Parliament Buildings: Rewilding

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland Assembly Commission – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 15th March 2022.

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Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 15th March 2022

5. Mr McGrath asked the Assembly Commission what consideration it has given to rewilding the lawns at Parliament Buildings to encourage biodiversity and support pollinators. (AQO 3293/17-22)

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Member for his question. The Member will be aware that the Assembly Commission has responsibility only for the lawns adjacent to Parliament Buildings within its curtilage, and those end at the railings to the front of the Building. Beyond that, the management of the Stormont estate falls within the remit of the Department of Finance, specifically its estates management unit.

While the Assembly Commission has not considered an alternative use for the lawns within its responsibility, support and encouragement for biodiversity and pollinators has been put in place through the installation of an apiary at the west side of Parliament Buildings. As well as increasing biodiversity and supporting pollinators, the apiary is used to raise awareness of the dwindling numbers of native bees.

Works on the Stormont estate under the control of the Department of Finance are informed by the Stormont estate woodland management plan and the conservation management plan. Those plans have not recommended the rewilding of the formal lawn areas. Across the wider Stormont estate, the estates management unit has provided a woodland environment with minimal intrusion to help to protect and expand the habitat for plant and animal life.

The Assembly Commission, through the events office and the education office, promotes the nature trails throughout the estate and encourages visitors and school groups to make use of the grounds when they visit Parliament Buildings. In that regard, the Assembly Commission's sustainable development office is a partner of the Eco-Schools group and helps to raise awareness of the wildlife — our bees in particular — in the estate when meeting school groups.

The Assembly Commission's sustainable development office continues to liaise closely with the estates management unit to enhance the biodiversity around Parliament Buildings by whatever means possible.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for the answer. It is a bit disappointing to hear, given that we have such expansive lawns to the front and side of the Building, that we could not use even a small portion of them for some sort of biodiversity and rewilding project. We could set a good example by having such a facility. That might be something that the Commission could consider, and maybe the Member could take that back to the Commission to see whether that is possible.

The Member referred to some of the other facilities on the Stormont estate. Could there be some sort of formal partnership between the Department of Finance and the Commission, given that most people see the estate as one, for some projects to be done jointly?

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

As I understand it, there is regular contact between the Department of Finance and the Assembly Commission on estates matters, especially where the estate for which the Commission is responsible interfaces with the remaining Stormont estate. I am more than happy to take the suggestion of further work in that regard back to the Commission and the sustainable development office.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Will the Commission engage with wildlife organisations such as the RSPB to see what else it could do to support and encourage wildlife in the environs of the Assembly Building?

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Member for that question. As I outlined, the sustainable development office will continue to work closely with the estates management unit to encourage visitors to Parliament Buildings to avail themselves of the walking trails, for example, throughout the Stormont estate. There is no reason, therefore, why the suggestion in the previous question to extend that to other biodiversity trials could not also be done in conjunction with environmental groups. I am happy to take that back in conjunction with the previous point.