Letter: Saving Lough Neagh’s little sister

IT is an ill wind that blows no good. Lough Beg, one of Ireland’s most special wetlands for birds, a site of international importance, has been given a stay of execution.

Local conservationists are breathing a sigh of relief following news that there are insufficient funds available to commence work in the near future on the proposed A6 dual carriageway. Nevertheless, local farmers and nature conservationists alike are calling on everyone opposed to the plan to re-route the A6 between Randalstown and Castledawson to join them. They hope such an alliance will assert influence on the government that will lead to a re-think of its long-term regional transport strategy.

The group ‘Lough Beg for Life’ believes the government’s preferred route for this controversial scheme will lead to huge and irrevocable damage to the internationally acclaimed Lough Neagh and Lough Beg Special Protection Area. With it, they argue, will go any hope of ever having a reputation for being a part of the world that cares for its environment.

“How could our children forgive us if we fail to protect the habitat of the hundreds of wild swans that have for generations migrated between Iceland and Lough Beg?” said Chris Murphy, chairman of the new group.

“We have serious concerns about how this proposed dual carriageway will impact on communities and livelihoods but what unites us most is our utter incredulity at the madness of such an environmentally disastrous scheme. How could anyone advocate inflicting irreparable damage on something as beautiful and rare as Lough Beg, a flight way for thousands of migratory birds and where, on meadows such as The Creagh, hundreds of Icelandic whooper swans spend half the year between October and March.

“No amount of tinkering with field sizes or other attempts at mitigation can ever compensate for the harm that would be caused by the construction of such a road through the heart of Lough Beg’s iconic swan fields.”

After centuries of land fragmentation and decades of building in the countryside, these bird-rich meadows now represent the regions’ largest intact area of lowland wet grassland, one of the scarcest natural habitats in Northern Ireland.

‘Lough Beg for Life’ is calling on everyone with an interest in Lough Beg and a love of nature, to join them in opposing the government’s preferred A6 re-routing through The Creagh. To join the ‘Lough Beg for Life’ campaign, contact Gerry Donnelly on 0780 175 6055 or come along to the group’s art exhibition, running in Castledawson from 13-15 April.