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To: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
Save N Ireland's meadows
Many of N Ireland's best wildlife rich meadows and pastures remain unprotected.
We request the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs commit to urgently completing our protected site network, thereby helping to safeguard our wildlife and natural heritage into the future.
Why is this important?
Species rich meadows and pastures are scattered across the N Ireland landscape in areas where traditional, low-intensity farming practices have survived. These provide a home for threatened wildlife and are a key part of our natural heritage.
Over the past 2 years I have visited over 100 meadow and pasture areas between Coleraine and Maghera. The vast majority of these are in poor condition, no longer suitable for the rare species that depend on them. However, some extremely wildflower-rich places remain, packed full of declining species such as greater and lesser butterfly orchid, meadow thistle, whorled caraway, marsh fritillary butterflies, nesting curlew and the Irish hare. These areas lead a precarious existence: 2 of the best are imminently threatened by development (that could easily be located elsewhere), and many more are being drained, over-fertilised, sprayed with herbicide, grazed inappropriately, and dumped on top of. The same pressures are destroying some of our best wildlife sites before they are even ‘discovered’: a comprehensive survey of our meadows and pastures has never been undertaken.
The first step towards securing their future is to protect the best ones that remain. This falls under the remit of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (a body within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs), which has the power to designate our most important wildlife sites as Areas of Special Scientific Interest. However, in recent years the number of new protected areas created has fallen dramatically, as targets for declaring new sites have been dropped. This is despite a huge backlog of threatened areas waiting to be assessed for protection. Whilst this places all kinds of natural habitats at risk, meadows and pastures are amongst the most seriously impacted: unless a site is protected it is very difficult for farmers to get financial support so that they can continue farming in a way that is beneficial to wildlife.