Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan has acknowledged the long term future of the internationally important salmon fishery in the Faughan is uncertain.
He has revealed that whilst both salmon and otter populations in the river are in a favourable condition at present “salmon is considered to be at risk due to the uncertainty of the long term trend in returning adults.”
Mr Durkan also revealed the invasion of non-native beech is endangering the quality of the oak woodland in the Faughan Valley.
The River Faughan has been designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to the presence of native oak woodland as well as the populations of otter and salmon.
But Mr Durkan acknowledged: “The woodland feature is in unfavourable condition due largely to the presence of invasive species such as beech.”
Green MLA Stephen Agnew asked the Minister if he felt the site had been harmed by “extant planning permissions in the vicinity of the river.”
Mr Durkan replied: “It is, therefore, considered that the integrity of the site has not been impacted by extant permissions having been missed.”
Mr Agnew also pointed out to the Minister that under the Habitats regulations competent authorities are required to review all permissions ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ once an SAC is classified.
Mr Durkan replied: “This is an ongoing process. The Department is undertaking the required review on a case by case basis.
“That is, where there are amendments or modifications to earlier applications approved before designation of the SAC, or if it is deemed necessary due to the
Department becoming aware of a particular issue with the project.”
The North Down Green MLA has been more exercised about the health of the Faughan than any other representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly.