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High Court decision

Sand dredging on Lough Neagh -  Friends of the Earth response


Today the High Court in Belfast decided not to order an immediate halt to sand dredging at Lough Neagh, one of Europe’s most important wetlands. [1] [2]

The environmental campaign group brought the legal challenge over the Department of Environment’s failure to stop sand extraction at the Lough, which has been taking place without planning or other consents.   Approximately 1.5 million tons of sand is suction dredged from the bed of the lough every year.

Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland Director, James Orr said:

“This decision is a major blow to Northern Ireland’s environment.

“This vitally important wildlife site is supposed to be protected under international law – if we can’t protect these precious areas, then nowhere is safe.

“The Northern Ireland government must put in place a system to sustainably manage the Lough and its sand resource as soon as possible. This is surely in everyone interests - including the sand industry.”

James Orr added:

“Our legal team will study this judgement very carefully to see what grounds we may have to appeal this decision.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland said:

“This is terribly disappointing. This is unregulated damage in a designated nature reserve. Industrial sand dredging on this scale is simply not sustainable for Lough Neagh [3] [4] or the dredgers.

“This judgement casts a dark shadow over the long-term security of all Northern Ireland’s finest natural sites. These wetlands have an importance beyond these shores making this failure to protect them hugely irresponsible. This decision shows why we need to strengthen, not weaken, protection for nature when the UK leaves the EU". [5]


[1] All parties agreed that the sand dredging needed planning permission and an Environmental Impact Assessment and this activity did not have either. 

[2]. Bordering five of Northern Ireland’s six counties, Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles at 18 miles long and 7 miles wide and the third biggest in Europe.

[3] Lough Neagh has multiple environmental designations that include: an Area of Special Scientific Interest, A Special Protection Area under the European Union Birds Directive, a Ramsar site protected under the international Ramsar Convention. In the 1980s the Lough supported the UK's largest concentrations of overwintering water birds (including scaup, pochard, tufted duck) But the Loughs’s wildlife (birds and fish) and water have been deteriorating for some time due to a combination of factors

[4] Prior to the case, the Department of Environment had accepted there could be many significant effects on the lough and environs from dredging in a document called an EIA determination.  Over 20 likely significant environmental effects were identified including pollution, disturbance of sand bars, disturbance to wildlife, depletion of a finite resource, sediment deposition from barges, traffic movements, and impacts on other industries such as fishing and tourism

[5] Friends of the Earth exists to protect people and wildlife from harmful activities and in Northern Ireland we have campaigned for many years to improve environmental governance in the country.

For further information, please contact Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland on 028 9023 3488.


Published by Friends of the Earth Ltd