Why is Lough Neagh dying? Northern Ireland’s most precious wildlife site is facing disaster

Lough Neagh is one of Northern Ireland’s most precious wildlife sites. The Lough also supplies 40% of Northern Ireland's drinking water. It's supposed to be protected under international, European, and Northern Ireland law. Yet it's facing disaster.

Toxic blooms of blue-green algae, which are a result of fertilizer run-off from farming, have made the water a major health hazard. Water quality is poor, and birds and fish are disappearing.

This pollution can’t be ignored.

Lough Neagh is drowning in filthy pollution and toxic algae

Save Lough Neagh

What’s at risk?

The Lough represents the soul of Northern Ireland. The Lough is vast. Bigger than the country of Malta, and has been a haven for wildlife, wellbeing, traditional fishing communities and recreation. But it’s now so badly polluted from sewage and agricultural pollution, that it’s dying.

As one of our most important living ecosystems, the Lough deserves care and support. Our director in Northern Ireland, James Orr, spoke to Sky News. He explains what's killing the Lough and how the toxic blue-green algae is killing animals and making people sick.

Declaring a crime scene

Lough Neagh is dying and so we staged a stunt and declared the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) offices a crime scene.

NIEA which is part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has systematically failed to regulate pollution and protect wildlife and local communities. We believe that DAERA have failed to comply with the Water Framework Directive, Habitats Directive, Wildlife and Natural Environment Act and many other environmental laws.

We have the crime scene, but no police to hold the criminals to account.

A staged crime scene. People are wearing protective white suits and are laying out criminal tape. Black and white image, very moody and dark.

Help fight the ecological emergency


Fighting sand dredging in court

It’s not just the pollution destroying Lough Neagh.

1.5 million tons of sand is suction dredged from the bed of the Lough every year. And for over 30 years this was the biggest unauthorised development in the history of Northern Ireland.

We welcomed the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal decision in 2017 that said the Northern Ireland government acted unlawfully by not stopping the dredging at Lough Neagh. And although we've already tasted success, we've had to take new action against the Department for Infrastructure.

The sand suction barge “Bayshore” discharging her cargo at Emerson's Quay, Lough Neagh
A pile of sand unlawfully extracted from Lough Neagh

New action against sand dredging

We'll be standing against the Department for Infrastructure when the Planning Appeals Commission call a public inquiry into the new sand dredging application. The planning application wants to open sand dredging for night-time operations and increase the size of ships.

We’re also aware that sand dredgers are operating beyond their permitted boundaries. We call on the Department for Infrastructure to issue a stop notice. We expect the public inquiry to take place in 2024/25.

A pile of sand unlawfully extracted from Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh is drowning in filthy pollution and toxic algae

Save Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh should be the jewel in the crown of Northern Ireland. It should be a place of pride, thriving commerce and abundance. As James Orr says:

For over 3 decades I have grown to love Lough Neagh. I want to see it restored to an abundant, thriving ecosystem.

We should be celebrating its mythology, history and its unique sense of place. It should be our Lake Geneva.

Help us make a difference

If we can’t save such a designated protected site, then nowhere is safe. Help us protect Lough Neagh.

Friends of the Earth has been researching what a Recovery Plan for Lough Neagh might look like and have developed a number of principles, as listed in our vision above. We would also welcome any comments you might have on a recovery plan. 

Please write to us at [email protected]