Lough needs to be protected in practice

THE Ulster Wildlife Trust would like to respond to Paul Leeman’s letter (January 5) and to commend some of the important points he made regarding the management of Strangford Lough and the restoration of the horse mussel reefs.

We absolutely agree that “the communities and businesses which live and work along its shores are the lifeblood of the area” and would reiterate his point that “the marine ecosystem of Strangford Lough is an important resource and it should of course be treated carefully”.

The unique features of Strangford Lough have led to it being the most highly designated and protected site in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, the management of certain aspects of the fauna and flora within the lough has caused the Ulster Wildlife Trust and others much concern over the past two decades.

The decline in the horse mussel communities, which are important not only in themselves but as the potential breeding grounds for other forms of wildlife, are particularly worrying.

This has culminated in the Trust seeking help from Europe to resolve the long-running disagreement with Government over its failure to implement a recovery plan for the horse mussels.

If we are to secure a truly sustainable future for the lough, its environment and diverse wildlife, upon which sustainable fisheries rely, then we need to ensure that adequate ‘non-disturbance zones’ are put in place.

Such zones are designed to give the horse mussels the chance to return to ‘favourable conservation status’, which should in turn benefit the fishermen as the horse mussels once again support the diversity of life that previously covered extensive areas of the seabed of Strangford Lough.

The Ulster Wildlife Trust urges the ministers involved to move hastily to secure a sustainable future in which Strangford Lough is protected not only in designation, but in practice.

Joe Furphy OBE

Chairman, Ulster Wildlife Trust