As a judicial review on the route of the £160m A6 continued last week at the High Court, work appeared to be well underway on earthworks along a section of the road.
Haulage trucks have been bringing in tonnes of earth from elsewhere, which has been laid as infill in a field where hundreds of trees have been felled off Creagh Hill Road.
Friends of the Earth director James Orr said: “The department’s own rules state that they cannot disturb the Whooper Swans during the winter. They know they cannot carry out work from the end of September to mid March on this stretch of road.
“The felling of trees and removal of hedges is in direct conflict with their own rules agreed in the Environmental Impact Assessment and at the Public Inquiry.
“No private landowner would be allowed to do this, so many will be asking why the department get away with this vandalism and breaking its own rules?
“It is also highly irregular that during the judicial review that is being heard this week that the work is continuing. The standard practice is for the courts to decide on the lawfulness of this project and for the government to wait for the decision.”
But a spokesperson from Department for Infrastructure said temporary access work - even when it means changing the nature of the ground being worked on - was not regarded as earthworks.
“Earthworks means the major earthworks on the permanent mainline and side roads, not preliminary enabling/access works,” she said.
“The Environmental Statement requires that no major works (eg earthworks/drainage) are carried out during the Whooper Swan season (late September-mid March) between Toome By-pass and Deerpark Road.
“The material for the access is being sourced from a local quarry approximately 10 miles from the site,” she said before adding: “The Department owns the land where vegetation is being cleared, and no permits are required to fell the trees. The tree felling is outside the bird nesting season.”
Hundreds of trees and hedgerows have also been cut down on a number of roads along the dual carriageway’s proposed route, with diggers hard at work on a number of sites in the area.