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Countryside Alliance Ireland provides update on Lough Neagh transfer

We have seen recently in the press the possibility of transferring Lough Neagh into a charity or community ownership. For years, Northern Ireland was referred to as a polo mint as everyone seemed to forget about the bit in the middle. However, with the recent challenges, there is agreement that something needs to be done with the Lough, especially with the ongoing issues with blue green algae, due to excess nutrients in the water and other factors, causing huge concern for those who live, work and use the Lough. 


So, who would the Lough be transferred to? Or what would any transfer look like? It was clear from the public meeting at the Seamus Heaney Centre in 2022 that the Lough Neagh Partnership, who have previously tried to facilitate a purchase of the Lough with the Development Trust Northern Ireland had many critics. 


A Stormont report into purchasing the Lough for £6 million, back in 2014, said it would be a bad idea. With a warning, taxpayers would also have to meet the on-going costs of management, administration and the potential cost of third party liability claims.


A Future Search event in 2016 was held in Toome to scope the future of Lough Neagh and its potential - as our shared responsibility - and the possible purchase from Lord Shaftsbury. The conference was attended by 64 key local influencers, all of whom have a stake in Lough Neagh.  Various ideas came forward such as floating solar panels, a jet ski area, a navigation authority and enhanced access to the Lough for tourists. Interestingly the biggest decline, according to the BTO, for wildfowl numbers is in the north-eastern shore where the local council has promoted tourism along its shores of the Lough.  Any change of ownership could affect shooting interests. Countryside Alliance Ireland stressed the value of wildfowling to the other delegates and continued to make the point for preservation of our rural activities on Lough Neagh during the three day event. This led to the Lough Neagh Development Trust, whose desire is still to purchase the Lough and bring it into community control. 


Wildfowlers do take a small number of birds for the pot, with many clubs imposing a bag limit on members. However, they play a key role in the control of not just vermin but also invasive species such as Mink and Himalayan balsam for the benefit of conservation, normally in their own time and at their own cost. They help improve habitats by removing litter from around the Lough, putting up bird boxes, encouraging wildfowl populations to increase with duck nesting tubes, and those with islands often remove trees and scrub to detract avian predators. 


Wild fowling clubs also help bring communities together, encouraging the young to get involved as they are the future custodians of the Lough, and raising money for local causes benefiting their local communities.


However, more needs to be done to promote this great work and the value of our wildfowling community.  


Depending on what any transfer looks like, our opponents may try and use this opportunity to stop or restrict wildfowling on the Lough. Whatever the future holds, the value of wildfowlers needs to be recognised, as Bob Davidson said during his surveys of the Lough.


Lough Neagh is an important site for large numbers of wintering birds but it also provides a range of habitats for breeding birds in the summer. Joe Mahon joined bird expert, Bob Davidson, at the Kinnego Hide on Oxford Island for some fascinating insights into the private lives and parenting skills of coots, grebes and swifts. Bob was carrying out a survey of the small islands or “flats” of Lough Neagh which are valuable nesting sites for a range of birds, but which are threatened by the growth of trees and scrub and by predators such as mink and rats. One of his greatest allies in combating such threats is, believe it or not, the local wildfowling club who expend more energy on conservation than they do on shooting.

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