N Ireland govt acted unlawfully by not stopping Lough Neagh dredging

28 Jun 2017
Court of Appeal says N Ireland govt acted unlawfully by not stopping Lough Neagh dredging, following Friends of the Earth legal challenge

Friends of the Earth has welcomed today’s Northern Ireland Court of Appeal decision that the Northern Ireland government acted unlawfully by not stopping the dredging at Lough Neagh, one of Europe’s most important wetlands [1, 2].

The environmental campaign group brought the legal challenge over the Northern Ireland government’s failure to stop sand extraction from Lough Neagh, which has been taking place without planning permission and other authorisations.

Up to two million tons of sand is suction dredged from the bed of the Lough every year. This is the biggest unauthorised development in the history of Northern Ireland.  There is no bigger unlawful mine anywhere in Europe in a Special Protection Area [3].

Commenting on today’s decision, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland Director, James Orr said:

“This vitally important wildlife site is supposed to be protected under local and international law – it’s a scandal that the Northern Ireland government has taken so long to understand its legal obligations.

“It shouldn’t be left to groups like Friends of the Earth to ensure environmental law is followed, and people shouldn’t have to force the authorities to protect special places like Lough Neagh.

“This ruling by the highest court in Northern Ireland sends a powerful signal to the government to take our environment seriously, and to safeguard precious natural jewels like Lough Neagh”.

James Orr continued:

“The Northern Ireland government must put in place a system to sustainably manage the lough and its resources. This is in everyone interests. The sand industry needs to know how much sand is left and the government needs to understand the damage the extraction is causing.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland:

“This decision will be crucially important for the protection of all our precious nature areas.

“It also underlines the need for a better approach in the future. The case today was won because of EU law and demonstrates how vital these are in protecting our environment. The UK must adopt strong nature laws when it leaves the EU and ensure these are enforced everywhere. The public wants proper protection for nature".

Notes to Editors:

  1. All parties agreed that the sand dredging should have planning permission, an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Habitats Regulation Assessment – all of which are currently missing.
  2. Bordering five of Northern Ireland’s six counties, Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in these islands at 18 miles long and seven miles wide and the third biggest in Europe.
  3. Lough Neagh has multiple environmental designations that include: an Area of Special Scientific Interest, A Special Protection Area under the European Union Birds Directive, a Ramsar site protected under the international Ramsar Convention. In the 1980s the Lough supported the UK's largest concentrations of overwintering water birds (including scaup, pochard, tufted duck) But the Loughs’s wildlife (birds and fish) and water quality have been deteriorating for some time due to a combination of factors
  4. Prior to the case, the Department of Environment had accepted there could be many significant effects on the lough and environs from dredging in a document called an EIA determination.  Over 20 likely significant environmental effects were identified including pollution, disturbance of sand bars, disturbance to wildlife, depletion of a finite resource, sediment deposition from barges, traffic movements, and impacts on other industries such as fishing and tourism.

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