surveys, more people than ever before approached the surveying team and enquired about what they were doing, with many sharing their stories about how they have been inspired to do something about the litter on their local beaches. Although this report has found the lowest record of litter since the beginning of the surveys in 2012, perhaps due to the highly unusual circumstances of 2020, this trend would need to continue before we could be confident there has been a true positive change in marine litter pollution on our local beaches.

To support the reduction in marine litter within Northern Ireland, a new grants scheme has been set-up, making £175,000 available in 2021/22 for organisations and groups to avail of. The aim of the scheme is to help prevent marine litter entering our environment as well as removing this litter from coastal and riverine areas. This will help protect our waterways and marine areas, as well as improving marine biodiversity and the health and wellbeing of our communities. It is hoped the scheme will run for a further 3 years with up to £675,000 available by 2025. The scheme is funded by DAERA and will be administered by Live Here Love Here.

The Tackling Marine Litter Grants Scheme closes at 11am on Monday 27th September 2021. For further information, please visit the Live Here Love Here website.

In addition to this grants scheme, the Department has recently launched a Call for Evidence on a Plan to Eliminate Plastic Pollution in Northern Ireland. The Call for Evidence will seek responses from a wide range of stakeholders on the challenges and opportunities that exist in eliminating plastic pollution, as well as seeking examples of best practice and sources of expertise or evidence. The public Call for Evidence opened on 28th June 2021 and will run for a 14 week period until 5pm on 1st October 2021

You can read the full report at www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is delighted to announce that 26 beaches and marinas across the country have achieved standards of excellence at their annual Beach and Marina Awards. The focus of this years’ event is to celebrate Northern Ireland’s stunning array of blue spaces and raise awareness of the benefits of a healthy marine environment and the positive connection between the outdoors and our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The Beach and Marina Awards are internationally recognised awards that highlight how Northern Ireland’s blue spaces are something to take pride in, look after and enjoy; with the awards also giving an opportunity to celebrate those key workers who maintain our local beaches and marinas to such high standards.

The internationally renowned Blue Flag will be flown at eight of Northern Ireland’s beaches and six marinas during the 2021 season. The Blue Flag award is certified by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and has 49 participating countries globally. Northern Ireland’s 14 blue space locations will join the 4,820 beaches, marinas or boats that proudly fly the Blue Flag around the world. Beach and marina operators receiving a Blue Flag are demonstrating their commitment to protecting the coastal environment, excellent water quality, water safety, and providing access for all, along with providing engaging educational activities on-site.

The Seaside Award and Green Coast Award are national standards for beaches in Northern Ireland, these programmes ensure visitors of a clean, safe, attractive and well-managed beach with the facilities provided being appropriate for the location of the beach. One beach has received the Green Coast Award and eleven beaches have received the Seaside Award in 2021.

The Award Flags may only be flown if all the criteria are successfully met at time of application, with standards maintained throughout the entirety of the bathing season.

Northern Ireland’s coastline has numerous iconic sights, and many of our award-winning 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 spend time in and learn more about their coastal environment. Many award-winning beaches and marinas provide information points to showcase the best of Northern Ireland’s wildlife and provide visitors with information on how they can enjoy these natural wonders without disturbing or damaging them.

Information on the award-winning blue spaces can be found at www.beachni.com and www.liveherelovehere.app.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said “The past year has restricted our ability to travel and meet people. Yet, we are fortunate to have such great local blue spaces right on our doorstep. All of us can be rightly proud of this beautiful place we call home. Behind every one of these special places are dedicated key workers whose effort all year round keeps these blue spaces in such excellent condition. These awards are a small way of saying thank you and recognising that we have so much to be proud of in our community”.

For media enquiries contact:

Ian Humphreys, CEO Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

Email: ian.humphreys@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org

Note to Editor

Ards and North Down Borough Council

Seaside Award

Ballywalter Beach

Groomsport Beach

Millisle Beach

Cloughey Beach

Boatfolk Marinas

Blue Flag

Bangor Marina

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council

Blue Flag

Benone Beach

Downhill Beach

Castlerock Beach

Portrush West Strand

Whiterocks Beach

Ballycastle Marina

Seaside Award

Ballycastle Beach

Portrush East Strand

Waterfoot Beach

Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)

Seaside Award

Crawfordsburn Beach

Green Coast Award

Helen’s Bay Beach

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Blue Flag

Carrickfergus Marina

Glenarm Marina

Portglenone Marina

Seaside Award

Ballygally Beach

Brown’s Bay

Carnlough Beach

Mid Ulster District Council

Blue Flag

Ballyronan Marina

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

Blue Flag

Cranfield West Beach

Murlough Beach

Tyrella Beach

Northern Ireland’s dirty lockdown secret

David McCann   Thu 25 Mar 2021

A new report produced by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, brings up worrying signs regarding the issue of litter and dog fouling throughout the country during the pandemic.

The Cleaner Neighbourhoods report, which details the findings of the 2020 Northern Ireland Litter Survey, highlights an increase in the levels of litter and dog fouling and a continued decline in the ‘cleanliness’ of streets, Roads and Public Spaces.

Figures from the survey show that 18% of the transects surveyed were deemed to be an unacceptable standard for cleanliness. This represents an increase in the number sites failing to meet the grade in 2019.

Findings and Insights

• The presence of dog fouling across Northern Ireland increased significantly from 6% of transects surveyed in 2019 to 13% in 2020. This is the highest level of dog fouling since the beginning of the surveys in 2012.

• The most commonly observed item of litter on Northern Ireland’s streets and public spaces remains cigarette butts. These were found to appear across all land use types with 69% of surveyed areas having at least one cigarette butt present, although this was seen as high as 93% and 94% along primary and secondary retail transects.

• Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was recorded on 3% of all streets and open spaces surveyed. It can be estimated that at any one time there could be 5,272 gloves and 2,000 masks on our streets and open spaces.

• Rural roads remain disproportionately affected by litter when compared with residential, retail and recreational areas. 48% of rural roads failed to reach an acceptable standard for litter. This litter is clearly coming from people throwing it out of their cars. The survey found that 41% of rural roads had takeaway litter present, 66% had confectionary litter present and 89% of all rural roads had drink related litter present.

It is perhaps not surprising that litter and dog fouling levels have risen given that the cleaning spend for Northern Ireland has dropped by nearly a third in two years, from £45,million in 2017 to just £31 million in 2019.

Commenting on the report Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, said

Preventing littering requires all of us to do something. Government legislating to help end our dependence on single use items, people taking care to dispose of waste properly and businesses paying a fair share of the costs of cleaning up their packaging and cigarette butts are all needed to make a lasting difference.

We have a growing litter problem that we need to face up to as a community. The cost to our environment and public purse is too great a burden for us to bear. The pandemic has seen us care for the vulnerable in society. It is now time we extended that care for our vulnerable environment. As more people discover and enjoy the great outdoors we must all take our litter home or use the bins provided. To do anything else is to destroy what we hold dear.

You can read the full report at:



David McCann   Mon 15 Feb 2021   updated: Mon 12 Apr 2021

Northern Ireland is a nation of fashion-conscious, style mavens but when it comes to the environment, we overconsume and underuse our clothing, with approximately 533 tonnes of clothing thrown out every single week.

Environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has launched a new campaign, in collaboration with Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to tackle public behaviour and awareness around textile waste and encourage consumers to never put clothing in the bin.

Over the last 12 months, Northern Ireland has disposed of approximately 27,700 tonnes of textiles – over half the weight of our much-loved Titanic ship - with many of these items still in perfect condition

Most-concerningly, around 30% of the unwanted clothing and other textiles that are binned each year, approximately 8,300 tonnes, end up in landfill.*

Landfills are a costly burden for ratepayers but they also emit greenhouse gases which are harmful to the environment, and create other dangerous pollutants that negatively affect the health of those living nearby.

Furthermore, Northern Ireland’s landfills are in a vulnerable position, becoming closer and closer to full capacity, and as a result of this social issue, Live Here Love Here, a partnership between DAERA, Local Councils, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, has today launched its inaugural Fashion Forever campaign.

Forever Fashion urges consumers to never put their unwanted clothing in the bin and to consider more environmentally friendly alternatives when disposing of textiles.

Some of these options include:

• Reuse: One person’s trash is another’s treasure. Donating unwanted items to friends and family or charity shops, or shopping and selling preloved fashion through NI’s growing network of vintage shops or online through sites such Depop and Vinted, is a great way to avoid binning textiles while potentially making some money in the process. It’s also worth remembering that style always comes back around so hanging onto a few choice pieces could be a fashion-forward choice.

• Repair: Wear and tear doesn’t automatically mean the bin. Simple repairs to clothing like popping on a new button, removing or covering a stain, or mending a hole can prolong their life and bring many months if not years more enjoyment.

• Reimagine: Reimagine clothing by upcycling unflattering fashion items. Becoming creative with a sewing machine, either at home or engaging with a professional dressmaker, gives pieces that no longer fit a new lease of life.

If an item of clothing or textile is very worn and in an unusable condition, the message remains – never put it in the bin. Instead take this item to your local recycling centre when it becomes safe to do so.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the suggested disposal options are not advised under Government restrictions, and as people continue to remain at home, the bin may seem like the easiest, safest option. With this in mind, Live Here Love Here is urging people to hold on to their unwanted items until they can be donated or upcycled.

Siobhan Purnell, Co-ordinator of the Fashion Forever campaign said: “Our Fashion Forever message is simple - never put your unwanted clothing in the bin.

“Remind yourself of the more environmentally-friendly, alternative options – reuse, repair and reimagine. Could someone use this jacket? Can I easily repair this hole? Can I sell this dress online?

“Fast and disposable fashion through its price and fast delivery propositioning makes it easy for people, particularly the younger generation, to buy lots of clothes. Buying lots of clothes perpetuates disposal and therefore there is an escalating trend of binning textiles.

“We want people to know that they can still enjoy fashion and shopping, but also that by making one small change and committing to never putting clothes in the bin, they can make a huge difference to our local environment. Remember that fashion can and should be forever.”

To find out more about Live Here Love Here’s Fashion Forever campaign visit @FashionForeverNI on Instagram or liveherelovehere.org

‘A key milestone for climate action in Northern Ireland’ is how the submission of a Climate Change Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly has been described by the Climate Coalition Northern Ireland and MLAs. The Private Members Bill is being submitted to the Speaker’s Office today – three months after the Assembly passed a motion calling for the introduction of a Climate Change Act within that timeframe.

Supported by MLAs from across the political spectrum, the Climate Change Bill will provide a legislative basis for climate action in NI. The Bill sets a target for Northern Ireland to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 and includes the establishment of a Northern Ireland Climate Office. The Bill is co-sponsored by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party, Green Party, People Before Profit, and an Independent MLA .

The Bill is an outcome of in-depth consultation with legal experts , Climate Coalition NI members, and elected representatives, and responds to the groundswell of public opinion in favour of a Climate Change Act. The public’s demand for climate action is evident in declarations of climate and ecological emergencies by local and national governments, public demonstrations including protests and youth strikes, and opinion polls like RSPB’s recent survey in which 74% of respondents supported the introduction of a Climate Change Act for NI .

Climate Coalition NI Chair Dr Amanda Slevin (PCAN Policy Fellow, Queen’s University Belfast) said:

“As a cross party, cross-community initiative, the Climate Change Bill shows how much we can achieve when we work together. NI needs its own Climate Act, building on the commitment within ‘New Decade, New Approach’ to introduce legislation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Accord. The Bill will establish the necessary legislative basis for multi-level climate action and offers opportunities for a just transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future for Northern Ireland.”

Anurag Deb, the lawyer who led on drafting the Bill, emphasised:

“This Bill is the product of a lot of time, effort and discussion, but it is by no means the finished product. It is only the first step in securing effective climate change mitigation in Northern Ireland."

Clare Bailey MLA, who is Lead Sponsor of the Bill, said:

“The Bill will enable Northern Ireland to become climate resilient and to achieve an environmentally sustainable economy. These measures are much needed. Northern Ireland is falling behind on a raft of climate targets and indicators … We owe it to our citizens to make the just transition to a low carbon economy, leaving no one behind.”

James Orr, CCNI Member and Director of Friends of the Earth NI, played a key role in the evolution of the Bill:

“I salute the broad coalition of political support for the Bill. This Bill is a declaration of hope in the future, a future that young people and communities across the planet have been demanding for years. We will be scrutinising the Bill’s progress over the next year to give it the strength and ambition needed to tackle the global climate emergency. ”


For further information, please email CCNI@nienvironmentlink.org

The Parks Staff Keeping NI Open during COVID

David McCann   Fri 16 Oct 2020

As Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s Green Flag Awards Week 2020 [12-16 October] comes to a close, 78 of Northern Ireland’s best-managed parks and open spaces have been recognised with the international standard of excellence, the Green Flag Award.

Our sometimes overlooked and underappreciated greenspaces have been highlighted as havens for many during the current COVID 19 Pandemic. They play a central role in helping to support and link local communities; provide recreational space, safe zones to escape and decompress, and help individuals cope with depression, anxiety and stress, so vital for health and wellbeing.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB), the environmental charity who operate the Green Flag Award Scheme in Northern Ireland, has witnessed a surge in successful participating locations since the initial three awarded sites in 2008.

KNIB Local Environmental Quality Manager, Jamie Miller said,

“This year more than ever we have seen the value our parks and green spaces offer to people in Northern Ireland. They play a hugely important role in supporting the health and wellbeing of our local communities. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are therefore delighted that we are able to award the Green Flag Status to 78 parks and green spaces.”

To achieve the Green Flag award applicants must meet robust measures, which include a site management plan and evidence candidates comply with a range of strict criteria including horticultural standards, cleanliness, environmental management, biodiversity, community involvement and safety standards.

Judged annually by a volunteer panel of experts, who assess the management plans and the applicant sites through a rigorous judging process, the awards also recognise the great input of community-based ventures through the Green Flag Community Awards, where the sites are managed and maintained by loyal volunteers working at a local level.

However, without the ongoing hard work of the park managers, staff and volunteers from our local green spaces in Northern Ireland, none of this would be possible. From behind the scenes key workers from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, share their lockdown lowdown on their on-going efforts to keep our local parks and green spaces safe and sound during the pandemic and beyond.

Leanne McShane (Parks Development Officer) and David Mayers (Parks Development Officer) Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council -

“As key workers we continued working through the last lockdown and were asked to help out in other areas such as refuse and waste across the Borough. Our recreational sites and parks closed initially, as our first priority is always the safety of our users. However, once reopened, we saw a significant increase in footfall with perhaps the biggest hurdle being our signage, as we had to ensure users were aware of new procedures.

We feel that lockdown brought with it then and will do once again now, a newfound respect and a greater appreciation of parks along with the ability to reconnect with nature. In particular, safe open spaces gives a sense of freedom for many who struggle with mental health issues, helping them to cope with life and pandemic challenges. Parks have become an essential service for mental as well as physical health and we continue to strive to maintain a high standard with restricted staff by introducing innovative design and planting.

Social distancing didn’t stop during the summer months as we ran our Get Active Outdoors Summer Programme with a diversity of activities, from serene Tai Chi to Baby and Mum and Green Gyms to Boot Camps. Everyone should make use of their local parks as they continue to offer a welcoming, safe and accessible place to meet or just be.”

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Kevin Savage commented:

“I’m absolutely delighted for our residents and staff that ten parks across our borough can proudly fly the prestigious Green Flag. Securing this remarkable recognition is a testament to our dedicated and diligent officers, parks and grounds maintenance staff who work tirelessly all year round to ensure these important places are well maintained, welcoming and safe.

“Our parks and green spaces play a vital role for the health and wellbeing of our residents, they provide a safe and open place for quiet reflection, exercising, recreational activities, reconnecting with nature as well as offering a sense of freedom. As a council we are committed to ensuring these beautiful natural assets remain safe, welcoming and accessible for everyone.”

Lindsay Houston (Principal Parks Officer) and Alison Diver (Growing Communities Officer) - Mid and East Antrim Council

“Our golf course at Whitehead, has been a huge success this year with more than 65% increase in memberships from last year. Lockdown certainly highlights what is important to people and it is clear that parks, open spaces and nature are high up on the priority list. It also became obvious to us that the parks and open spaces are a lifeline to many. While we are always very happy to see people using our open spaces, the current situation brings a new level of concern with regard to ensuring that sites are safe and people are using them appropriately. We have seen a massive increase in daily footfall in all the parks in the Borough.

Our allotment garden facilities has remained open through the pandemic. We’ve seen waiting lists for plots increase dramatically as more people have realised the benefits of growing your own for physical and mental health and wellbeing and for food security. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to expand our provision to accommodate the growing demand.

The downside has been increased litter and some damage to sites. While the vast majority of our visitors take good care and leave as they find, it would seem that there will always be an element with little regard for their local environment or responsibility for their actions.

Luckily we also have a great network of volunteers who have been busy on litter picks, planting, carrying out wildlife surveys and by walking sites regularly and reporting back any issues. As always, we’re very grateful to them all.

We were delighted to see nature thriving, especially during the initial lockdown, with an otter spotted along the River Bann and wildflowers all along the Coast Road and a rare sighting of a Holly Blue butterfly. Such wildlife sightings shouldn’t be unusual but unfortunately they are becoming more so.

We plan to significantly reduce our herbicide usage over the next few years for the benefit of both people and wildlife, and hope the public will accept that some areas will look a little wilder and learn from the emergence of wildlife when nature is given more of a chance to thrive.

We’ve also partnered with the Woodland Trust to plant 58,000 trees over the next five years, one for each household in the Borough. We planted just over 17,000 trees last winter and will do similar, if not more this year.

Overall, we are hopeful that people now realise the importance of nature and green space, not just during the pandemic, and will make a more concerted effort to do their bit for the environment and to support us doing the same.

With the current 4-week lockdown and continued concern, parks and open spaces continue to play a huge part in both physical and mental health and wellbeing, providing safe places for play, exercise and socialising – at a distance of course!“

‘Park Your Thoughts’ Creative Writing Competition

David McCann   Wed 14 Oct 2020

To celebrate the announcement of the 2020 Green Flag Awards for Parks and Open Spaces, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are running the #Parkyourthoughts creative writing competition.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges for schools, business and communities across Northern Ireland, and we know that many young people have also been impacted. For many of us lockdown has highlighted the importance of our Parks and Green Spaces, as they offered us a haven during a very difficult time. We have come to appreciate the role these spaces play in maintaining both our physical health and mental wellbeing.

The #Parkyourthoughts competition aims to celebrate the invaluable role of our green spaces during the pandemic, whilst also providing a platform and giving a voice to younger people in Northern Ireland who can often go unheard.

Entrants are simply required to submit a written piece (no more than 1000 words) which captures, explains or celebrates the role their local park or green space played for them during lockdown. Entries can be in the form of a poem, story, letter or other written media – all we ask is that they feature a local Green Space.

The competition is open to all school pupils in Northern Ireland, with a prize available to the primary and post primary pupil (along with their schools) who are selected as the winners.

#Parkyourthoughts competition prizes kindly donated by Gobbins Visitor Centre, Titanic Belfast and Mens' Sheds Antrim Castle Gardens.

Please see the terms and conditions for full competition details.

Terms and Conditions

1-The competition is open to all primary and post primary pupils in Northern Ireland. By entering this competition, you agree to accept and be bound by these terms and conditions.

2-Parents, guardians or the pupil’s teacher must enter on behalf of all entrants and are required to approve the entry and agree to these terms.

3-Entry opens on 14th October 2020 and the closing date for the competition is noon on 13th November 2020 (closing date). Entries received after the closing date will not be considered.

4-To enter this competition, you must write a story, letter, poem or other written media which captures, explains or celebrates the role your local park or green space played for you during lockdown. Entries must be no more 1000 words long.

5-Entries are to be submitted via email to Jamie.miller@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org and must include the entrant’s name, age, school and the entrant’s parent, guardian or teachers contact details including their email address.

6-By entering this competition each entrant confirms that his/her entry is their wholly-owned creation.

7-All correctly completed entries will first be judged by the Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful staff. The top 10 shortlisted entries will then be read and judged by the competitions sponsors. Judging decisions are final and the verdict cannot be appealed.

8-One winner will be selected from each of the primary and post-primary groups. A breakdown of the prizes is detailed below.

9-The competition will be judged within 28 days of the closing date (i.e. by 11th December 2020) and the parent, guardian or teacher of the winner will be notified by email.

10-Events may occur which render the awarding of the prizes impossible due to reasons beyond the control of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful. Keep Northern Ireland beautiful may, at its absolute discretion, vary, amend or suspend any of the prizes with or without notice.

11-Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful may disqualify any entrant whose entry does not comply with these terms and conditions or who, in Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s sole determination, has acted in a manner that is fraudulent, dishonest or unjust to other entrants

12-Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into in relation to the competition.

13-Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful reserves the rights to amend these terms and conditions or cancel this competition at any stage, if deemed necessary it its opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of its control.

Breakdown of prizes as follows:

Primary School Winner Prize

Pupil Prize- A Family Pass to the Gobbins Cliff Walk

School Prize- A stocked wheeled planter worth £250

Post Primary Winner Prize

Pupil Prize-A Family Pass to the Titanic Walking Tour

School Prize-A £200 donation to the Schools Eco-Committee

Outdoor recreation plays a vital role in Northern Ireland, bringing benefits to society by contributing a wide range of areas including health and well-being, social inclusion, community cohesion, environmental protection, rural development, and economic development.

Outdoor Recreation NI carried out a survey between 4th and 11th May 2020 to understand how the population of Northern Ireland was engaging with the outdoors during COVID-19 lockdown period which was implemented on 23rd March.

The results found that nearly 47% of the population were spending more of their free time outside when in lockdown compared to the same time last year and 51% intending to increase this time further once lockdown restrictions eased. The findings highlight a clear link between enjoying outdoor spaces and good mental and physical health with 89% respondents reporting that the time they spent outdoors made them feel calm, relaxed, refreshed, and revitalised; 84% felt physically healthier/fitter; 79% felt closer to nature. These benefits were strongest amongst people who visited the outdoors most often during lockdown and people with quality trails and greenspaces close to home. These are just a handful of examples as to why greenspaces are so important in today’s world, especially in such uncertain times.

Whilst there has been a huge increase in the use of the outdoors reflected in the research findings, 44% of those surveyed reported having to walk on roads and roadside pavements due to a lack of off-road trails in their local area, posing a safety issue. The findings highlight the need for more local off-road trails in urban and rural areas to ensure the public can enjoy the outdoors safely and securely. There is a clear appetite for the public to get outdoors without having to travel from their own doorstep to do so.

The survey also reveals some challenges, reflecting that the benefits of being outdoors are not being enjoyed equally by all. The research shows that of those people who have been enjoying access to the outdoors every day (63%), participation is lowest in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland (41%). It is so important that these statistics are taken seriously so that work can be done to increase quality local off-road trails and to support and empower those in deprived areas to participate in outdoor activity such as walking.

When asked an open-ended question about respondents priorities to improve greenspaces in their local area, the most frequently provided answers related to the need for more dedicated walking and cycling routes, away from roads and traffic. Some of the comments included, “reduce traffic and increase cycling/walking space on routes to local green space” and “better town planning – make green space integral.” It is encouraging to see that there is not only desire for green spaces, but that they are easily accessible by foot or bike.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chair of Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland commented;

Moving forward we in Outdoor Recreation NI will certainly focus on building support to address this issue. It is evidently clear that things will never be the same again, and we will work to ensure that our Ministers and Departments are well informed of the public need in order to ensure our outdoors are more accessible and encouraging for the public to access and enjoy safely.”

78 of the best managed parks and open spaces in Northern Ireland have be recognised with a Green Flag Award.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, the environmental charity that runs the scheme in Northern Ireland, revealed an ever growing and diverse number of free to enjoy places that have been awarded a prestigious Green Flag Award. The Green Flag Award is an internationally recognised certification for environmental quality management for parks and open spaces.

This year more people that ever took the opportunity to enjoy parks and open spaces across Northern Ireland. For many these sites provided an essential service during lockdown, offering up safe space to exercise and connect with nature. Access to quality recreational space has a number of benefits for people in Northern including improved physical and mental health and the opportunity to learn about our environment.

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

“Northern Ireland’s parks and open spaces play a hugely important role in supporting our local communities, both in terms of providing recreational space but also for supporting health and wellbeing. This has been highlighted now more than ever as our parks and open spaces provided a haven to many during the difficult lockdown period. It is fantastic to see such a high number of sites in Northern Ireland meeting the international standard for excellence.”

Parks and open spaces wishing to achieve Green Flag status must have a site management plan in place and be able to demonstrate they comply with a range of strict criteria including horticultural standards, cleanliness, environmental management, biodiversity, community involvement and safety standards. The Awards are judged annually by a panel of experts, who volunteer their time to assess the management plans and the applicant sites through a rigorous judging process.

For the 2020/21 season, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful saw a continued increase in public parks, gardens, country parks, cemeteries and green spaces meeting the demanding standards.

Stormont Estate was amongst 7 sites which also received a Green Flag Heritage Award. This award recognises the parks and open spaces which celebrate and promote the elements of their heritage that make them unique. The other parks recognised with a Heritage award were; Antrim Castle Gardens, Brooke Park, Belfast Botanic Gardens, Queen’s University Belfast, Sentry Hill Historic House and Visitor Centre and Warrenpoint Municiple Park.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful also celebrates The Green Flag Community Award, which recognises sites managed and maintained by loyal volunteers working at a local level. This year Shellinghill Park and Millennium Path received its first Green Flag Community Award alongside Ballyeaston Church Ruin, Rathfern Activity Centre, Sentry Hill Community Garden and Toome Linear Park.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful will be celebrating our award winning parks and open spaces through a social media campaign the week beginning Monday 12 October. Please consider following us on Twitter and Facebook to see the impact of our programme

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 or check out our website www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.