Lough Neagh is a wetland of global importance (our first Ramsar site), a Special Protection Area (designated under the EU Birds Directive) and has numerous other accolades meant to give it strict protection.
If the rivers of a land are its arteries, then Lough Neagh is our heart.
But the system isn’t working
Until recently this vast ecosystem teemed with fish and birdlife. The Lough lost around 100,000 birds in 10 years.
Water quality is so poor with sewage and farm effluent it is described as hypereutrophic.
Dredging companies scour millions of tons of sand from the bottom of the Lough. It seems that nothing will stop the Lough’s fragile bed being turned to cement and concrete.
Shifting baseline syndrome
Shifting baseline syndrome is the idea that severe ongoing losses of nature gets normalised in the minds of each new generation, redefining what we perceive as 'natural' according to an impoverished standard.
What if we shifted our baseline on Lough Neagh to embrace what we could achieve instead of framing our perception of this heartland by what we are losing? It depends where we want to pitch our imaginative level.
Lough Neagh needs a bigger story: a rewilding programme so ambitious that it has the potential to heal not only nature but the wounds of our ancient divisions.
Nelson Mandela was a founding patron of the Peace Parks Foundation. After conflict, he believed in the Peace Park as a new way to reconnect people, nature and culture.
Healing divisions through restoring nature is the first step in allowing communities to flourish and feel at one.
In Germany the physical division between east and west has become a nature reserve; a place known as the Green Belt, a place of togetherness.
Across the world we have seen how depleted ecosystems can be restored through a unity of traditional knowledge and science.
Peace agreements that fail to make peace with the earth will fail to make peace between people.
Models of development based on extraction of resources sow the seeds of further conflict. Models based on sharing space with our neighbours build lasting peace.
Lough Neagh is the heartland that connects all of us, our biggest commons. Rewild the heart of this place and you rewild the human imagination.
For me, Lough Neagh has become a place for hope. We have turned our back on Lough Neagh but we should embrace it with an open heart.
This story was originally printed in the Spring 2019 issue of the Northern Ireland newsletter. Download a PDF version of the newsletter.