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An inconvenient truth about sand mining

We frequently see many stories about illegal sand mining in developing countries. Often, it is implied that such problems are only faced in the Global South. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a global problem and advanced economies too face these difficult questions. Below is one such example.

We recently interviewed James Orr, Director of Friends of the Earth, Northern Ireland about Lough Neagh, and how it is being impacted by uncontrolled industrial activities such as sand dredging.

Lough Neagh, is the UK's largest freshwater body and is also one of the most important wetlands in Europe. It is also a RAMSAR site which means it has been designated as a wetland of international importance. In the 1980s it supported the UK's largest concentrations of overwintering water birds (scaup, pochard, tufted duck etc) & was designated N.Ireland's first Special Protection Area (SPA) in 1999. Shockingly though, Lough Neagh is also home to probably the biggest unlawful quarry in Europe, with over 1.5 million tonnes of sand dredged from it each year. Local bird populations have since declined drastically, water quality is at breaking point and fish populations are a shadow of what went before.

It is a contested landscape though. Many earn their livelihoods from industries that depend on the sand and they are obviously hostile to the idea of a threat to their industry. Some also feel a sense of entitlement. 'This is my land, my sand and I can do whatever I want with it'. There are no easy answers.

But here's what James had to say.