As I indicated during the debate on 23 January on the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, there is a range of actions under way to improve the protection of special sites. I am grateful for the additional resources made available in the recent Budget for work on environmental protection and nature conservation. Some of that money will be available to support payments to landowners, voluntary bodies and district councils for the management of designated sites. That funding will enhance the Department of the Environment’s ability to encourage good conservation management at the designated sites.
The Department of the Environment is committed to producing a Northern Ireland biodiversity strategy following the recent receipt of the report of the Northern Ireland biodiversity group. Its recommendations include proposals for protecting special sites and priority habitats. My officials will take full account of the group’s recommendations as they prepare that strategy.
The Department will continue to work closely with other Departments whose responsibilities have an important bearing on the natural environment. One important example is integrating conservation into policies for the countryside and the rural environment.
I intend to consult on proposals to strengthen the existing legislation for the protection and management of ASSIs. A consultation paper will be published in the next few weeks.