Belfast Telegraph

Children say Neagh to lough litter

By Linda Stewart

Lough Neagh is as likely to harbour traffic cones and rogue socks as ducks and pike — or so the pupils of Antrim Grammar School have discovered.

Up to 30 students pitched in to clear up the detritus washed up at one of the lough’s most important beauty spots.

The students were marking this week’s World Wetlands Day by cleaning up the shore of the UK’s biggest freshwater lake — a major hotspot for breeding and overwintering wildfowl — at Rea’s Wood close to Antrim.

Ruth Wilson, biodiversity officer with Antrim Borough Council, said: “Unfortunately the shore at Rea’s Wood is in such a position that the winds blowing across the lough bring with them all sorts of rubbish.

“Wetlands are valuable habitats and we need to keep them litter-free. They provide us with important services for everyday life such as drinking water, fish, recharging of ground water reservoirs, flood control and recreational opportunities.

“The Lough Neagh Wetlands also support some of our rarer wildlife including the curlew, lapwing, reed bunting, wintering birds like whooper swans, fish such as pollan and rare plants including Irish ladies’ tresses.

“I am delighted to see Antrim Grammar school help to look after this internationally important local wetland. They all deserve a big ‘thank you’ for their hard work. They really are making a massive difference to their local environment.”

During the clean-up the pupils gathered more than 10 bags of rubbish, including a “ridiculous amount of plastic”, according to Jennifer Smyth, national coastal officer with Tidy NI, which joined forces with Antrim Borough |Council.

“There was heavy rain before the new year and that, combined with strong winds, has blown everything up onto the shore. It was really shocking to see how much litter there was on that shore,” she said.

“After the clean-up we went out on a boat to the shore at Shane’s Castle and it was absolutely covered in litter. We cleaned it up last year and it was spotless but there were traffic cones, containers, glass bottles and odd socks.

“This is a beauty spot and the litter really makes it look like an absolute dump. People will be throwing things in rivers and lakes and it gets washed in eventually and that’s why so much ends up on the shore.

“Birds are not the most intelligent animals and they will eat anything. They will eat bottle tops and cigarette litter and it will block them up, giving them digestion problems, and that will kill them. The litter also wrecks fishing gear.”

Paul Chapman, Antrim Borough Council warden, told the pupils: “It only takes a minute to put your rubbish into a litter bin or to take it along to your local Household Recycling Centre to be disposed of responsibly,” he said.

“Living with litter is not nice for anyone, it can spread disease, kill wildlife and is a real eyesore.

A host of volunteers will be following suit and cleaning up lakes and rivers this weekend.

A clean-up of the Ballinderry River will be carried out by CURE (Clean Up the River Environment) at Kildress near Cookstown, working at a site off the Lower Kildress Road. All are welcome to take part from noon until 3pm, children must be accompanied by an adult. Volunteers will also be at Ram’s Island, Lough Neagh, for a clean-up from 11am to 3pm. |Details on www.ramsisland.org.

Conservation Volunteers NI has also organised a clean-up at Canal Walk linear park at the mouth of the Toome Canal. Details from Susan Lynn at 028 9185 2817.

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