A group of construction industry businesses, led by Portuguese firm Somague, is facing legal action for a series of pollution incidents on a highly protected river in Northern Ireland. Local anglers have started a civil claim against the consortium, which includes Wills Bros and Sacyr, for sediment pollution of the River Faughan, a river in Derry that is designated as a Special Area of Conservation because of its Atlantic salmon populations.
In 2018 the firms won a £250 million contract to rebuild part of the new A6 between Derry and Belfast. However, after complaints made to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) by MSA member, Fish Legal, and its member the Faughan Anglers, NIEA and the Lough’s Agency began an investigation of multiple incidents of silt and sediment pollution caused by run-off from their work on the A6, which affected tributaries of the River Faughan and River Roe. In May 2023 the firms were prosecuted by Derry Magistrates and fined £10,000.
Represented by Fish Legal, River Faughan Anglers, a not-for-profit organisation that protects the environment of the Faughan, is now seeking damages for the pollution incidents via a civil claim. The club argue that the extra silt allowed to enter the river will have smothered gravels that are used by spawning salmon and prevented fishing.
Justin Neal, solicitor at Fish Legal, said: “The Faughan is a river which has been cared for over a hundred years by the local anglers. It’s protected by law and yet no safeguards were in place when the contractors worked on building the new A6. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when it rains, if steps have not been taken to avoid pollution, sediment will choke the river, smothering gravel and preventing fishing.”
He added: “The paltry fine these firms face for the pollution of a highly protected salmon river demonstrates how important civil action is in the fight against pollution. By taking this case we are demonstrating that polluters should pay towards protecting the salmon populations of this highly prized river in the future”.
Dean Blackwood, a director of the River Faughan Anglers stated, “Our voluntary-run organisation is grateful to Fish Legal for its effective intervention. Before that, there was little urgency shown by the regulator to prevent the serial pollution of the River Faughan being carried out by a company that was signed up to the Considerate Constructors Scheme. There was nothing considerate about how Somague / Wills Bros / Sacyr went about repeatedly polluting our river.”
Fish Legal has a separate legal action involving a river under threat in Northern Ireland. In April 2023, the organisation referred the environmental regulators in Northern Ireland to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) for failing to protect migratory fish including salmon, dollaghan and brown trout on the Crumlin River which flows into Lough Neagh. The OEP has accepted the complaint and is currently investigating the matter.