Northern Ireland

Environment and Heritage Service


Environment and Heritage Service

The Environment and Heritage Service was established as an executive agency within the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland on 1st April 1996. The main responsibilities of the Environment and Heritage Service include:

  • the control of air, water and land pollution;
  • the identification and management of sites of nature conservation value;
  • the management of country parks, countryside centres and historic monuments;
  • the protection and recording of historic monuments and buildings.
  • The Environment and Heritage Service is responsible for:
  • protecting fresh and tidal waters under the Water Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 (principally through the application of consents for discharges);
  • protecting marine waters under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 by the issue of licences for the disposal of wastes and other substances at sea; and
  • engineering works which may affect the marine environment and for the discharge of radioactive substances under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993.

Discharge consents

The Environment and Heritage Service's approach to setting discharge consents is broadly similar to that in Great Britain. Discharges of sewage and trade effluent, including cage fish farms, are consented or in the case of Water Service discharges registered.

Modelling studies are undertaken for new or upgraded continuous sewage discharges to coastal waters in order to determine the environmental impact of the discharge and to establish the optimum location for the outfall, and to ensure that at, at designated bathing waters, compliance with the guide standards in the Bathing Water Directive are taken into account. For those discharges which fall within the Urban Waste Water Treatment (UWWT) Regulations, the appropriate degree of treatment to comply with the requirements of the Regulations will be the minimum acceptable. These are set out in the Guidance Notes to the Regulations. For discharges to designated sensitive areas, nutrient removal may be required in the treatment process and appropriate standards for nutrients will be included in the discharge conditions. In determining discharge standards, it is necessary to check that EQSs for controlled substances will be met outside any mixing zone. The Environment and Heritage Service is also in the process of adopting the Association of Directors and River Inspectors in Scotland (ADRIS) Coastal Waters Classification Scheme which states that no deterioration in quality class will be acceptable. The highest priority in the classification system is improving and maintaining water quality.

For intermittent discharges, the primary concern is to limit their discharge under storm conditions and their impact on water quality when a discharge does occur. Discharge standards are set on performance criteria determined from hydraulic sewer studies and impact assessments on receiving water quality. The impact assessment may be based on simple dilution or spill frequency criteria, in complex situations modelling tools are employed. The discharge standards state the design conditions under which a discharge is allowed to take place. This may be the pass-forward flow in the sewer above which a discharge can occur or relate to a spill frequency over a year or a bathing season. Additional conditions, such as screening storage, telemetry or other precautions to minimise impact are included in the discharge standard. Further details are set out in Annex 8 of the Guidance Notes to the UWWT Regulations.

Trade effluents include those from industrial discharges and from cage fish farms. There are few such discharges in Northern Ireland and those that do exist are small. In general, no modelling or mass balance calculations are undertaken to determine consent conditions. These are based on expert judgement with the relevant EQS for controlled substances used as a guideline to setting the consent conditions. Consent conditions are set as absolute limits. Some toxicity testing of effluents has been undertaken but the Direct Toxicity Assessment (DTA) approach has not yet been applied in Northern Ireland.

There are few cage fish farm installations in Northern Ireland. The approach to consenting is based on the requirement to comply with EQSs for controlled substances and to ensure that the water column and sea bed in the vicinity of the cage installation is not damaged.

FEPA Licences

The Environment and Heritage Service is the competent authority for the issue of licences for the disposal of materials at sea in Northern Ireland.

The approach to the issue of licences is compatible with that adopted by MAFF in England and Wales.


The Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland (DANI) has responsibilities for agriculture, fisheries and food in Northern Ireland. As such, the Department is consulted in the discharge consent application process about possible impacts on fisheries.

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