Members of Extinction Rebellion Wimborne staged a colourful protest at the gates of St Giles House in Wimborne St Giles, the seat of the Earl of Shaftesbury, on Monday 18th March, the St Patrick’s Day Bank Holiday in Northern Ireland.

“We want to raise awareness of the Earl of Shaftesbury’s exploitation of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. Lough Neagh is suffering an ecological catastrophe. Urgent action is needed,” said Joanna Bury, an environmental activist and author from nearby Wimborne Minster.

The Earl owns the Lough, which is the largest lake in the United Kingdom. It provides 40 percent of Northern Ireland’s drinking water, and is the home of a whole host of biodiversity – including migratory birds, fish, eels, and insects, all of which have suffered serious declines.

Last summer, the Lough was covered with blue green algae, a toxic bacteria that is a risk to human health and to biodiversity. Run off from agricultural land and human sewage has been blamed. Local communities and environmental groups report a downturn in fish and eel numbers in the Lough, and Queens University Belfast has found an eighty percent fall in migratory birds in the last decade, including the Whooper swan.

“The Lough faces a further severe challenge, namely sand extraction licensed by the Earl of Shaftesbury. 1.5 million tons of sand are dredged from the bed of the Lough every year. This causes environmental damage and likely exacerbates the ill effects of algal blooms, causing dead zones for fish,” continued Joanna.

Dr. Chris Hackney of Newcastle University carried out a survey of the depth of the Lough Neagh bed and found sand dredging alone has created scars up to 56 feet deep (17 metres) in places.

Last week, a cross-section of environmental protesters demanded urgent action outside Stormont in Belfast.

“The Earl of Shaftesbury must stop allowing sand extraction, and he must take action to reverse the damage done to the Lough: he is uniquely positioned to help with its recovery. Ideally, it should be properly managed in public ownership, but the Earl has not ruled out a private sale,” said Joanna.

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