Lough Neagh sand extraction a hot topic at European AGM of Friends of the Earth

Mounds of sand extracted from the bed of Lough Neagh

Mounds of sand extracted from the bed of Lough Neagh

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The issue of Lough Neagh sand extraction was a hot topic at the Europe-wide AGM of Friends of the Earth (FOE) today (Wednesday).

Local campaigner Dean Blackwood spoke to FOE members about Stormont’s “failure” to stop what he has called “illegal dredging”.

It is understood that FOE directors from across Europe will unite “to demand enforcement of EU nature laws at Lough Neagh”.

A number of companies have been extracting sand from the bed of Lough Neagh for decades.

Last year, then Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, issued them with an enforcement notice, which they subsequently appealed.

Sand Traders and the Shaftesbury Estate have long argued that the work they do has no major impact on Lough Neagh’s numerous species, saying “a number of environmental and scientific experts who have conducted several studies on the Lough to examine any environmental impact from sand extraction” did not “reveal anything of any major concern”.

A sand barge on Lough Neagh

A sand barge on Lough Neagh

The Planning Appeals Commission has given the five companies until October to submit an environmental impact assessment on their work, after which it will examine the case.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it too “is aware of concerns about dredging at Lough Neagh, which have been raised in a complaint”, but cannot disclosed any further information while the investigation is ongoing.