Conscious of the recent controversy over the plans to turn the NDCP into a greenway, local lobby group Greenspaces staged a pop-up information event on Sunday 28th August in the open air, to take stock of the coastline as it is presently, before any changes are made. They are keen to state clearly that they are in favour of cycling as the greenest form of transport, are positive about greenways generally, and are not prejudging the outcome of the Environmental Statement, just published on the planning portal. However they feel the time is right to put a spotlight onto the status of the local coastline, to establish a baseline from which any proposed changes must be understood.
Greenspaces formed in 2012 in response to a number of planning applications that were threatening to damage natural spaces in Bangor, and it became clear that many small pockets of biodiversity in the town were increasingly being swallowed up by development. The group felt then, and feel more urgently now, that these small pockets must not only be protected, but more wild corridors must be fostered to link them up, to create viability for many species of birds, insects, and small mammals who depend on these wild habitats. A lot of their work is engaging with planners, council, and the Assembly lobbying for adherence to the protective legislation that does exist, and is often too easily overlooked.
The key speaker on Sunday was Patrick Cregg, recently retired director of the Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland. He used the opportunity of the event to present some of the under-reported good news about our local area, by highlighting that the coastline of the Belfast Lough has not one, but three recognised designations, which he compared to the coveted "Oscar" awards of the Hollywood A-list.
Patrick explained "Our coastline boasts 3 accolades, it is an Area of Special Scientific Interest, (ASSI), it is a Special Protected Area (SPA), and most significant of all, it has the international recognition of being a Ramsar site, due to its global significance in supporting migratory bird species.
Few people in Bangor and North Down are aware of this honour which is why today we're holding up these little 'Oscars' to draw attention to the fact.
It's quite an honour to have this type of protected area locally, and we're especially proud of it in the light of the fact that many other protected areas in Northern Ireland have steadily been falling into "unfavourable conditions", and could be at risk of losing their badges. That's not something we want to happen to this area, which is the jewel in the crown of the borough, and attracts many international visitors every year who come to savour its beauty and tranquillity, and unspoilt natural character.."
James Hunter, a founder member of the group talked about the importance of the designations, saying "Our work is to promote biodiverse spaces everywhere, to lobby for the protection of wild habitat and encourage more connectivity between these, and we are very conscious of wanting to maintain the protection that this long narrow green space of the coastline has been afforded.
"Northern Ireland was ranked 12th worst in 240 countries in the world for biodiversity loss in a recent study by RSPB, and we have set our sights on persuading government and other bodies to reverse our direction of travel on this depressing league table. We're looking at this as a positive opportunity to take steps to improve our biodiversity. Very minor changes can make a huge difference, for example adjusting the grass mowing routines and cutting out pesticides can reap benefits for insects, and that assists in supporting the birds and bat populations that feed on them."
"We are aware that there is a planning proposal going forward to make changes to this coastal area. it's important to state that we are very much in favour of cycling as a form of transport, and that the future should see people moving away from cars and onto greener forms of transport such as the bike. Greenspaces' subtle position is that while broadly speaking "Greenways are good", we would seek that any new Greenway project must produce a nett biodiversity gain. This means that the areas that greenways touch should produce more habitat for wildlife, more nourishment for pollinators, and more green growth than was there previously, not less. To that end we are looking at the Environmental Statement that has just been published, and are particularly interested in hearing what the statutory agencies will say when they respond to it. In the meantime our simple message is that we all need to Protect, Promote and enhance the greenspaces in our borough, for nature's sake, and for humans' access to nature, which is crucial for our overall health."
"We are very encouraged by the level of interest shown by the individuals who attended our little Pop up event, and we'll be keeping in touch with a view to having more events going into the autumn. Anyone may contact us for more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, following our facebook page, or at www.greenspacesbangor.org"