My Department enjoys an excellent working relationship with farmers, their representatives and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In the past, it has consulted successfully with farming bodies on a range of policy proposals. Most recently farming representatives were fully involved in the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Advisory Group, which, last autumn, submitted proposals to me for a Northern Ireland biodiversity strategy. On 23 January I announced in the Assembly my intention to consult on measures to strengthen existing legislation for the protection and management of areas of special scientific interest (ASSIs).
I will ensure that farmers’ representatives, landowners and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as others interested in protecting the environment, are fully consulted. The protection of sites in the future will be best achieved through partnership with landowners and other relevant interests. I will continue to apply the principles of full and open consultation with all interested parties on any further legislative proposals relating to the protection of the environment.