‘We’ve lost 150 acres to the sea’

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A Bellarena farmer prosecuted after illegal sea defences were erected on his land estimates local landowners have lost an area of farmland six times the size of the Walled City of Derry to the relentless waves of Lough Foyle over the past forty years.

Greg Allen (43) of Seacoast Road, Bellarena, was given a suspended sentence last week after 20,000 waste tyres were found buried or resting adjacent to the shoreline, on his Foyleside land between Limavady and Magilligan.

He told the Sentinel the tyres were put there to defend against the encroaching sea and that they work, but as world leaders prepare to convene in Paris to discuss climate change, Mr Allen has asked: what are local landowners to do?

“I’ve lost seven to 10 acres, I’d say, myself and my father over the past 40 years.

“That’s a loss of £8,000 per acre annually, a loss of £56,000 for the lot.

“And there are 15 farms along that stretch and they’ve lost the same, I’d say. All in all that’s up to 150 acres.”

Geographically, the stretch of coast in question has to be one of the worst affected anywhere on the entire island.

It’s known that the annual cost of securing, maintaining and pumping Lough Foyle out of the below sea-level Shackleton Barracks, for example, was recently estimated at £600,000.

Mr Allen says it’s exceptionally difficult for smallholders to keep their heads above water literally and figuratively given these types of overheads.

“Why are we being persecuted?” asked Mr Allen. “For changing the flow of water. What about the Eglinton defences?”

Local Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Ó’hOisín insisted relevant waste and environmental legislation needed to be observed by all.

But with a block of land six times the size of the Walled City having effectively transferred from small farmers to the Crown Estate over the past four decades, he recognised Bellarena’s as a special case.

“Coastal erosion along the Magilligan coastline has resulted in the loss of land to farmers which is having a serious impact on their livelihoods,” he said.

“I know one farmer who has lost around 12 acres of farmable land to erosion. Not only does this cut down on his farming income but he also loses out on the Single Farm Payment, which is reduced due to having less land.

“The loss of the coastline is also having a detrimental effect on wildlife along this stretch of coastline with natural habitats under threat.

“I am calling on more measures to be taken to protect our coastline and coastal habitat so it is important we put in place a strategy to stop this erosion.

“I welcome the fact the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has agreed to visit the area in the near future to see the extent of the land loss and look at ways in which we can stop any further erosion,” said Mr Ó’hOisín