EU directives that protect Lough Neagh ‘saved’

Mountains of sand removed from the bed of Lough Neagh
Mountains of sand removed from the bed of Lough Neagh

Despite plans to overhaul nature directives that protect birds and wildlife in places like Lough Neagh and Lough Beg, EU Commission President Claude Junker has abandoned the overhaul.

The birds and habitats directives currently protect around a fifth of the land in Europe.

This includes about 200 wetlands, meadows and marine habitats, and over a thousand animal and plant species.

Junker had sought to make the rules more ‘business-friendly’ but was met with opposition within the commission.

Last Wednesday the laws were declared “fit for purpose” without a vote and as campaigners celebrated, the environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, hailed what he said was a win for nature in Europe.

There have also been calls to ensure the laws are kept by post-Brexit Britain.

Friends of the Earth, who have spoken out before about Sand Extraction on Lough Neagh, told the Guardian that urgent moves were needed to improve enforcement of the nature laws in the UK.

“The need for enforcement is particularly keen in Northern Ireland where there has been systemic failure to protect sites covered by the directives,” said Sandra Bell, the group’s nature campaigner.

In the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg special protection area, the Northern Irish government has recently approved a highway to carry 22,000 vehicles a day through winter feeding areas for migratory birds that should be protected, Ms Bell said.

“This decision must and will be challenged,” she said. “It shows why EU nature laws are so important, but also why the European commission needs to clamp down on the regular instances where these laws are being breached.”

The commission says it will now draw up an action plan to scale up investment and good management practices in Natura 2000 sites – protected areas which were created by the directives.