There are deep feelings of “sadness, anger, disbelief, fear and anxiety” over the Lough Neagh blue-green algae ecological crisis, according to a new report published today (Monday, June 24).

The report is based on a series of interviews conducted by researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, with local communities, including those involved in fishing and farming, who are most directly affected by the “environmental crisis” in Lough Neagh.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has previously stated that excess nutrients from agricultural activities and wastewater pressures are “primarily” to blame for the growth of the blue-green algae in Northern Ireland’s waters.

Many of the people interviewed by the Queen’s University research team for the report described Lough Neagh as a “natural resource” but also identified too much “nutrient” entering the lough as a key reason for the blue-green algae.

According to the report interviewees understood ‘nutrient’ to mean animal slurry or human waste.

Lough Neagh

The Queen’s University report also highlighted that many people around Lough Neagh have “strong links” to farming and while some blamed a “slurry-pollution problem” they were also reluctant to solely blame the algae crisis on farmers.

“We shouldn’t be demonising the farmer, we need the farmer on our side, they are part of our community,” one interviewee told researchers.

Other people who spoke to researchers also highlighted that most famers complied with environmental regulations.

On the shores of Lough Neagh in Co.Tyrone

But some blamed “intensive dairy and beef production” as a major reason for the issues currently affecting the lough.

Interviewees pointed to “slurry being spread right up to the edge of the lough and also entering the lough via sheuchs, streams and rivers”.

Other people who the researchers spoke to also raised the issue of climate change as another factor to be considered as a contributory cause of the blue-green algae crisis.

According to John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy at Queen’s and one of the authors of the new report, there is “a clear emotional dimension of people’s connection to and attachment to the lough”.

The research team from Queen’s also got a sense of “affection, reverence and deep concern” for Lough Neagh from the people they interviewed.

“One of the main findings of the report is the need for more research into the crisis, ecological, epidemiological and economic.

“It is also suggested that this research needs to be more collaborative, involving all members of the community and stakeholders, on the appropriate modes of governance and policy development needed for the restoration and ecologically sustainable management of the lough,” he added.