Northern Ireland

Rathlin's wildlife could be threatened by oil drilling

Rathlin Island
Image caption Rathlin Island is one of 43 Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland

Rathlin Island's birds could be threatened by plans to drill for oil off its coast, the RSPB has said.

The island is one of 43 Special Areas of Conservation in Northern Ireland and is home to tens of thousands of seabirds.

The area around it has been identified as a potential site for oil exploration in the latest round of government licensing.

If approved, the RSPB is worried it could lead to full-scale extraction.

James Robinson, director of the RSPB NI, said it was a "very bad decision".

"The RSPB is really asking the UK government not to license oil and gas exploration in these areas as they are too important for wildlife, and the damage that could be done because of the activities that would occur because of oil drilling would be absolutely massive," he said.

"If I was someone living in Ballycastle or Rathlin, the last thing I would want to see in the future is thousands of young puffins washing up on the beaches there.

"It would be an awful, awful situation."

'Poor decisions'

As Rathlin is a Special Area of Conservation, (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA), the UK government has to undertake an appropriate assessment of potential impacts and mitigation measures.

Mr Robinson said decisions are being made on "poor data".

"This industry isn't safe - and a lot of the information that that we have suggests that they have not really explored what are the actual impacts and how they would be able to mitigate those impacts in the future," he added.

Dr Philip Griffiths, an energy specialist from the University of Ulster, admitted there were "risks associated with any of these activities".

"It's just a licence application at present and while the energy company may have quite detailed plans, the only information available is that these are blocks of the seabed that are open for negotiation for people to bid for and then to set about drilling," he added.

"Tankers sailing by Rathlin heading for the North Sea are just as much of a danger to the habitat as any drilling exercise."