Futurescapes (Northern Ireland)

  • Ballyronan Harbour, Lough Neagh (credit Henry Clark, Creative Commons licence)
    Ballyronan Harbour, Lough Neagh (credit Henry Clark, Creative Commons licence)
Case Study Information
The Futurescapes programme in Northern Ireland, led by RSPB, applied a range of best practice approaches and innovative solutions to make habitats bigger, better and more connected across the Lough Neagh and Erne Basins.
Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, Northern Ireland
Habitat types (UK NEA habitats): 
Mountains, moors and heaths
Semi-natural grasslands
Freshwater, wetlands and floodplains
Landscape context: 

The Northern Ireland Futurescapes Programme covers the Lough Neagh and Lough Erne Basins. These basins were chosen as targets for landscape-scale conservation in Northern Ireland because both contain a high proportion of designated sites, publicly-owned land and priority habitats which support priority species.

Partners, organisations and stakeholders involved: 

A range of public and private landowners work in partnership to aid in the delivery of Futurescapes in Northern Ireland. Some partners and stakeholders include:
• Northern Ireland Water
• Lough Neagh Partnership
• Northern Ireland Environment Agency
• Local councils
• Waterways Ireland

Aims of the project/initiative: 
  • Demonstrate habitat management and restoration techniques
  • Promote the value of nature conservation  and the ecosystem services it provides
  • Advocate land-use policy change
  • Secure support for delivery of projects elsewhere within the Lough Neagh and Erne Basins
Progress so far: 

In 2013 the RSPB, in partnership with Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and Northern Ireland Water, blocked 72 hectares of degraded peatland in a sustainable catchment area management planning project. In addition to this, grazing density was reduced. This occurred on Garron Plateau ASSI/SAC and was a catchment area for Dungonnell Reservoir. This has led to the improving water quality and species diversity on the site and it is anticipated that the site's condition assessment will have improved when published in 2016. We are currently developing ways to build upon this and implement this approach across others parts of Northern Ireland.

Currently within the South Lough Neagh area, we are developing a nature and well-being project which will see 8-10 participants suffering from mild mental health issues come to our Portmore Lough Reserve to carry out nature-related activities and potentially improve mental health. We would like to take this pilot forward and encourage GPs and other health professionals in the future to recognise the importance nature has to play in well being.

Challenges and lessons learned: 

When tendering for the restoration work it became clear that many contractors lacked experience in blocking drains with peat and plastic sheet piling. We managed to overcome this by hiring Moors for the Future to visit Garron Plateau and help oversee restoration works at the beginning to help ensure machinery operators were damming in the correct way.


How does the Project reflect the ecosystem approach?
Principle #1: benefits from nature are important for all of society: 

The Northern Ireland Futurescapes project benefits all of society through carbon reduction, flood risk alleviation, recreational opportunities and improved mental and physical wellbeing.

Principle #11: all knowledge and perspectives should be valued: 

During the first phase of Futurescapes, RSPB NI recruited a Community Engagement Officer whose role was to engage with local community groups, conservation charities, schools etc to promote the importance of landscape-scale restoration and the vital benefits it provides. 

Principle #12: involve more of society in decisions: 

The Northern Ireland Futurescapes programme is part of a UK-wide Futurescape programme utilising a broad range of expertise through the RSPB as a whole and partner organisations such as Moors to the Future and Health Trusts.

Principle #2 local is best: 

A Forum for Ecosystem Services consisting of members of staff within a nature, health and carbon remit helps oversee and act a steering group with many of the ecosystem services projects.

For restoration of sites, a project proposal is put together and raised with the Northern Ireland Management Team at RSPB Northern Ireland.

Principle #3 think of others: 

We  look at our projects within the programme at a landscape-scale and particularly look within water management basins. Many of the projects lie adjacent to geographic and country boundaries which is all taken into consideration.

Principle #4 understand economic context: 

This is a progressing area of work within the programme. We are looking at communicating the economic benefits from a tourism, health and carbon perspective in the near future.

Scale and dynamics
Principle #7 work at the right scale: 

The boundary of the programme was created looking at the entire catchment area of Lough Erne and Lough Neagh. Timeframes within restoration occurs outside of the breeding bird season, during September-February.

Principle #8 look well ahead: 

RSPB  always considers long term implications of projects across a landscape.  The overall aim of the project is to help habitats and species adapt to climate changes by making habitats bigger better and more connected and therefore less susceptible to climate change. Many of the sites we are restoring will not see some of the benefits during the project's lifetime. An example of this being the restoration of blanket bog where sphagnum mosses may take 10-20 or more years to regenerate sufficiently in areas.

Principle #9 be adaptable to change: 

As stated above, the programme will help species and habitats adapt to long term environmental changes. These changes can also be used as a tool in advocacy asks - eg severe flooding as a result of degraded blanket bog further upstream.

Functions, goods and services
Principle #5 maintain the health of nature: 

Through restoring blanket bog, water is held for longer in the uplands which will help regulate flooding and prevent water quality issues such as discolouration or concentrated chemicals such as MCPA entering waterways.


Principle #6 don’t overexploit: 

We ensure that land is managed sustainably for wildlife and people. An example is by prescribing sympathetic grazing regimes to benefit the habitats while also providing adequate grazing for livestock.

Principle #10 balance the demand for use and conservation of the environment: 

Many areas we work on within the Futurescapes are considered sensitive areas with species that do not deal well with disturbance. We try to ensure that recreation is not impacted by these through encouraging recreation outside of refuge areas at certain times of the year.

Further information
Contact name 

Sean Woods

Role in project: 
Futurescapes Project Officer
Location map: