Epic battle to save Ballynahone Bog, greens claim it's in danger again
IT was one of Northern Ireland's most famous environmental battles.
Even TV botanist David Bellamy weighed into the debate after residents objected to planning approval to extract peat from Ballynahone Bog near Maghera.
A vigorous campaign saw the DoE eventually revoke planning permission and the bog was named an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
Nearly 25 years later, however, the bog is once again under serious threat, according to Friends of the Earth (FoE). It said the DoE had acted unlawfully in granting planning permission in December 2013 for an intensive chicken broiler facility to be built next to the bog.
The group wants the public to lobby Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the acting chief planning officer to overturn the decision, which it says is the third such intensive facility to be approved in close proximity to the bog, with similar developments given planning permission in 2010 and 2013.
The group said the airborne pollution that would be created by the unit is in some ways more insidious than direct peat extraction.
FoE said NIEA had recommended refusal of the latest planning application at least twice but eventually recommended approval, relying on the developer to "self-regulate" the impacts of the poultry unit.
The group branded the planning decision "manifestly unlawful", claiming it does not fulfil legal obligations under domestic or European law when there is a real and significant risk to a site of European importance.
FoE director James Orr said. "The requirement to employ the precautionary principle, which underpins the Habitats Directive, to protect these sensitive habitats has been ignored."
A DoE spokesman said planning permission was given on December 13, 2013 "with strict conditions imposed in order to protect the area".
"DoE Planning assessed the proposal against the environmental impact assessment regulations and determined that its size, nature and location are not likely to have significant environmental effects. As such it was determined that the proposal is not an environmental impact assessment development and that an environmental statement is not required."
He added that NIEA "concluded there would be no adverse effects on the integrity of Ballynahone special area of conservation provided the conditions were imposed".
Ballynahone Bog is Northern Ireland's second largest area of intact raised bog and supports a rich array of wildlife. It is now an Ulster Wildlife nature reserve and supports a huge range of bog species, including rare sphagnum mosses and bog rosemary. It supports the biggest known colony of large heath butterfly in Northern Ireland and is home to hen harrier, curlew, skylark, linnet and reed bunting. Barn owl and Irish hare have also been recorded.