Research scientists from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) are playing a key role in researching & developing new methods of managing the natural environment across Northern Ireland, the border counties of the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Western Scotland.
Over the past year, AFBI has successfully secured over £11 million of funding from the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), to fund a series of innovative cross border projects. Many of the environmental challenges that Northern Ireland faces are shared with our neighbours in ROI and Scotland.
AFBI’s specialist expertise is being used to advise on the management of seas, loughs, river catchments, peatlands and wetland habitats, and sustainable energy, bringing direct benefits to farmers, coastal communities and wider society. Across all the projects, AFBI is collaborating with a wide range of organisations including private commercial companies, local councils and non-governmental organisations.
In particular, AFBI leads on a large marine-based project, COMPASS (Collaborative Oceanography and Monitoring for Protected Areas and Species) which is working with partners across Ireland and Scotland and which will create a state-of-the-art network of buoys to effectively track, model and monitor aquatic life and oceanographic processes, on a cross-border basis. Another marine based project, SWIM (System for Bathing Water Quality Modelling), will see AFBI leading the development of a system to predict bathing water quality on beaches and install real time signage to keep the public informed about bathing quality.
Within the SWELL project (Shared Waters Enhancement and Loughs Legacy), AFBI experts, in collaboration with water companies in Northern Ireland and ROI, will carry out research on water quality in Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle. This research will inform investment in appropriate waste water treatment strategies that will contribute to the improved water quality of these important shared loughs.
Working closely with farmers in Co Fermanagh, AFBI scientists are also involved in researching and proposing management solutions to improve drinking water quality in cross border river catchments around Lough Derg and Lough Erne through the Source to Tap project. This project will undertake peat habitat restorations, mitigate against the effects of forestry operations and promote on-farm actions to reduce pesticide runoff.
Farmers will also be supported in the Finn, Blackwater and Arney river catchments, through the Catchment Care project (Catchment Actions for Resilient Eco-systems), to monitor and improve nutrient management and water quality. This project will also develop sustainable land management actions to mitigate point and diffuse source of pollution.
The Collaborative Action for Natura Network (CANN) project will see AFBI working in partnership with local councils, charities and research institutions along the border to protect endangered species and restore natural habitats. AFBI researchers will map designated nature conservation sites and carry out scientific monitoring over the course of the project, including the application of new remote sensing technologies. The project will help Northern Ireland meet its obligations under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, in addition to realising important benefits from the natural ecosystem, such as carbon storage, alleviating flooding and improved visual and cultural landscapes.
In the Bryden Centre project (Advanced Marine and Bio-energy Research Centre), AFBI scientists will contribute their leading expertise in bio-fuels to a cross border university partnership developing bio-energy and marine renewable energy.
AFBI’s expertise in environmental management is recognised internationally and in further EU INTERREG funded projects, AFBI will work with partners in Finland, Sweden, Iceland, ROI and the Faroe Islands to develop tools and models to manage agricultural and extractive industry runoff through the Northern Runoffs into Profits (Waterpro) project. In the ALICE project, (Atlantic Landscapes: developing tools to characterise biodiversity and ecosystem services) economists at AFBI are working with partners in Spain, Portugal, ROI and France to develop improved models to value the economic impact of the natural environment.
The natural environment of Northern Ireland is a highly valued resource and the significant investment secured by AFBI through the European Union INTERREG VA Programme enables AFBI scientists to respond to the challenge of protecting it, whilst developing its economic potential for the benefit of wider society. Evidence-based decisions are being informed by the research being undertaken by AFBI and the collaborative nature of the projects ensures that best practice is shared across a number of countries.
Government match-funding for the projects has been provided by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and the Department for Housing Planning and Local Government in Ireland.