Ecos Nature Park, Ballymena. (Image: Thomas Logan)
Northern Ireland is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world with 12% of species assessed, threatened with extinction, as revealed by the new State of Nature 2023 report.
The report, which has been compiled by leading professionals from over 60 research and conservation organisations, is the most comprehensive review of nature in Northern Ireland and reveals the devastating scale of nature loss.
The trends presented show some of the biggest nature losses and the impact of intensive management of our land and seas, as well as climate change.
Farmland birds have decreased by 43% since 1996, across 17 monitored species.
Breeding birds more widely are in decline – on average 10% across 64 species.
Butterfly species decreased on average by 16% since 2006, over the 14 monitored species.
891 plant species have declined by a 14% average between 1970 and 2019.
Gillian Gilbert, RSPB NI’s Principal Conservation Scientist and lead author of the local report, commented:
“This report highlights just how much nature in Northern Ireland needs more help. Despite ongoing efforts, from nature-friendly farmers, wildlife charities and all the individuals who are passionate about doing their part for nature, we are still not tackling this crisis at the scale needed.
"Urgent action is necessary to slow down biodiversity loss, and to try and reverse some of the damage of recent decades.”
The report also highlights the growing recognition among the public and policymakers of the value of nature, including its role in tackling climate change, and the need for its conservation.
With approximately 76% of land in Northern Ireland being used for agriculture, nature-friendly farming urgently needs to be implemented at a wide scale to halt the decline in farmland wildlife. It must be considered alongside the challenge of responding to the nature and climate crisis, while still meeting people’s needs for food, energy and fuel.
On a more positive note, the report also reveals that communities, conservation projects and legislation can have a positive impact on nature and the wider environment. For example, ten percent of the UK’s peatland resources can be found in Northern Ireland.
Only 15% of peatland assessed is in good condition, and a new peatland strategy aims to quantify the natural capital value of this resource. Peatland restoration projects, such as Garron Plateau blanket bog, restore and create carbon rich habitats, benefiting climate change mitigation and biodiversity.
The State of Nature report uses data from monitoring schemes and biological recording centres, collated by thousands of volunteers and naturalists, and looks at evidence over the last 50 years, identifying large-scale trends.
Alliance Environment spokesperson John Blair MLA has responded to the latest RSPB State of Nature report saying it is "another stark reminder of the danger our natural environment is in."
The South Antrim MLA continued:
"As if the current crisis we have been facing in recent months with blue-green algal blooms in Lough Neagh and other areas across Northern Ireland is not a sharp enough wake-up call, the publication of RSPB's State of Nature report highlights yet again the devastating condition of our species population, habitats and ecosystems.
"The report has highlighted that 12% of our species are being threatened with extinction, with the European eel being one of the species identified. Additionally, the area of certified woodland has decreased in Northern Ireland despite increasing in England, and around half of our protected areas are in an unfavourable condition.
“Northern Ireland has so many natural assets, but if we continue this trend, we will cause irrevocable damage. As stated in the report, we know what needs to be done, and there are many opportunities for restoration and recovery, but we must act quicker.
"Urgent movement from DAERA on its nature recovery strategy is essential. When I last sought an update from the Department in June I was told a draft strategy would be published in autumn, and I will continue to press for this timely delivery. However, it is also clear that the lack of a functioning Executive only further contributes to the delay when it comes to environmental action. We need to get the Assembly back up and running and a minister in place to ensure vital progress gets underway."
To download a full copy of the State of Nature 2023 report and to find out what you can do to help, visit www.stateofnature.org.uk.
 These include: Common Skate, Basking Shark, European Eel, Atlantic Salmon, Porbeagle Shark, Undulate Ray, Freshwater Pearl Mussel, Large Heath Butterfly, Irish Damselfly, Dwarf Spike-rush and Cornish Heath