Northern Ireland

Fermanagh river access blocked by farmer

A hay bale blocks access to the lane
Image caption A hay bale blocks access to the lane

Access to a slipway, moorings and car park used by fishermen near Belleek has been closed by a farmer.

The facility near Castle Caldwell, Lower Lough Erne, was publicly funded but the lease for the land has expired.

Fishermen only became aware of the situation when hay bales blocked the road leading to the site.

A landowner has reported concerns to the Department of Cultural Arts and Leisure (DCAL) about the behaviour of some people using the facility.

It is understood some fishermen have blocked access to his land by parking their cars in the narrow lane leading to the car park.

On one occasion a fisherman is said to have beeped his car horn as the farmer was herding cattle between his fields, startling the animals.

Another landowner said he was concerned about public liability insurance and that he would be held responsible if there was an accident.

Competition

The slipway at the mouth of the Garvary River near Castle Caldwell is the one of the few places boats can be launched between Belleek and Kesh.

A fishing competition organised by a local angling club last month has used the slipway in the past but it was moved to another part of the lake.

The exact amount of public money spent on the facility is not known, but a new slipway built recently at Muckross near Kesh cost £100,000.

The 10-year lease for access has now expired and the Department for Culture Arts and Leisure says it is negotiating with the farmers to reopen the lane.

The farmers have said they have had little or no contact with DCAL since the lease expired.

A spokesperson said: "DCAL improved angling access and infrastructure at this site around 10 years ago. Exact costs for the project are not available.

"Landowners have reported concerns about the behaviour and conduct of some people using this access.

Private facility

"The department is involved in ongoing negotiations to resolve this issue."

Although it was built with public funds, the jetty is marked on the Lough Erne Ordnance Survey map as a private facility.

When DCAL was asked to clarify the situation and whether access to the site could still be made from the water, the BBC was told that the matter was now in the hands of departmental solicitors.

Lough Erne is a popular fishing destination with five weeks of competitions starting at Easter and more in September.

Last week 215 fishermen were in County Fermanagh for the Waterways Ireland Classic Fishing Festival.

It is organised by Fermanagh District Council which estimates that fishing contributes almost £2m to the local economy each year.

Eddie McGovern, who is the council's tourism development officer, said landowners had been very accommodating as a lack of rainfall meant the water level in Lough Erne was not suitable for coarse fishing competition.

He said they had given access to other inland lakes which provided some of the best catches in the competition.

Mr McGovern added that they depended on the goodwill of local landowners and that any problems that arose were rare.