THE fifth Northern Ireland Environmental Statistics Report has been released today (31 January 2013), with 61 environmental indicators focusing on eight key themes, ranging from biodiversity to waste management.
The indicators show changes in aspects affecting our environment, everything from our changing attitude towards the environment, trends in seal and bird populations, the quality of our drinking and bathing waters through to the number of housing completions and quantity of household waste produced.
Some key points from the report are:
1. Demographics and Public Opinion
According to 2011 Census results the Northern Ireland population was just over 1.8 million. The latest population projections suggest that, by 2031, the Northern Ireland population will grow by almost 10%, to just under 2 million. From 1971 to 2011 the Northern Ireland population has increased by over 17.5% from over 1.5 million to just over 1.8 million.
* Airport passenger numbers have increased by 39% in Northern Ireland in the last ten years, from 5.0 million in 2001 to 6.9 million in 2011. However a drop in air passenger numbers has been observed each year since a peak in 2008.
* Car travel continues to dominate the way we do most of our day-to-day travelling, with 72% of our journeys being made by car.
* By 2011/12, the level of concern about the environment had dropped such that 72% of households were either very concerned or fairly concerned about the environment compared to 82% in 2008/09.
* The environmental problem considered most important by the largest proportion (39%) of households in 2011/12 is household waste disposal.
2. Air and Climate
· In 2010, greenhouse gas emissions were almost 15% lower than in 1990, when monitoring of such emissions commenced. However, emissions have increased between 2009 and 2010 by almost 4%. This increase is mostly attributable to consecutive cold winters and an increase in fossil fuel use as a consequence.
* In 2011/12, 1,164,000 MWh of electricity in Northern Ireland was produced from indigenous renewable sources. This was equivalent to 14.3% of total electricity consumption in that period. There has been a sizable increase in the amount of electricity produced from indigenous renewable sources since 2001/02, when only 128,000 MWh (1.5% of total electricity consumed) was generated from renewable sources.
* In 2002/03, DOE Planning received 31 applications for environmental installations, such as wind turbines, wind farms, solar panels, hydroelectric schemes etc. In 2011/12, 823 applications were received, more than twenty six times as many applications as 2002/03. The availability of renewable energy grants by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through its Rural Development Programme may partially explain this large increase.
* River monitoring is carried out routinely against national standards for the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Almost one quarter (23%) of monitored river waterbodies were of at least a ‘good’ standard in 2011, compared to 22% in 2010.
* There are 21 lake waterbodies in Northern Ireland, that is lakes with an area of greater than 50 hectares. In 2011, as in 2010, five of the 21 lake waterbodies in Northern Ireland were classified as ‘good’, while 16 lake waterbodies were classified as ‘moderate’, ‘poor’ or ‘bad’.
* The monitoring of effluent discharges gives an indication of levels of pollution to the water environment and improvements in controls. Compliance for private sewage was 78% in 2011 compared to 88% in 2010. For trade effluent compliance there has been a steady increase from 76% in 2001 to 91% in 2011.
* In 2011, 19% of all substantiated water pollution incidents in Northern Ireland were considered to be of ‘High’ or ‘Medium’ severity; the same as the 2010 level.
* In 2012, 16 of the 23 beaches monitored in Northern Ireland achieved the EC Bathing Water Directive guideline standards, compared with 20 out of 24 beaches in 2011.
* Almost 90% (compared to less than half in 2011) of marine water bodies around Northern Ireland’s shores were classified as high or good in 2012, with the remaining waterbody areas being classified as moderate.
* In 2011, as in 2010, all ten designated shellfish waters achieved the mandatory standard and there were no exceedences of the dangerous substances standards in shellfish waters.
* In 2011, 444,000 hectares (approximately 40%) of the farmed area in Northern Ireland was managed through the Northern Ireland Countryside Management Scheme (NICMS), the Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme (ESAS) and the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
* The number of housing completions decreased by 53% between 2009/10 and 2010/11, from 5,095 to 2,374, which reflects the current economic climate and downturn in the construction industry.
* Over two-thirds (708) of 1,031 features assessed within areas of special scientific interest in Northern Ireland are in a favourable condition.
* Between 1994/95 and 2010/11 the total wetland bird population is estimated to have decreased by 23%. Coastal populations declined by 4% while freshwater populations declined by 54%. The declines in the total and freshwater figures relate to the major, and perhaps ongoing, decline of wintering waterbirds (principally diving duck) at Lough Neagh.
* Adult common seal populations at Strangford Lough have fluctuated over recent years, but the 2012 adult population of 202 was above the average for the last ten years (199). The highest population recorded at Strangford Lough in the last ten years (288) was recorded in 2003.
7. Built Heritage
* Scheduled Historic Monuments include settlements, defences, workplaces, routeways and sites for ritual and burial. Scheduled sites are managed by their owners under NIEA: Built Heritage guidance. Overall there has been a 26% increase in the number of scheduled monuments rising from 1,513 in 2001/02 to 1,900 in 2011/12.
* There has been a modest increase in the number of buildings listed in recent years with a total of 8,497 statutory listings in 2011/12, compared to 8,191 in 2003/04. Because some listings include multiple buildings the total number of buildings protected in this way is estimated to be around 8,500 structures.
* There were 949,491 tonnes of municipal waste collected in Northern Ireland in 2011/12, a decrease of just over 3.6% on the amount collected in 2010/11. Household waste accounted for almost 88% of all municipal waste collected in Northern Ireland in 2011/12.
* Recycling of waste is becoming much more common in Northern Ireland. In 2011/12, 40% of household waste was sent for recycling (including composting), over double the proportion (19%) sent in 2004/05.