Lough Beg still under threat, despite court delay


The future of Northern Ireland's Lough Beg nature reserve continues to be in doubt as a local conservationist continues an appeal against plans to build part of a dual carriageway through the wetlands.

Delays in the court case have been caused by campaigner Chris Murphy not having time to prepare his evidence. He is appealing against a previous decision to allow a four-mile extension of the A6 road between Belfast and Londonderry to be built through the Toome Complex swanfields, despite his claim that correct environmental checks had not taken place. The cost of construction is estimated at £160 million.

Judges claimed that the delays could add up to £8 million to the costs of the case due to a potential 10-month rescheduling, but Mr Murphy countered that costs had previously varied and that lawyers were exaggerating their points. The judges ruled that there "may be an element of unfairness" were the case to go ahead, and allowed an extension to the preparation period for the appeal until Friday 11 August; this final one-day hearing will be at 10.30 am in the Belfast High Court with a same-day judgement delivered.

While no one questions the need for an upgrade to the A6, 'brownfield' land on the site of an old aerodrome exists nearby which some have suggested would provide a less controversial alternative route.

Irish Lady's Tresses Orchid at Lough Beg (Chris Murphy).

The Lough Neagh–Lough Beg complex is the UK's second-biggest Ramsar wetland site and is already skirted by the road, leading to fears of a degradation of its important habitats should more road building take place. The RSPB — which has kept its distance from the ongoing court case and appeal — leases part of Lough Beg as a reserve, and has already negotiated a route change to the original proposal, but the current project also threatens important swan wintering grounds, possibly illegally. The larger Lough Neagh site just south of Lough Beg is also the subject of campaign and legal battle by Friends of the Earth to get sand extraction from the site regulated.

True to its name, the swanfields host important numbers of Whooper Swans, along with a few Bewick's and many European Golden Plover, all Annex 1 Special Protected Area species. The striking landscape of the area was made famous by the Nobel Laureate poet Seamus Heaney, who personally objected to the development before his death on 30 August 2013.

Protester Doris Murphy rooting for the Save Heaney Country campaign (Chris Murphy).

Chris Murphy has launched a crowdfunding scheme to help him defend Lough Beg for future generations. You can contribute to the fund here.