Threatened destruction of poetic landscape shows we need EU nature laws

24 November 2016

A gentle landscape in rural Northern Ireland encompassing protected wetlands, that inspired Nobel-prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, is under threat. The Northern Ireland government has approved the construction of a highway through this culturally significant landscape to carry 22,000 vehicles a day – a decision made even more shocking because there are other routes available that are less damaging for biodiversity. Heaney called these plans 'a desecration' before he died.

Take action >> sign to save the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg protected area

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland note that the road will come within metres of protected wetlands at Lough Neagh and Lough Beg Special Protection Area. It will damage one of the most important winter feeding areas for migratory Whooper Swans – a threatened species protected under EU law. The enormous environmental impacts of the development have been systematically ignored by the Northern Ireland government.

James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland said: "This is the last great wetland wilderness left in Northern Ireland and if we are to inspire the Seamus Heaneys of the future we need to stop this road."

Robbie Blake, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "This beautiful rolling countryside is under threat of being bulldozed, even though other, less destructive options are on the table. It's thoughtless destruction of natural and cultural heritage that's significant to the whole of Europe. The people of Northern Ireland have a right to experience and enjoy this nature."

This case shows why EU nature laws – designed to safeguard important natural habitats and species like Laugh Beg – are so important, but why the European Commission needs to clamp down on the regular instances where these laws are being breached.

European Commissioners are about to decide the fate of these vital nature laws after a prolonged review. An independent scientific study for the EC has shown that these directives are "fit for purpose" and require improved implementation and enforcement to better protect nature. The laws have received support from over half a million EU citizens, as well as environmental ministers and the European Parliament. However the European Commission has dragged its feet over whether to save or rewrite and undermine these key pieces of European legislation, which protect the area.

Robbie Blake continued: "Our strong EU nature laws are designed precisely to protect places like Lough Beg, if only President Juncker and the EU Commissioners would step in to defend them and put them into practice now."

We want our nature back

The tranquil landscape is beloved to locals, and is a great inspiration to local campaigner Dermot Hickson growing up in the area. Dermot is very clear that because of its cultural significance, this place belongs not just to the local people of Aughrim Hill, but to all of Ireland, and all of Europe. Here is his story:

Trees and hedges in the areas of Lough Beg are already being cut down to make way for this road, but construction cannot start while the Whooper Swans are present. International pressure can have a powerful impact on the Northern Ireland Government. We need to stand together to stop the construction of this road starting in March, when the Whooper Swan season is over.

Much will rest on a legal challenge to check whether building the motorway would break EU nature laws. The case will likely be heard in February 2017.