Shaftesbury Estate of Lough Neagh has made £245,918 profit since 2013 says Earl

Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury
-Credit: (Image: Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye)


Lord Shaftesbury says the Shaftesbury Estate of Lough Neagh has made £245,918 profit since 2013, including profits from sand dredging of the lake bed.

In a run down of his thoughts on Lough Neagh, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper who inherited the bed of Ireland and the UK's largest freshwater lake in 2005, says "whilst calls for me to 'give it back' continue, the question remains: to whom?"

His family has owned the rights to the bed of Lough Neagh dating back to the 17th century when Ireland was under colonial rule.

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The substack, in which he hit out at what he called "irresponsible misinformation regarding sand extraction and the ownership of the bed and soil of Lough Neagh", he says he believes he has "been used as a scapegoat for issues concerning the lough".

And that "the company’s licensing of sand extraction has been used as evidence of environmental harm, but studies undertaken to date have shown no significant harm is caused by this activity in the location it is currently permitted".

The hatched area outlines the zone in which sand traders have planning permission to extract sand in
The hatched area outlines the zone in which sand traders have planning permission to extract sand in -Credit:Planning Portal NI

He also said these activities "ha[ve] nothing to do with the causes of the blue green algae and does not result in bird or insect decline".

Companies have been extracting sand from Lough Neagh for almost 90 years and without any planning permission until 2021, following an almost decade-long campaign led by Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland.

The environmental charity took the government to court over its failure to stop the unauthorised dredging and won at the Court of Appeal in 2017. It decided the Northern Ireland government acted unlawfully by not stopping dredging at Lough Neagh, which is one of Europe’s most important wetlands.

While sand dredging was later given planning permission and five companies now hold licences allowing them to extract in return for royalties, half of which go to the Shaftesbury Estate and the other half to Northstone Ltd, concerns remain about its impact on the lough's ecology.

XR Wimborne have called for an end to sand extraction and for the lake to be publicly owned
XR Wimborne have called for an end to sand extraction and for the lake to be publicly owned -Credit:XR Wimborne

The blue-green algae blighting Lough Neagh is largely caused by pollution from farms and sewage and warmer temperatures from the climate crisis.

But following calls from the public to investigate any potential links between sand extraction and the toxin's spread, DAERA Minister Andrew Muir has ordered a review on its impact including a survey of the bed of Lough Neagh.

Activists calling for an end to sand extraction and for the public ownership of Lough Neagh recently held a peaceful protest in Lord Shaftesbury's English hometown to raise awareness about Lough Neagh's problems.

Joanna Bury from Extinction Rebellion Wimborne in East Dorset told us at the time: "Our demands are that we stop sand extraction immediately and allow public ownership of Lough Neagh."

A response from his Estate stated: "Their activity has been deemed lawful by the appropriate authorities; therefore the Shaftesbury Estate does not have the power to rescind the licences."

He has since said he would like to transfer "ownership of the Shaftesbury Estate of Lough Neagh Ltd into a charity or community trust model, with rights of nature included, as I think that this could be the best way to support the long-term future of Lough Neagh".

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