Friends of the Earth call for immediate stop to ‘unlawful’ sand dredging on Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh from above
Lough Neagh from above

Although welcoming the Enforcement Notice that has been served on ‘unlawful’ Lough Neagh sand dredgers, Friends of the Earth is calling on the Minister to “pull his head out of the sand” and issue an immediate stop.

Department of the Environment yesterday [Wednesday] informed the sand companies involved that they have until June 30 to end operations.

Calling into question the department’s “track record” with Enforcement Notices, the group is pleading with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan not to “give dredgers a chance to wiggle out of prosecution”.

James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland’s Director, said: “We welcome the fact that the Minister is finally paying attention to this unlawful and damaging activity in one of Northern Ireland’s most protected sites.

“It is disappointing, however, that the Minister didn’t issue a Stop Notice, but opted instead for an Enforcement Notice. His department has a very poor track record of following through with Enforcement Notices.

“This unlawful sand dredging should be stopped immediately... It’s time for the Minister to pull his head out of the sand.”

Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan

Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan

The Department, however has defended its course of action.

A spokesperson said: “We believe the issuing of enforcement notices is an appropriate response to the unauthorised dredging of sand from the Lough.

“DOE officials will monitor that these notices are complied with and should activity be seen to continue, further enforcement powers are available to the Department, including legal action.”

In a statement to the Mail this morning, Minister Mark H Durkan said he had hoped the sand companies “stopped dredging voluntarily”, but as they didn’t he was forced to take action.

It is disappointing, however, that the Minister didn’t issue a Stop Notice, but opted instead for an Enforcement Notice - James Orr, Friends of the Earth

Read more: Environment Minister orders stop to ‘illegal’ sand dredging on Lough Neagh
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Shaftesbury Estate, which owns the bed of Lough Neagh and takes payment from sand companies for what they remove, said: “The sand traders have confirmed that they have been in pre-application discussions with DoE since last year and will be submitting a planning application.

“They welcome the regulation of ALL aspects of activities on the Lough and have campaigned for this for decades.

“As part of the lengthy and extensive planning process a number of independent environmental studies have been carried out, all of which have indicated that sand extraction does not have an impact.”

Sand barge in operation on Lough Neagh on May 19, 2015

Sand barge in operation on Lough Neagh on May 19, 2015