Northern Ireland

'Swan walk' near route of new A6 road at Toombridge

Whooper swans at Lough Beg
Image caption Whooper swans at Aughrim Hill, part of the A6 route past Toome

A "guided swan walk" is taking place near an internationally protected wetland which has been the subject of a high-profile court challenge to the route of the new A6 dual carriageway.

The wetland at Lough Beg, County Antrim, is an important habitat for birds, including Whooper swans.

Last year, environmental campaigner Chris Murphy lost his legal challenge to the A6 road project.

He argued the route would cut through key feeding grounds for the swans.

Mr Murphy lost his initial case against Stormont's Department for Infrastructure and later lodged an appeal.

However, the court that heard his appeal in September ruled that the proposed road would have "no direct impact" on the birds.

Image caption The A6 upgrade will cover a 9 mile stretch from the Toome bypass to Castledawson

At the time, Mr Murphy said he intended to take his case to the Supreme Court in London.

He is to find out if the judges will agree to hear his case later this month.

'Enormous importance'

On Saturday, Mr Murphy will be among the speakers attending an event to celebrate the wildlife at the wetland, including Whooper swans.

Environmentalists and nature lovers are gathering at Lough Beg to learn more about the migratory swans, which overwinter in nearby fields.

As well the guided nature walk and speeches on the environmental importance of wetlands, the family-friendly event also includes face-painting, origami and other arts and craft activities.

Speaking to BBC News NI ahead of the event, Mr Murphy said the Lough Beg wetland was of "enormous importance" to him personally and to the island of Ireland as a whole.

"I have given up 18 months of my life for this - my family and everything has been on hold," he said.

Image copyright NASA
Image caption Chris Murphy, seen here at an earlier court appearance, lost his legal challenge

He claimed the wetland would have "no value" if the road proceeds along the proposed route.

He said he would continue to speak up for the "children of the future" and the swans, as they "have no voice".

'Key infrastructure project'

Mr Murphy's legal challenge centred on his claim that the road project would cut through key feeding grounds for the Whooper swans, which are a protected species.

He claimed the Department of Infrastructure had not carried out an appropriate assessment of the road's impact, but department said its environmental information was up to date.

The swans have arrived for the winter and the department has agreed not to start any work until they leave.

Image caption Whooper swans from Iceland pictured at Lough Beg

Mr Murphy has always said that he is not against the £160m road, just the route. He claims an alternative is available.

The department said the road is a key infrastructure project which is badly needed to improve road safety and journey times between Belfast and Londonderry.

On its website, it states: "DfI Roads has carried out extensive research and consultation to ensure that the new dual carriageway between Toome and Castledawson does not upset the ecologically important wetlands around Lough Beg.

It adds: "The Whooper swan feeding habitat, affected by the road, is entirely outside the nationally and internationally protected wetlands and measured against the vast Lough Neagh and Lough Beg wetland, the area lost is very tiny."

Related Topics

More on this story