There are many nationwide as well as Northern Irish initiatives to protect plant and animal biodiversity.
Regions, species and specific factors are protected depending on how endangered they are, their role in the environment, and whether they are of special scientific interest.
As such, Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) are regions that represent the best of wildlife, and hold great value as natural communities. The Environment Order in Northern Ireland empowers anyone who obtains approval from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and gives 24-hour notice to a landowner, to enter their land and inspect it in order to determine whether it qualifies as an ASSI.
Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) refers to geographical sites (as well as species) that are most in need of conservation, and it is a European-wide initiative. The UK has more than 600 SACs, with over 50 in Northern Ireland.
In order to help implement biodiversity-supporting measures, Biodiversity Action Plans have been devised. These are unique for each district council area.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland started an agri-environment scheme to offer farmers the opportunity to voluntarily optimise their land to support biodiversity. The scheme covers three objectives, for which separate applications can be made. One of them focuses on the development of a specific site to maximise the habitat and species for biodiversity; another focuses on impacts felt further afield from the main site; while the third scheme option focuses on joint efforts by multiple farmers around a key area such as a river catchment or commonage.
Finally, Northern Ireland has priority habitat and species lists that document the UK-wide endangered species that are decreasing in population at least 2% annually, and have their stronghold in Northern Ireland. Some of these species include beetles (orangeman, hairy reed beetle), birds (turtle dove, curlew), fish (plaice, whiting), mammals (Irish hare, otter) and vascular plants (cloudberry, sea-kale). In total they are around 500 species.
Human industrial activity has contributed large amounts of chemicals, notably carbon dioxide (from combustion activity), to the Earth’s atmosphere that is changing the climate in many areas with varying outcomes and intensity, from an overall average increase in temperature.
Aside from CO2, methane is also a greenhouse gas – that is, it has the potential to increase the Earth’s average temperature. Greenhouse gases are responsible for the Earth being about 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would be without them.
The issue arises when the otherwise slow, natural development of global weather patterns is significantly sped up by the burning of fossil fuels. The receding of the North Pole ice (from the yellow line):
A seemingly small increase of several degrees Celsius can have vast effects on the Earth’s crop plants, insect pests and wild plants and animals.
For example, the life cycle of many insect pests is tightly regulated by temperature. A very finely tuned heating up or cooling down triggers development and reproduction. The result of warming is a faster life cycle which means that instead of one generation arising yearly, there might be two or three generations arising yearly instead. This poses problems for the protection of crop plants.
Another example is the redistribution of wild animals. Changes in temperature cause migrations towards the poles of the Earth, and increased desertification at the equator. Pollen in North America has been shown to become increasingly allergenic:
The susceptibility of various parts of the world to be desertificated has also been projected:
This killer infographic brings home the point about how much fish stocks have plummeted more than any description could.
Maintaining viable fish stocks is essential to being able to sustain our reliance on fish, especially in parts of the world where it is one of the main sources of food. Fish are also a major part of the aquatic ecosystem on Earth, and are hence part of complex food webs.
Depleted fish stocks in an ecosystem can throw off other species, and even be the end of a specific ecosystem itself. Several actions have been implemented in fisheries to address these pressing issues.
Safe catch limits can be determined scientifically, and ensure that there is a minimum number of fish left in the ecosystem to maintain a long-term balance.
Controls on bycatch involve using catching methods that minimise the targeting and death of other species alongside the target fish.
Protection of pristine habitats ensures that the spawning grounds of fish aren’t disturbed, as well as unexplored areas (much of the oceans remains unexplored) and corals, which have already been impacted by climate change.
Finally, for any of these measures to be effective, monitoring and enforcement are critical to their long term success. People involved in the fishing industries must be monitored to ensure they are following these guidelines, and a monetary incentive is required to make it uneconomical to cheat.