A Stormont decision to drop a conservation move for a Co Tyrone geological site was made against the recommendation of a Government advisory body, it has been learned.
The Lisnaragh site near Strabane had been declared an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) in March this year.
But Minister Sammy Wilson rescinded the position late last week.
His decision followed representations from landowner and quarrying interests, as well as concerns about the consultation process from the Assembly Environment Committee.
However, the Lisnaragh ASSI designation had been endorsed by the Council for Nature Conservation and Countryside (CNCC), a statutory adviser to Mr Wilson's department.
The DoE’s Environment Agency also backed the protection measure.
An Agency report circulated in September stated that a number of the ASSI objections came from landowners who “thought it would restrict the potential for exploiting sand and gravel deposits they might have on their lands”.
It also stated that the legislation did not permit “socio-economic” issues to be taken into consideration on designations.
The report said the site had been selected due to geological features that “demonstrate the glacial processes towards the end of the last ice age”.
Explaining the Minister's decision, a DoE spokesman said last Friday: “The Environment Committee wrote to the Minister on October 23 recommending that the ASSI at Lisnaragh should not be confirmed because of what it considered were inadequacies in NIEA's consultation with some of the landowners.
“Given that the decision to confirm or rescind the declaration had to be made by 30 October and that there was insufficient time to discuss the committee's concerns with the Minister, the decision was taken to rescind the declaration. These discussions will take place early next week.”
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson joked about Mr Wilson's unpopularity with environmental campaigners during his speech to his party's conference in Armagh on Saturday.
Mr Robinson said: “New ministers are often accused of going native when they take over a department.
“I think it's safe to say that, so far at least, Sammy seems to have resisted that temptation.
“However, I wasn't prepared to accede to his suggestion of changing the logo for the Environmental and Heritage Service to a depiction of a JCB.”