Strangford Lough: “It is not as if the two departments did not know what needed to be done.”

It’s worth stating at the beginning that the European Commission haven’t, yet, imposed a fine for the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to protect and restore a special habitat, of [protected species] horse mussel beds, in Strangford Lough – a designated Special Area of Conservation, an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar (protected wetland) site.

But, BBC NI environment correspondent, Mike McKimm’s latest report suggests it won’t be long coming…

Agriculture implement fishing regulations and controls in Strangford Lough. Environment tries to ensure everyone follows the rules of the EU Habitats Directive and protects the environment.

But as Anna Lo, the chairperson of the assembly’s environment committee, explained the two departments are not getting along.

“The two departments haven’t really been working together enough,” she said.

“They have different remits and different goals. One is protecting the natural environment and the other is protecting the economy. When they don’t work together the problem is in implementing the restoration plan.”

And that is a big problem for Environment Minister Alex Attwood. It is his department that will get the blame if we get fined yet he cannot force the agriculture department to do what he says.

“We are running close to huge infraction fines, starting at £7m and going upwards”, admitted Mr Attwood.

“That is why I have tried to prevail upon the department of agriculture. We are making progress, that what we are proposing in terms of no fishing and restoration is the right way forward. That is a work in progress.”

By now the two departments are supposed to have restored the mussel reefs to a sustainable level, imposed non-disturbance zones and brought in legislation to protect the areas involved. But all of that is still to happen nine years after they promised Europe it would.