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

In a report published today, the environmental charity said that the last year had seen major milestones in the campaign against litter, with record numbers of school children receiving anti-litter education; record numbers of fixed penalties being issued for littering, and a record spend on street cleansing.

Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan MLA said, “I welcome the findings of this report and commend Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful for the valuable work they undertake to raise awareness of local environmental quality issues, whether that is by educating our children through the Eco-Schools programme, promoting a cleaner environment through the Live Here, Love Here campaign, or the other initiatives in which they are involved. The improvements highlighted in the report are encouraging and show the value of a multi-faceted approach. We do though have some way to go to eradicate the blight of litter and dog fouling in our towns and countryside and on our beaches. However, this report does show that central and local government, working in partnership with organisations such as KNIB, can make an impact. I am proud to have supported KNIB’s activities over a number of years and look forward to government continuing that partnership.”

This intensification of efforts by Councils was welcomed by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful CEO, Dr Ian Humphreys, who said “£40 million a year on street cleansing is an enormous cost but actually many hidden costs make the final bill far greater. For example, studies have shown that high levels of litter correlate with increased rates of depression and other mental health problems. The result is an estimated £15 million drained from already stretched NHS finances.”

During the academic year ending in June 2015 Northern Ireland became the first country in the world to have every school in the country registered with the Eco-schools programme, which has anti-littering and respect for the environment at its core.

A record number of Fixed Penalties Notices were issued for littering and dog fouling during 2014-15, the most recent period for which figures are available. However, the official figures highlight the postcode lottery for fixed penalties, with 49% being issued in Belfast, and a further 18% in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon District.

Dr Humphreys continued “This shows how councils are prepared to take action against the minority of people who continue to go against what is normal and acceptable. These figures show people who litter that they are ever more likely to be caught and fined.

The charity also calls on other Statutory Undertakers such as the DRD Roads Service and Rivers Agency to match the efforts made by Councils, with litter on roadside verges and in streams frequently putting off tourists and businesses and hurting our economy. Dr Humphreys said “Councils are not the only organisations with litter cleansing responsibilities, but they are the only ones working hard to fulfil them. In April every year we hold a Big Spring Clean, with around 90,000 volunteers taking part in 2015. A large number of those people are cleaning up roadside verges, open spaces and the banks of streams because it isn’t being done by the organisations responsible for them.”

All of this effort taken together has led to an improvement in the litter levels around the country. The headline figure – the percentage of places surveyed which are deemed ‘unacceptable’ – fell from 17% in 2014 to 12% in 2015, following three years of worsening results.

Dr Humphreys concluded “Coming as it does when people are beginning to think about spending more time outdoors on warmer days and brighter evenings, this report is positive news, but it’s also a call to action for everybody to play their part and show they live here and love here.”