Although a small area, Northern Ireland has a great variety of scenic countryside, reflecting its contrasting geology and topography as well as a long history of settlement and land use. The mosaic of prehistoric monuments, traditional farms and buildings, forest plantations and wildlife habitats all contribute to the special landscapes that are part of our culture and heritage.
The legislative basis for the Department of Environment's (DOE) actions is the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands Order (NI) 1985 (NCALO). Through this, the DOE designates the finest landscape areas as either Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or National Parks land, and takes steps to manage them for both conservation and recreation.
The purpose of designation is to make sure that policies are created and action carried out about:
- conserving or enhancing the natural beauty or amenities of that area
- conserving wildlife, historic objects or natural phenomena within it
- promoting its enjoyment by the public
- providing or maintaining public access to it
Landscape in itself is difficult to value objectively. Much of what is valued in a landscape is a blend of natural features and social and cultural history, which is highly evocative and therefore important to people. The poignancy of this is outwardly reflected in art, poetry and song and inwardly in a sense of pride, belonging and comfort, all reinforcing this feeling of 'value'. Increasingly this value is also being realised in economic terms with the overt marketing of landscape for tourism and as a pleasant place for recreation or to live in.
In 2006, a partnership of nine leading environmental Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), together with NIEA commissioned a study into the economic significance of Northern Ireland's environment, called its 'Environmental Economy'. The report was completed by GHK Consulting and the Countryside Consultancy.
The research revealed that:
- economic activities relating to the environment of Northern Ireland contribute £573 million to the regional economy
- these environment-related economic activities support the equivalent to 32,570 full-time jobs.
The NGOs involved in the study include:
- Conservation Volunteers Northern Ireland
- Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland
- The National Trust
- Nothern Ireland Environment Link
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Ulster Wildlife Trust
- Woodland Trust
- Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
- World Wildlife Fund