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The unsung heroes of Northern Ireland’s best loved parks and green spaces were today encouraged to continue making space for nature at the annual Green Flag awards. Keynote speaker, wildlife cameraman, Colin Stafford-Johnson, whose rewilding of his childhood garden captivated audiences on BBC Two last autumn, said that he is no longer interested in planting anything but native species. Stafford-Johnson, who has worked on landmark series like Planet Earth, and whose father, Barney Johnson was Ireland’s first TV gardener, said that things are changing and people are now seeing the beauty and ecological value of wild spaces that would once have been regarded as ‘untidy’.

Parks receiving Green Flags at the ceremony included old favourites like Belfast Botanic Gardens, Kilbroney in Rostrevor and Carnfunnock in Larne as well as community spaces like Rathfern Activity Centre, Newtownabbey and Toome Linear Park in Antrim. There were also some impressive new entries such as from Ark Community Gardens in Newcastle.

This year also saw the very first special Pollinator Award category for parks which had achieved green flag status but were also implementing habitat creation and restoration measures for pollinating insects which will, in turn, benefit all wildlife. This was achieved in a number of ways including pollinator friendly planting schemes, no mow meadow areas, introducing native hedgerows and native tree planting, eliminating the use of pesticides and herbicide, providing signage on the importance of sites for pollinators, and engaging with the wider community.

Ninety-three parks and open spaces have been recognised with a Green Flag Award for 2022, including 18 community managed sites and 8 heritage award sites.

The winner in the category that recognises sites managed by larger, formal organisations (organisation category) was Castle Park and Walled Garden in Bangor, and the winner of the community pollinator award was Clotworthy Courtyard Garden, managed by Friends of Antrim Castle and Gardens.

Three other awards were given to Billy Neill MBE Country Park which was Highly Commended, and Queens University Belfast and Grange Park, Omagh which were both Commended.

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 since the local programme opened in 2008.

Dr Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful which manages the local Green Flag Awards programme, said;

“Urban parks are one of the Victorian era’s great achievements and their relevance and importance continue today. Communities across the country value their local parks enormously and their potential to support biodiversity is being increasingly recognised. They’re not just spaces for us, they’re spaces for nature. When you visit a Green Flag site 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. It’s so encouraging, this year, to see councils, organisations and communities implementing such a wide variety of measures to help our pollinating insects which are severely under pressure. Some of the initiatives are bold and some are subtle, but all show great commitment to working with nature for the benefit of the environment and us all; 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.”

Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, MLA, who attended the event, commended the good work being done by so many park managers to improve conditions for pollinators, saying;

“It’s very encouraging to see the growing awareness about the importance of pollinators and biodiversity generally within our local communities. The huge interest in my department’s pollinator grants, which were aimed at schools and community groups have undoubtedly helped to spread awareness about this important issue. Parks are where many of our citizens go for outdoor relaxation and exercise and there is huge potential for these spaces to set aside wild areas in which nature can thrive. I commend the work of all of our Green Flag award winners.”

If you are interested in finding out more about the Green Flag Award or other programmes run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (Blue Flag, Eco-Schools, Live Here Love Here) please e-mail us on enquiries@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org call us on 028 9073 6920 or visit our website www.keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org.

We are proud to share the news that we are the first organisation in Northern Ireland to achieve Carbon Literacy Organisation (CLO) Bronze status for the progress that we have made in reducing carbon emissions.

The Carbon Literacy Project awarded Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful the accreditation in recognition of the development and delivery of a range of Carbon Literacy programmes for teachers, youth and community leaders and for successfully guiding the majority of our team across the organisation through their own certified Carbon Literacy training.

Since the final months of 2021, internal sessions have been delivered in modular format by our in-house Climate Action team, and staff have committed to a mandatory carbon-cutting pledge as part of their training. Some notable examples include transitions to vegan and meat-reducing diets, installation of solar panels and solar-charging devices at home, and responsible disposal of hard-to-recycle items through local Terracycle programmes.

Our CEO, Dr Ian Humphreys, commented on the success: “We are a great believer in practising what we preach, and earning Bronze accreditation from The Carbon Literacy Project is an important step in helping Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful get our own house in order. On behalf of the wider organisation, I would like to thank Scott and his entire team for driving us towards this proud award.”

Dave Coleman, Co-Founder and Managing Director of The Carbon Literacy Project added: "We’re delighted to be able to present the first Carbon Literate Organisation award in Northern Ireland to Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and congratulate them on their achievement. The award recognises their commitment to supporting their staff to become Carbon Literate, maintaining a low carbon culture in the organisation to reduce carbon emissions, and advocating and working to deliver reduced carbon emissions across a range of groups in society, creating a more sustainable economy now, and a better future for tomorrow, for everyone in Northern Ireland and beyond."

Carbon Literate Organisation accreditation is a tiered system, spanning from Bronze and Silver, right through to Gold and Platinum. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is already working towards the Silver standard, which will involve embedding Carbon Literacy throughout our organisation performance systems and keeping the public aware of our carbon journey.

GCSE and AS level students in Northern Ireland will be able to gain a brand new qualification in climate change and environmental action from September. The new OCN NI Level 2 Certificate in Reducing Carbon Footprints Through Environmental Action has just been added to the Department of Education list of courses approved for teaching in schools in Northern Ireland (NIEFQAN) and will be awarded by the Open College Network, Northern Ireland (OCN NI).

Students will have the opportunity to follow a selection of project-based modules in ‘Understanding the role of Carbon in Climate Change’, ‘Biodiversity Recovery’, ‘Tackling Single-Use Plastics’, ‘Fast Fashion’ and ‘Climate Campaigning’. The qualification is fully assessed through coursework.

To date almost 30 teachers in Northern Ireland have completed a free Carbon Literacy training course, funded by Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), to enable teachers to support and deliver carbon literacy programmes for students within their schools.

Nicole Sloan, who teaches at Foyle College, has recently had a number of students complete an initial pilot of the Carbon Smart Students carbon literacy course, funded by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). She says she is excited about the new OCN NI course and the opportunities it will open up for students to obtain a formally recognised qualification in climate change;

“I think this new opportunity to gain a formal qualification in climate change and carbon literacy is hugely significant. Our school has been an active member of Eco-Schools for a number of years and we’ve seen the benefits that has brought to so many of our students. It has broadened their outlook and enabled them to link and cross-reference other parts of the curriculum as part of a global and green theme, which I think is so important for their futures. Our students found the initial carbon literacy training that they have now completed, enlightening and very empowering. They took their time to really absorb all of the information they were given, discussed it at home and have started to apply changes in their own lives. These changes are to lower their carbon footprint which will make a difference locally and globally, for people now and for generations to come. Knowledge is power and no matter which path a young person intends to follow career-wise, this knowledge is important now.”

Charlene McKeown who manages the Eco-Schools NI programme for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said; “We envisage schools taking this new qualification on board as a Key Stage 4 option to complement courses like Geography or Travel and Tourism. The development of this new qualification has been a hugely positive collaboration between a number of organisations with an exciting outcome for young people.”

Martin Flynn, Chief Executive from OCN NI said; We are delighted to have been able to develop this innovative qualification on climate change and environmental action. Working in collaboration with Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and Action Renewables, we believe that the new qualifications, which will be available to schools and their students from September 2022, will prove to be an extremely popular choice with young people. The younger generation has already demonstrated their growing passion to not only understand the climate change debate but are committed to taking action which will help halt and reverse its effects in the future. Initial feedback from our partners in the schools’ sector is extremely positive and we are looking forward to rolling out the innovative new qualification from September.”

Terry Waugh, CEO of Action Renewables, Eco-Schools’ Climate Action partner, said; “Our funding towards the development of a branded Climate Advocacy resource pack to support the teaching of this new qualification is very exciting and strengthens our charitable objectives in the education of young people.”


For additional media information / interviews, please contact Kate Gormley, Communications Manager, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, kate.gormley@keepnorthernirelandbeautiful.org / 07469 659948

Environmental charity, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, has today announced that it will hold a Climate Clever Communities Summit at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast today (June 15th). The event, which will be hosted by the BBC NI Environment Correspondent, Louise Cullen, will feature a number of distinguished speakers, including contributors from Scotland Beautiful and All Ireland winners of the Tidy Town’s competition in the Republic of Ireland.

The summit is the culmination of the Climate Clever Communities project, which is is funded by the UK Community Renewal Fund and delivered by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful.

The scheme aimed to help implement the UK government’s Net Zero Strategy by educating local communities and businesses in Northern Ireland, and across the UK, on the impact of climate change, and empowering them to take positive action.

Comprised of three key components, the Climate Clever Communities project focused on: the provision of Carbon literacy training to the community and tourism sectors; the Climate Challenge Fund grant programme, which enables groups from all sectors to apply for funding for grassroots activities that could reduce carbon emissions; and intensive work with ten groups supported by Live Here Love Here, Keep Northern Ireland’s civic pride campaign. In a first for Northern Ireland, the initiative saw community groups assisted with the creation of local climate action plans.

Ian Humphreys, Chief Executive of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful says, “We are proud to introduce the Climate Clever Communities Summit to showcase the impact of the Climate Clever Communities project, explore lessons learned, identify recommendations for future programmes and, importantly, to provide a platform for programme participants to share their insights.

“At Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, we’re dedicated to creating a world where people and nature thrive, and we hope that the summit will enable transformative outcomes through community-driven climate action, create a space for innovation and interactivity, and showcase solutions.

“We also hope that it will support dialogue between government agencies, local authorities, other service providers and community groups, to ascertain what we need to do to transition to low carbon society.”

Over 200 delegates are expected to attend the event, which will see speakers from across the UK. The audience will comprise of community groups, partners and funders of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, central and local government representatives, other NGO organisations and a number of businesses.

Speaker, Heather Ashworth, Communities Team Project Officer at Keep Scotland Beautiful, comments, “It is an honour to be invited to speak at the Climate Clever Communities Summit.

“This is an incredibly important forum for discussing the climate crisis. At Keep Scotland Beautiful, we have seen first-hand how important communities are in making an impact in this space, especially with our Community Climate Action Plan programme. A real difference can be made at grassroots level and initiatives like the Climate Clever Communities project are pivotal to realising this.”

Also speaking at the event will be Cormac McCarthy, Chairperson of Ennis Tidy Towns who were the overall Winner of 2021 Tidy Towns Competition. Cormac will talk about the Tidy Towns experience in the Republic of Ireland.

He says, “I am delighted to be speaking at the Climate Clever Communities Summit.

“As a passionate advocate for community-led change, I feel that the role played by the Community and Voluntary Sector in response to the climate crisis is incredibly important, and this event, and the project that it showcases, are a vital step towards achieving to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Why Tobacco Pollution Is a Serious Problem

Christopher Walsh   Tue 31 May 2022

Each year, the tobacco industry produces six trillion cigarettes that are consumed by one billion smokers around the world. These cigarettes contain filters mainly composed of microplastics known as cellulose acetate fibres. When improperly disposed of, cigarette butts break down through factors such as sunlight and moisture and release microplastics, heavy metals and many other chemicals, affecting the health of our ecosystems.

Cigarette butts are the most littered item worldwide, posing a major challenge to keeping the environment clean and free of plastic pollution. In our Cleaner Neighbourhoods Report for 2021/22, we reveal that Northern Ireland’s rural and urban areas are no exception, with 65% of all surveyed transects blighted by cigarette-related litter.

What’s more, when this form of plastic waste finally makes its way to our beaches and other waterways, it become a candidate for ingestion by marine wildlife. Research shows that the hazardous chemicals leached out by microplastics can cause long-term mortality in a range of species, including birds, fish, mammals, plants and reptiles. Inevitably, these microplastics enter the food chain and are associated with serious human-health impacts, including changes to genetics, brain development, respiration rates and more.

But while the negative implications of tobacco use on people is well documented, the detrimental impact it has on our climate is less understood. The tobacco industry has a whopping annual greenhouse gas emission of 84 megatons carbon dioxide equivalent. To produce tobacco on this colossal scale, there are round 200,000 hectares of biodiverse land cleared each year. And to compound matters, deforestation for tobacco plantations and tobacco curing leads to soil degradation and diminishes the ability of land to support the growth of any other crops or vegetation for regenerative and carbon-storing purposes.

Reducing the demand for tobacco is an integral piece of achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond the compelling human health reasons for ditching cigarettes, it is imperative that we bin them appropriately for the sake of our fragile environment and climate.

Five Councils Win Internationally Recognised Beach and Marina Awards

David McCann   Wed 18 May 2022   updated: Thu 19 May 2022

Ards and North Down, Causeway Coast and Glens, Mid and East Antrim, Mid Ulster, and Newry, Mourne and Down councils all took home environmental awards at a recent presentation celebrating excellent practice in land and waterside management.

The 2022 Beach and Marina Awards saw environmental charity Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful hand out a total of 27 Blue Flag Awards and Seaside Awards at the Ballygally Castle Hotel on 18 May. Awards went to the operational teams behind sites that had achieved the highest international and UK standards in water quality, education, safety and accessibility.

Causeway Coast and Glens emerged as the big winners of the occasion with 12 awards, and increased their number of marinas from one to four. Ards and North Down’s four Seaside Awards represented the most for a single council in the category, while Mid and East Antrim and Newry, Mourne and Down claimed three Blue Flag Awards apiece.

There were also solo Blue Flag Award wins for Mid Ulster District Council and boatfolk, the independent owner of Bangor Marina and 10 other locations across the UK.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA, who delivered a speech at the presentation said, “I am delighted that Northern Ireland again has had such success in the Blue Flag and Seaside Awards. It is inspiring to see so many of our beaches and marinas achieving the exceptionally high standards demanded by these awards. It is a wonderful achievement, especially given the difficulties in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the many challenges that has presented. I am grateful for the cooperation and collaborative working through the Better Beaches Forum, which is led by my Department and involves KNIB, Northern Ireland Water, councils and stakeholders, in achieving this number of awards.”

The Minister continued, “These awards are excellent news for our holidaymakers and bathers who can confidently enjoy our beaches and marinas, and avail of the award winning facilities that are on offer and I remain committed to ensuring that my Department continues to play a key role in running the annual programme for water quality testing at our world class beaches”

Dr Ian Humphreys, CEO of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful added, “We are privileged to give out 27 Blue Flag and Seaside Awards this year, which signal that Northern Ireland’s beaches and marinas have reached best-in-class standards to match countries across the globe. These landmarks enrich the lives of our communities, and we send profuse thanks and congratulations to the teams who maintain their quality all year round.”

All sites earned their prestigious accolade after successfully convincing a jury panel that their application demonstrated the required quality thresholds. Awards apply from June to the end of September, to coincide with the beach season, and need renewed each year.

Members of the public are invited to enjoy the award-winning amenities at each site, which are designated bathing waters that have the highest water-quality standards and excellent facilities, making them ideal coastal destinations.

The Blue Flag Award is operated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), a worldwide environmental organisation that also oversees the Eco-Schools, Learning About Forests and Young Reporters for the Environment programmes.

FEE celebrates 35 years of the Blue Flag Award in 2022, and has so far issued 4,831 Blue Flags in 50 countries this year.

The Seaside Award is nationally recognised, rewarding local beaches since 2008.

• Nine Blue Flag Award Beaches winners – Benone Strand, Castlerock Beach, Downhill Strand, Portrush East Strand Beach, Portrush West Strand Beach, Whiterocks [Causeway Coast and Glens]; Cranfield Bay, Murlough Beach, Tyrella Beach [Newry, Mourne and Down]

• Nine Blue Flag Award Marinas winners – Bangor Marina [boatfolk]; Ballycastle Marina, Coleraine Marina, Portrush Harbour and Marina, Rathlin Marina [Causeway Coast and Glens]; Carrickfergus Marina, Glenarm Marina, Portglenone Marina [Mid and East Antrim]; Ballyronan Marina [Mid Ulster]

• Nine Seaside Awards winners – Ballywalter South Beach, Cloughey Beach, Groomsport Beach, Millisle Beach [Ards and North Down]; Ballycastle Beach, Waterfoot Beach [Causeway Coast and Glens]; Ballygally Beach, Brown's Bay Beach, Carnlough Beach [Mid and East Antrim]

Thumbs Up For Balmoral’s Free Drinking Water Stations

Christopher Walsh   Tue 10 May 2022

Ahead of our return to the 153rd Balmoral Show, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful welcomes the provision of three new drinking water stations at this year’s event.

We are echoing organisers' call for visitors to bring or borrow a reusable drinking container for the occasion, which can be filled with free filtered drinking water at various points on site and help to reduce the use of single use plastics at the event.

Alternatively, guests will have the option to buy one of the Balmoral Show’s limited-edition water bottles, which they can top up at the Show and beyond to stay hydrated.

Chris Gourley, Tackling Plastics Manager of Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful comments, “Reusable drinks bottles are a very simple initiative, but they make a tangible difference in preventing single use plastic water bottles from building up in landfill sites and, worse, our streets, rural areas and waterways. We are pleased to see that the Balmoral Show has made it easy for visitors to access sustainable drinking-water options this year.”

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful looks forward to attending the Balmoral Show between Wednesday to Saturday, where we will be educating and informing on plastic pollution and asking attendees to sign our Plastic Promise.

We will also be inviting ticket holders to discover our other environmental themes, with members of our Climate Action, Biodiversity Recovery, Live Here Love Here and Eco-Schools teams all making the trip to offer more information about their respective programmes.

For the latest updates on the Balmoral Show, visit www.balmoralshow.co.uk or follow Balmoral Show on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Caption: Rhonda Geary, Operations Director, Royal Ulster Agricultural Society unveils the new filtered drinking water stations at this year’s Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful launches manifesto for the 2022 Assembly Elections

David McCann   Wed 30 Mar 2022   updated: Tue 10 May 2022

Today Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful launches its manifesto for the upcoming Assembly elections. The manifesto outlines specific proposals to help MLAs make improvements to our environment over the next five years. This year our message is simple; Better is Possible.

Speaking about the launch of the manifesto, our Chief Executive Ian Humphreys said;

“We want Northern Ireland to become a leader in fighting the Climate Emergency. Instead of feeling like this problem is too complex or impossible to solve, we believe that Better is Possible. We have made some important strides forward with the passage of Climate Change legislation but there is still so much more work to do. Our manifesto sets out some of the next steps forward.

"I would encourage all candidates to support our positive plans to help make a real difference. Better is Possible for Northern Ireland and our organisation is committed to playing its part to make that happen"

Read our manifesto below.

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Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful has signed a letter with our partners Keep Britain Tidy, Keep Wales Tidy and Keep Scotland Beautiful to call for litter payments to form a key component of the UK Government’s Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy.

The signatories to the letter believe that the EPR scheme offers a meaningful chance to tackle the root causes of many environmental problems by fully adopting the “polluter pays” principle. This underpins the proposals by shifting the costs of pollution onto those who profit from placing large amounts of packaging on the market.

The UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland had proposed that under the forthcoming EPR system, producers would be made responsible for the full net costs of managing packaging waste, including bin and ground litter management costs.

Speaking about this issue our Chief Executive, Ian Humphreys said "In Northern Ireland, we have spoken loudly about the litter problem. It's costing us millions of pounds every year to deal with. Along with our partners, we believe that only with meaningful and collaborative action can we see a real improvement. That is why I am adding Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful's voice to this letter so that we include litter payments in EPR legislation to help support the costs of dealing with this problem"

Letter to ministers is attached.

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New School Pollinator Grants launched for 2022

Helen Tomb   Wed 02 Feb 2022

Following the success of the first ever Rural Community Pollinator Scheme in 2021, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA has launched a scheme specifically for schools to improve the health of our bees and pollinators and help protect our eco-systems.

The £2million scheme will provide grants between £3,000 and £12,000 to schools to create or enhance a pollinator garden and will be delivered by Live Here Love Here.

Speaking at launch of the scheme at Carr Primary School, Lisburn, Minister Poots said: “Following the outstanding success of the Rural Community Pollinator Scheme and the interest shown by schools, I have asked my officials to develop a scheme specifically for schools across Northern Ireland. Everyone is aware of the importance of our pollinators - the butterflies, moths, hoverflies, some beetles, flies, wasps but most importantly bees - and I believe it is important to educate our young people of the important role these pollinators play in our everyday life. With this scheme I hope to build on the success of the community based scheme.”

Grants will open for applications in April 2022.