In the area of Lisburn and Castlereagh, environmental improvements for the community have not only been more prominent in council parks along with communities displaying their own projects, including Matt Connolly from the Lisburn City Centre area who took his streets dull and gloomy alleyway and turned it into a passion project during lockdown and has continued to maintain the area since, by reusing household materials and planting his own flowers. Flowers in the walkthrough garden include pink Tulips and Oxalis Deppei. The area has also been decorated with a range of unwanted household materials from unwanted wood including small hand-made steps placed to the entrance of the flower beds, old tables, shelves, and a repainted fence panel.

Why Planting Flowers is good for the Environment

It is an important element for the environment as planting flowers can help improve the aesthetic of an area but can also help to promote a healthier ecosystem while improving biodiversity which was highlighted as an issue in Northern Ireland from the NIEA’s report in 2021/22. Planting flowers can also allow people to take small steps in their path towards improving the environment by decreasing their carbon footprint. The benefits will not only be seen through environmental factors but also animals, specifically birds and bees as flowers are packed with nutrients that benefit them.

Positive Improvements towards the Environment through the Council

Lisburn and Castlereagh currently hold six Green Flags Awards for public parks across the council area. The parks listed include Castle Gardens, Bells Lane, Moria Demesne, Moat Park, and Billy Neill MBE Country Park including the park near the city centre, Wallace Park. Sir Richard Wallace gave Lisburn the park in 1884 to be used a public park with the name the People’s Park but was subsequently renamed by the Commissioners of the town after his death in 1890. After the deaths of Sir Wallace and his wife, Castle Gardens was also gifted to the people of Lisburn by the heir, Sir John Murray Scott in 1903. The park along with Castle Gardens currently has several flower beds within the grounds and has recently added two 1 tonne CO2 benches, an important step in promoting the reduce, re-use, recycle quota. The Green Flag Award judges inspect the parks using their various sections, including Section 4 highlighting Environmental Management which includes climate change strategies and Section 5 observing the parks biodiversity, landscape, and heritage.

The benches come in the middle of the of a five-year plan called the Open Space Strategy which started in 2020 with hopes of the strategy reaching its end goal in 2025. The release of the 33-page plan not only pledges to protect natural surroundings but also consists of six key improvements including providing for members across the community, promotions and safeguarding of different elements throughout the community.

The fifth focuses on a goal which protects and enhances the natural environment to ease and adapt to the issue regarding climate change.

Why is protecting the Environment so essential in Northern Ireland?

Scientists and activists have continued to voice the importance of looking after the environment to benefit the earth, the UK Climate Change Projections released a report called UKCP18 that ventures on possible outcomes on the release of emissions from greenhouse gases if the situation continues without a solution to decrease the amount entering the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas in Northern Ireland totalled 4.3% of the UK’s emissions which is equivalent to 10.3 tonnes of CO2. The projections explore what could happen over the next century which includes a greater chance of extreme weather changes and the ocean’s levels rising. The findings for Northern Ireland include the winter being warmer by up to 3.9oc. Although as well as warmer winters it could also witness the country experiencing winters that are 25% wetter. The implications will also be experienced in the summer with the possibility of a 38% chance of drier summers and warmer temperatures which could rise to 4.9oc by 2070. The projection on sea levels for Belfast also present cause for concern with the prediction of sea levels potentially rising to 94 centimetres.

What about Public Opinions?

In interviews with residents conversations surrounding the potential for future improvements highlighted there is always ways to build from the current situation, during the course of the interviews, residents did express positive recognition of the councils efforts to promote a better, more sustainable environment. This is important to highlight in reflection of predictions set out for Northern Ireland by the UKCP18 report. However, the question surrounding what further improvements the council could implement to improve attitudes towards the environment included opportunities to promote schemes within the council. While also including local businesses Bronagh Close, a resident of Lisburn, Scout and Youth leader discussed a potential financial incentive that could be implemented to better attitudes towards the environment.

“The council should introduce financial incentive schemes to promote less litter and more recycling, this is prevalent in some UK companies where they accept old plastic bags in exchange for money. This can also be done with aluminium cans and toilet paper rolls. Funding and support into local businesses to develop schemes like this could be beneficial into creating a thriving community that relies more heavily on the correct recycling of waste. That also includes more bins, they need more accessible and general bins to decrease the amount of littering, especially in non-commercial areas.”

-Bronagh Close comments on potential future financial schemes within their council area.

The ideas for potential schemes continued as Bronagh presented a second idea which would  not only benefit the community’s environment but could positively benefit mental health. This included the introduction of the scheme followed by the suggestion of coffee mornings.

“They could also develop community outreach schemes in which they have local litter pickers that are open to the community, giving people in the community an opportunity to get together and develop relationships with others around their area while bettering their surrounding environment.”

-Bronagh Close comments on potential community schemes.

The future generations were also a topic of discussion, the improvements have to continue to ensure people in Northern Ireland maintain the attitude of actively caring and showing concern for the environment. The attitudes within the school system were a focus, as providing more opportunities in places such as schools and youth clubs could ensure a continuation of positive attitude towards the environment is present. Bronagh acknowledged schools have environmental strategies in place but could potentially branch out in their attitude towards the environment instead of limiting the information to certain aspects of school.

“Schools need to develop a better attitude to teaching children about the importance of looking after the environment and what part they can do to help. Many schools limit this education to young people who join clubs such as an eco-committee, when it really should be school wide learning. It should be a bigger part of the school curriculum and should not require after school participation. For example, art classes could have a few weeks focused on upcycling old clothing and how this lessens the impact of fast fashion by maintaining a longer life cycle of clothes.”

Bronagh Close

There is a high level of acknowledgement for schools to improve and better the school curriculum to enhance younger generations attitudes towards the environment. Northern Ireland Environment Link has provided recommendations on their website towards this, including out-door learning, challenge children to take the environmental lessons from the classroom to their own homes along with attempts to ensure a strengthened connection between children and the environment.

Cara O’Connor a final year student at Queens University and a Scout Leader echoed thoughts towards bettering attitudes within the school curriculum. Although the suggestion towards environmental groups, whether they are voluntary or statutory should be involved more with schools to discuss the various issues the planet is currently facing.

“I think more schools could be getting more groups out to schools, to address sustainability, recycling and upcycling. They could take an appealing approach to the younger generations, for example, they could inform them around fast fashion companies. Then after completing that approach, they could lean into the heavier elements such as global warming and how our actions contribute to global warming.”

-Cara O’Connor

Community improvements towards the environment is certainly present throughout this community and there is no shortage of ideas for future ideas to ensure a sustainable and healthy Northern Ireland.