Scores of people turned out for a New Year’s Day walk to see the Lough Beg whooper swans campaigners say are threatened by the proposed new A6 dual carriageway.
Meeting in Toome, over 60 men, women and children made the trek from Dakota to Lough Beg, stopping at points along the way to observe the birds.
Over 1,500 of the “internationally important” creatures make the journey from Iceland to special wetlands in and around Lough Beg every year.
According to the RSPB “the site supports almost 46,000 waterbirds in the winter”, but in 2003 proposals were put forward by the then Department of Regional Development to build a new road between Belfast and Derry that would bypass Toome and “cut through fields used by wintering whooper swans - splitting the main swan area and running close to the nearby Lough Beg Special Protection Area (SPA), used by the swans for roosting”.
Also concerned about the route, beside the RAMSAR site and Special Protection Area, bird enthusiast Chris Murphy - who is fighting it through the courts - organised the walk to show people the birds and “sacred” land that will be affected.
Just as the walk was about to leave one local man told trekkers, which included Toome residents, people are “hemmed in six days a week” - “we need that bypass”.
But Mr Murphy said the road is not the issue, just where the government wants to put it.
And trekkers on the day joined him in urging Stormont to ‘Save Heaney Country’. “This landscape has changed very little in thousands of years, as long as you don’t build on it, it remains natural,” Mr Murphy said.
“Especially now we have the HomePlace (three miles away) it should be a World Heritage Site.
“Seamus Heaney landscape teaming with wild swans - you put all that together, you’ve got a destination, a product for Mid Ulster.”
He has taken Department for Infrastructure, which inherited the project, to court to appply for a judicial review into the placement of the road.
The department was contacted for comment, but had not replied at the time of going to print.