Islanders on Rathlin have ambitions to generate their own renewable energy in an effort to create local jobs and achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, Edwin Poots visited the island to see its wide variety of seabirds and hear of the plans.
During his visit, Minister Poots met with representatives from The Rathlin Development and Community Association who have been exploring a number of renewable energy options.
The association is a partner in the Clean Energy for EU islands project, which aims to provide a long-term framework to help islands generate their own sustainable energy.
They hope that it will result in lower energy costs and greatly increased production of renewable energy; better energy security for the island, which will be less reliant on imports; as well as improving air quality, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and creating new jobs and opportunities, boosting economic self-sufficiency.
Welcoming the plans, Minister Poots said: “I am delighted to visit Rathlin and meet with the local community. I admire Rathlin’s strong ambition to reduce emissions and become carbon neutral, this is aligned to my vision for Green Growth and climate action and I very much welcome the Island’s efforts to realise this goal.”
Rathlin Island is also Northern Ireland’s most important seabird colony and in summer the sea cliffs and sea stacks provide nesting sites for a variety of seabirds, including nationally important colonies of guillemot, razorbill and kittiwake. Northern Ireland’s largest populations of puffin also breed among the grassy slopes of the cliff ledges.
During his visit, the Minister enjoyed a boat trip to observe the puffins and other iconic seabirds at their nesting site. The protected breeding seabird colonies are considered to be at risk, due to a number of external factors including milder winters and the lower availability of small fish.
The seas around Rathlin are rich in biodiversity and is an important Marine Protected Area featuring reefs, sea caves, sandbanks, seals, various bird species, deep-sea habitat, maritime cliffs and geological structures. This includes kelp, seagrass and maerl that are natural carbon stores, often referred to as blue carbon habitats, and considered to be as important as peatlands.
While the protections restrict some activities, the Rathlin community is keen to recognise that the development and promotion of Rathlin tourism and environmental products is key to growth of the island economy.
Minister Poots said: “I recognise the issues that Rathlin faces, both from external and internal factors, and I remain committed to working with the local Community, RSPB and other partners to deliver collaborative community led-projects that provide long term protection for the Island’s seabirds and, importantly, supports community recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“My department has provided funding of £38,000 over the past year for environmental activities on Rathlin, including £8,000 to RSPB for a community engagement officer and £30,000 to Causeway Coastal and Glens Heritage Trust to develop a seabird recovery project for the Island.
“Rathlin Island and the seas surrounding it provide significant economic opportunities and it is important that these are explored and developed whilst maintaining the environmental ethos of the Island and ensuring the views of the Rathlin community are considered.
“The seas around Rathlin are rich in biodiversity and effective management of the marine protected area will protect and enhance these for future generations. I very much appreciate the work of the RDCA and the positive approach they have taken to working with nature.”