Biodiversity encompasses all living things; the diversity of species, the variation of genes that enables organisms to evolve and adapt, and the wide range ecosystems where organisms live and interact.
The world’s ecosystems are fragile and their collapse may cause mass extinction of species. It is estimated that more than 10,000 species become extinct worldwide each year, and this figure is rising. The primary cause of this extinction is human beings.
Download the Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) for our Borough.
How can gardens help biodiversity?
Most gardens are already of great significance to biodiversity. The combination of habitats, soils and native and exotic plants create a unique environment. By adopting some or all of the measures below, the biodiversity in your garden can be further enhanced. Always remember that biodiversity is reliant on complex interactions and that the tiniest insect, lichen or fungus can be of huge significance to the more ‘obvious’ species such as birds and mammals.
Ten ways to help encourage biodiversity in your garden:
Wildlife Law Advice
Our community in Northern Ireland supports a wide variety of wildlife! Often species are threatened by the effects of human activity. This is especially true where organisms exist outside protected areas, such as nature reserves and conservation areas. One of the methods of protecting species is the implementation of laws. The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 is the most recently updated law regarding wildlife protection. The PSNI are responsible for enforcing this law and penalties include fines and in some cases prison sentences. We provide a short summary of information that we think is most relevant. This information is just a guideline and if in doubt contact the Police Wildlife Liaison Office or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Birds and Eggs
- Different birds have different levels of protection and hence penalties for committing offences vary.
- Don't deliberately harm any wild bird.
- Don't keep any dead or alive wild birds unless you can prove you obtained it lawfully.
- Don't harm the nest of any wild bird whilst it is being used.
- Don't take eggs of wild birds.
- Don't disturb wild birds if they are nesting.
- Don't sell wild birds or their eggs.
- You can nurse injured birds back to health as long as you release them.
- Some bird species can be hunted outside the 'closed season'. They should not however be hunted at night or on a Sunday.
- Licences must be obtained before taking action on problem bird species.
- Different animal species have different levels of protection and hence penalties for committing offences vary.
- 17 species are given protection by law (for example: bats, otters, dolphins, whales, newts, lizards and butterflies).
- These species should not be harmed or kept dead or alive.
- Access to their home should not be hindered and they should not be disturbed whilst using these homes.
- The animal or anything taken from it should not be sold. This is extended to Common Frogs, Hedgehogs, Freshwater mussels, Sea Urchins and Foxes.
- Don't cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.
- Special laws protect bats. These cannot be removed from a house unless they occupy the actual living area. For example, if they are in the loft or a shed they cannot be disturbed. When carrying out building work advice should be taken if it would disturb any bats.
- Game animals (deer and hares) can be hunted using certain guns and ammunition outside the 'closed season'. They should not however be hunted at night or on a Sunday.
- Don't harm any wild plant.
- Some plants are specially protected. These should not be harmed or kept.
Releasing wildlife in the wild
- Don't release any animal that you wouldn't normally find in Northern Ireland.
- Don't release any organisms considered to be invasive species (for example: grey squirrels, black rats, Japanese knotweed or giant hogweed).
- Other countries have different wildlife laws, which often might not seem intuitive. Check these out before you go travelling.
- Don't take endangered species into or out of another country. This covers not only obvious things (such as tiger skins) but things which might be sold as souvenirs in other countries (such as items made from ivory, some corals and sea-shells).
- Check regulations regarding species that cannot be taken into or removed from a country before travelling.
Non-native species are those that have been introduced, either intentionally or unintentionally, outside their natural range. Many of these non-native species live in harmony with our native species causing no adverse impacts. However a few non-native species have become known as 'invasive' as they thrive in our habitats and out-compete our native flora and fauna.
Over the last century increasing travel and trade have allowed many species to overcome the geographical barriers that had previously restricted them.
Non-native invasive species are also known as invasive alien species. They are widely recognised as one of the biggest threats to our native biodiversity, second only to that caused by habitat destruction. They not only have negative environmental impacts, but they can also adversely impact on recreational activities such as walking, boating, fishing, swimming and various other water-based leisure pursuits.
They can also have serious associated economic costs. Once an invasive species has established within a habitat it can spread rapidly, out-competing native species. The spread of most invasive plant species is by plant fragments or seed. Invertebrates or mammals can move independently within aquatic or terrestrial habitats or hitch rides on the hulls of boats or on equipment.
Northern Ireland has been subject to the impacts of many invasive alien species. Within a relatively short time-scale we have already witnessed the establishment of species which are currently having a detrimental effect upon our local biodiversity.
This is what you can do to help minimise the chance of alien invaders establishing in our community:
- Take a look at the 'Field Guide to Invasive Species in Ireland'. This provides information and photographs of the species we should be concerned about.
- If you find any of these species don't touch them or move them to another place.
- Take care to ensure you don't accidentally move them on any gardens tools or boating / fishing equipment.
- Consider using hot water to clean any equipment used in gardens, oceans, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams before using elsewhere.
- Don't transfer water or soil from one place to another because this could contain seeds or spores of alien invaders.
- When disposing of plant or animal material make sure it is in sealed containers if you suspect it could be contaminated with alien species.
- Report sightings of the species on the Invasive Species Ireland website in the 'Alienwatch' section. This project aims to keep track of where invasive species are living.
Dealing with Invasive Plants and Harmful Weeds
Many non-native plant species occur in Northern Ireland without causing any problems. A few plant species can become invasive due to a range of factors, including the absence of a natural predator or the presence of a more suitable climate or habitat type.
Threat to biodiversity: An invasive plant or weed can upset the balance of the ecosystem. They are often bigger, faster-growing or more aggressive than native species and may take over the habitat where they grow.
Identifying Common Invasive Non-Native Plants
You can download information on Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam at the bottom of this page.
This information is published by Invasive Species Ireland.
There are several steps you can take to stop the spread of invasive plants:
- know what is growing in your garden – you can get help identifying invasive plants on the Invasive Species Ireland website
- manage invasive species where they occur on your land and seek out best practice management advice from experts;
- dispose of all plant waste responsibly, it is illegal to plant or cause the spread of many invasive plant species so be careful when disposing;
- know what you are buying, avoid buying plants or seeds known to be invasive;