Belfast Telegraph

Farmers take on the Crown in battle over vanishing land

By Brendan McDaid

The Crown Estate has been asked to cough up for coastal erosion eating into business and farm lands along Lough Foyle.

The Bellerena and Magilligan areas are believed to have been hit badly by erosion over recent years.

The Crown Estate is owned by the sovereign, but is not the personal property of the Queen.

Sinn Fein councillor Cathal McLaughlin is organising a meeting of farmers to discuss the problem. His party colleague, East Londonderry MLA Cathal |O hOisin, claimed many were losing their livelihoods.

One affected farmer yesterday said that many landowners had tried to build sea defences but were told by officials that they were breaching regulations.

The farmer, who did not wish to be named, said his own family has lost between five and six acres.

He said: “This has been ongoing for years and they say we can’t do anything because the Foyle delta is an area of special scientific interest because of some of the plants that were there along the sand banks. But that was 20 years ago and those plants and the banks have long since been washed away.

“You are talking here about £8,000 to £10,000 an acre and we are being told they can do nothing because we are told now this is Queen and country’s.

“It is hard enough making a living these days without losing acres and acres.”

Mr O hOisin said this was not an isolated case.

He said: “Fifty-six acres have been lost in recent years and this erosion is continuing unabated.

“The Crown Estate, which claims any land from the seabed up to the high water mark, now has claim to the land affected, with no recompense for local land owners. The Crown Estate, through its gain, should strongly consider a compensation package.

“Through a natural process of sea erosion, which has been extensive in this instance, the Crown Estate are financially better off while many who have lost land are now in financial difficulty. “

But a spokesman for the Crown Estate said it was not liable.

He also clarified that because the Crown’s sphere of influence was limited to 12 miles, if the coast changes, so does its outer boundary limits in open waters.

He added: “Where the foreshore is under Crown Estate management it can change year on year. Furthermore, if we gain area at the coastal end, we lose area at 12 nautical miles, which is where our management ends.

“Where this is a natural process there is no obvious financial benefit to The Crown Estate.”

He added: “The Crown Estate does not have responsibility for compensating for coastal erosion anywhere in the UK. However, we have invested in research to understand the likely effects and extent of coastal change.”

Mr O hOisin has also appealed to the Department of Agriculture to construct sea defences.

A department spokesman said the Rivers Agency maintains 26kms of sea defences.

“The agency monitors the effectiveness and condition of these sea defences and prioritises any financially viable works for improvement,” he added.

background

The Crown Estate is worth an estimated £7bn. It is responsible for more than 50% of the foreshore, including Lough Foyle, and almost all of the seabed around the UK. Its portfolio includes commercial and retail properties. The Crown Estate, while not the personal property of the Queen, is owned by the sovereign and is run by managing agents. Surplus net profits are passed on the Treasury “for the benefit of the nation”.

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