Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guest Post: From the Amazon to Antrim

Contradiction is an occupational hazard for the Minister of the Environment, Edwin Poots. Responsible for the protection, conservation and promotion of the natural environment, the Minister is selective in his decisions, one minute stopping a proposal to build an incinerator on the Ballyutoag Road, near Lough Neagh, and the next minute approving an incinerator on the shores of Lough Neagh, a tourist destination in a green belt area. 

Recently the Minister appealed for information over the shocking unlawful killing of seals in Strangford Lough, however he is content to allow the destruction of marine life in Lough Neagh by water abstraction to facilitate the proposed incinerator, not to mention the destruction of the surrounding wild life habitat. No longer will the blue flash of the Kingfisher be seen along the banks of the Glenavy River as there will be nothing in the river to feed on when the water pipeline from the incinerator pumps out its sludge into the river.

In approving the Lough Neagh / Moypark incinerator, the Minister is in good company. The multi-national beef/ poultry giant, Marfrig , from Brazil, is behind the proposal to build the incinerator and has no problem in locating it on the shores of Lough Neagh. Why would Marfrig, who own Moypark, care about the destruction of the Lough and surrounding countryside when this Company has profited from dealing in cattle from illegally deforested land in the Amazon, contributing to the destruction of the rainforests. Only since Marfrig were exposed by Greenpeace in it’s report ‘Slaughtering the Amazon’ have they issued a statement undertaking not to acquire and sell cattle meat from deforested areas of the Amazon.

We should be under no illusion, Lough Neagh and its surrounding area of high scenic value hold no value for Marfrig and the Environment Minister Edwin Poots. Rather than protect, conserve and promote the Lough, Mr Poots seems to have more in common with this Brazilian beef giant than the community which lives and makes its living around the Lough Shore.

From the Amazon, where the rainforests have been sacrificed for the benefit of the beef industry, to Antrim, where the shadow of this multi-national now looms, we must secure the fate of Lough Neagh against the same threat.

Mrs Briege Mack
15 Edenturcher Road

Phone No. 02890 270682

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rams Island Walk - Christmas Day 2010

Check out the smug grins! Danny Moore and Drew Moore at Rams Island, Christmas Day 2010. First time in sixty three years anyone made the walk. Photo by Dominic Moore.

Lough Neagh folklore, dating back millennia, tells of the fairy path from Langford Lodge and the Crumlin River out to Rams Island. The story goes that there is a secret path and once in a lifetime the fairies walk out to the Island.

I've often wondered if the truth behind the legend is the local tradition of walking out on the ice to Rams Island when the Lough freezes, in extreme winters such as 1947 and 1895. There are records of people making this walk during half a dozen winters since 1800, and more before. In the most extreme winters, adventurers rode out to Rams Island on horseback, and even by horse and cart.

Centuries of bragging rights are passed down through family trees. My brother was speaking to Denis Wilson of Glenavy in mid-December, when he mentioned with pride that his great grandfather drove a horse and cart out to Rams Island in 1895. His father attempted to repeat the feat in 1947, driving a jeep a few hundred yards out towards the Island, before aborting when his passenger panicked. Resigned to a lifetime of being the guy who bottled it!

Not quiet a horse and cart!  Yours truly on the quad off 28 Shore Road, in front of Rams Island.  Christmas morning 2010.

The period from November 23rd to December 26th 2010 gave us our opportunity to make history. Based on historical temperature records for Armagh dating back to the 1850s December was the coldest month in Northern Ireland since February 1895.  There were only three months in the last 160 years that were colder, February 1895, December 1878 and January 1881. It should be noted that there was a period of milder weather from December 27th onwards, which underlines the unusual intense cold that went before. By my reckoning there may have been an air frost down by the Lough every day from late November to Boxing day. That period could possibly be the coldest 30 day block since 1850!

As in my previous post on the Glenavy River we first made it out onto the ice on December 8th. There was a thaw and some wind for a few days which cleared the ice. The freeze proper began during the day on Saturday 18th, with the whole bay rock solid from Monday 20th.

Canadian ice fishing!  Block of ice cut from Lough Neagh with a chainsaw.  Christmas Day, 2010.

As the week passed and the frost seemed to get harder and harder we realized that we might get the first chance to walk out to Rams Island in sixty three years (since 1947). The ice seemed ready by Thursday 23rd (when we held the Ice Barbecue) but the forecast was for the frost to hold until Boxing day so we decided to wait and let another forty eight hours of severe frost do its job. We also brought safety equipment, ropes, life jackets, wet suits, a compass, extra camera batteries and generally lots of kit!

JCB driving on Lough Neagh! We went to great lengths to test the ice on Christmas morning before venturing out of the shallows. Why test with a brick when you can test with a seven ton JCB? The caveat of course is that the water is only a foot or so deep.

Christmas morning was majestic! There was a change in the air with icy sunshine and crystal clear views to the Sperrin Mountains, and temperatures back to well below -10C.

Ice seems to stretch all the way past Langford Lodge to Slieve Gallion in the Sperrin Mountains! Crystal clear winter sunshine, December 25th 2010.  From 28 Shore Road.
After about three hours of deliberation, Drew, Domnic and I donned the safety gear and "hit the bid." Honestly, setting out was the scariest thing I've done in my life, although we'd spent a lot of time on the ice through the week this was the first time we were venturing over water more than four feet deep. In the end the walk itself was uneventful and there wasn't so much as a creak out of the ice. We considered riding the quad out to get over as quickly as possible, but in the end we went on foot. I was out front with a wind surfing board as a floatation device in the worst case. We probably overdid the safety theme by dragging a boat with us too!

Drew and Domnic about a mile out in the middle of the bay, with Divis Mountain in the background. The boat was never far away, though there wasn't so much as a creak out of the ice. It is easy to see how someone could have made the trip with a horse and cart.
The bay out to Rams Island froze for the third time in thirteen months during a period of unexpected frost in mid January 2011, under a "mild" high pressure. Although the ice was never strong enough to even consider walking out on (only Sam the dog was out), it turned out to be very destructive. It broke up when quite a strong south west wind developed as the high moved away. Waves and ice are a nasty combination, pulling down every fence along the shore. Funny how the least significant freeze did the most damage!

There was something tragic about reaching a lifetime goal and completing the walk. It was a truly wonderful experience, but in all probability, we'll never get another chance to repeat it. That will be left to our children or grand children. From the temperature records, there was a cluster of cold winters between 1867 and 1895, with five winters where Lough Neagh could have frozen hard enough to walk to Rams Island. If the last two winters signaled the beginning of such a cluster it would not be unprecedented to see another big freeze in the next ten years. However, more likely we'll have to wait fifty to sixty years before there is another chance for someone to walk the fairy path out to the Island.

Moore family at sunset on Christmas Day 2010.  Frozen Lough Neagh and Rams Island in the background. Getting Lily in a photograph is almost as rare as the Lough freezing.  Sam (the Border Collie), Drew and I walked out to the Island a few hours earlier.

CALNI "Protecting the Future"
Professor Sir George Bain titled his report to Planning Services objecting to the Moy Park Incinerator "Protecting the Future".

In one respect, Lough Neagh Ice and the fairy path to Rams Island are extreme events, though they do serve to illustrate a point. The first reference to people walking out to Rams Island I've read was in the 1600s, though the folklore and legend suggest that people have made the walk over thousands of years. Realistically, the Incinerator might prevent the Lough freezing for fifty or a hundred years, but the elements will most likely wrestle back control at some point; though none of us would be around to see it!

A much bigger danger in my mind is the damage that the thermal pollution could do to the ecosystem and in particular the unique spawning grounds in the shallows that run from Sandy Bay up to Lennymore and the mouth of the Crumlin river. As we've pointed out repeatedly, the same conditions that make our area one of the first to freeze, also create unique habitats for many aquatic species, and equally, make the whole ecosystem highly susceptible to thermal pollution. This damage will be irreversible, species and an ecosystem lost forever.

The water crisis that hit after the big freeze also served to remind us that Lough Neagh is the drinking water catchment for over 50% of the people in Northern Ireland, so any risk to the ecosystem could quickly pass on to become a human health issue with severe economic consequences for Northern Ireland Plc. Northern Ireland water has plenty of problems today, it would have a lot more problems if it could no longer draw from Lough Neagh. This is not just a potentially devastating issue for cold water fish species, it is an issue for every household in Northern Ireland that drinks water sourced from the Lough.

In light of the above it should come as no surprise that Lough Neagh has a score of environmental designations at the local, national, European and global levels. It is also viewed as one of the top nine assets in Northern Ireland by the Tourist Board and a strategic economic asset. Considering that 51% of the drinking water supply comes from the Lough it would be easy to justify making it the single most important economic asset in the province.

We must continue to stand up to 'The Man', Marfrig and the Poultry Industry, the risks are way to great and there is no way to justify this act of environmental vandalism!

Rams Island over the ice at sunset on Christmas Day 2010.  It will most likely be another fifty years before someone gets the chance to make the walk, and only if we protect the future for our children and grand children by ensuring the Moy Park Incinerator never gets built.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Minister Poots: Glenavy residents not a priority

Everyone in the Crumlin and Glenavy area is aware of the odour problems from the 'Knackery', Glenfarm subsidiary UFBP on the Ballyvannon Road.  Critically, in the incinerator debate, Glenfarm are Moy Park's partner in the venture and proximity to the UFBP plant was a determining factor in the site selection.

In a previous release we highlighted that members of the community have made close to a thousand complaints to NIEA about nusciance odour from the plant in the last five years.  The rule of thumb in these things is that only one in thirty people impacted will make the effort to complain, so an already alarming number of complaints most probably just highlights the tip of the iceberg.

It should be noted that odour from the plant was precipitating hundreds of complaints before the incinerator planning application was lodged, so this isn't just another example of NiMBYism.  In fact, older people in the community are quick to emphasize that the stink from the Knackery has been a feature of the area since the 1950s.

Over the last few years we became increasingly aware of senior citizens in around the plant complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath in conjunction with the odor and plume.  The quote below is extracted from an email my mother sent to the NIEA regulator a few months ago.

“Dear Keith,
There has been an absolutely awful odour from UFBP during the night – like smoke from a bonfire overlaid with a smell like grease that’s gone on fire, or burning plastic. Again the odour permeated the house. I’ve been coughing and clearing my throat all night so much so that I have a raw throat and sore chest this morning. There are huge clouds of white smoke billowing up from the taller chimneys and the blustery wind is bringing them down to below tree level. These billowing clouds of smoke were visible during the night even though it was and is overcast. Recent heavy rain has given respite from the odour. This is a totally unacceptable way for people to have to live their lives.”

This horrified me, and we repeatedly emphasized to both Minister Poots and the Regulator that they need to get to the bottom of it.  We also started pressing them to disclose the monitoring data so we could understand the actual chemical content of the plume to fully assess the health risks posed to the pensioners in our community, and everyone else for that matter!

Thomas Burns MLA recently raised the issue in an assembly question, the answer is included below.  The bottom line, despite fifty years of problems and close to a thousand complaints in the last five years, the NIEA regulator doesn't have detailed empirical data on the chemical contents of the plume and odour from the UFBP Plant, hasn't done a detailed study of the emissions and Minister Poots doesn't see this as a priority!

I'm left with the impression that we live in a 'Banana Republic' where commercial interests can do whatever they like; there is nothing that we (the community) can do about it; and the Minister views any impact on our parents and grand parents as collateral damage!  


t:  dannymoore_ni

Ulster Farm By-Products Factory at Ballyvannon Road, Glenavy
Mr T Burns asked the Minister of the Environment whether the Northern Ireland Environment Agency is aware of the precise chemical composition of the plume and odour caused by the processing and incineration operations at the Ulster Farm By-Products factory at Ballyvannon Road, Glenavy.

(AQW 3562/11)
Minister of the Environment: The thermal oxidisers at Ulster Farm By-Products treat odorous compounds arising from the process by oxidation at high temperature. The oxidation process breaks down these compounds to form substances such as carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and water. The permit sets a limit for residual volatile organic compounds (VOC) at 20 mg/m 3 and for hydrogen sulphide at 1 part per million by volume.

NIEA has not carried out a full analysis of the chemical composition of the emission to air from the process. It would not be an appropriate use of resources to set permit limits, or monitor for every conceivable compound within the plume. The Agency seeks to ensure the substances of most relevance to the facility are monitored. In this case volatile organic compounds (VOC) and hydrogen sulphide are the most relevant as they are an established proxy for odour. Direct odour measurements have also been carried out by the operator to determine the effectiveness of the thermal oxidisers.

Depending on weather and processing conditions, there may be a visible plume from the thermal oxidisers. This is caused by condensation of water vapour arising from the cooking process.

Lignite Moratorium doesn't apply in Crumlin


By way of a quick information update.

As many of you are aware the plan to resume lignite mining in Crumlin is progressing.  The planning application was submitted last May and is under consideration.  A number of people have submitted objections.

Planning Services have confirmed that the province wide moratorium on lignite exploration does not apply in Crumlin, so it will not prevent the mine from going ahead.

An example of one rule for North Antrim (and everyone else for that matter) and another for Crumlin and Glenavy?

CALNI has repeatedly emphasized the potential links between the site selected for the incinerator and the Crumlin lignite deposit.

See my earlier post.



t:  dannymoore_ni

Sunday, January 16, 2011

DARD estimates of litter disposal costs are Crazy!

Back in the autumn we did a bit of work with the poultry industry from south of the border.  Notably, the industry there has implemented a number of schemes to allow their growers to work within the confines of the Nitrates Directive, so we were curious to understand how this was achieved.

A detailed .pdf document outlining the approach taken across the border is available on the CALNI website.

Most regions in the EU have been able to comply with the Directive since 2007, generally without using incineration.  One key point we wanted to understand was the potential disposal costs if incineration wasn't used, and in particular how these related to the vast sums of public money rumored to be required to underpin the Moy Park Incinerator project.

In this respect, the direction we were given raised several red flags.  We estimated that the total disposal costs for  the NI industry should be around £3 million per year based on the current costs of 12 Euro per ton borne by farmers in the south.  (That is 200,000 tones times 12 is approx. 2.4m Euros, so we rounded up to £3 million pounds for good measure).

The two most obvious red flags were:

(i)   From my perspective, no sensible business would spend in excess of £100m to solve a £3m per year problem; it simply doesn't make sense.
(ii)  A £3m per year problem does not threaten the 7000 jobs in the poultry industry and their supply chain.  Moy Park turnover in 2009-2010 was £780m, so the disposal costs would come in at less than 0.5% of turnover.

Critically, given that the potential costs are so low (relative to turnover), the business wouldn't be under threat even if disposal costs were five times those in the ROI.  Also, speaking as an entrepreneur, if someone outside the industry were to bring a solution to market, it should be possible to charge £3m to £6m of gate fees for dealing with the problem without denting Moy Park margins; a commercial win-win for everyone.

As a next step in the analysis we were interested to assess the perception of litter disposal costs held by DARD and industry officials.  The obvious concern was that these must be somewhat removed from reality otherwise there would be no way to justify supporting the Moy Park Incinerator, never mind all the scare mongering regarding the 7,000 jobs.

To this end, Thomas Burns submitted an assembly question back in November (see the question and answer below).

It appears that DARD and the industry are of the view that the best solution we can come up with after twenty years would see a disposal cost of £90 per ton, nine times that for the approach already being used in the south.

We did ask a senior executive from the industry across the border to give a view on the £90 per ton figure and how it could be justified.  To summarize the response:

"No that seems terribly high!" ... finishing with ... "These guys must be costing in bringing the litter to East Anglia & Lincolnshire.  If [you] want to produce a crazy costing it is easy, just make the final destination very far away with multiple drop and re-loadings."

Consequently, from my perspective the £90 per ton litter disposal cost looks like a fantasy number pulled from the air at best, artificially inflated to provide justification for an inappropriate project at worst. Realistically, a conservative figure should be in the £15 to £20 range, or lower if the NI industry can be competitive with the £10 per ton levels being realized in the south.

My challenge to DARD, InvestNI and the industry:  stop messing about and come up with a low cost approach that disposes of surplus litter from NI farms for less than £10 per ton!!

Given the impasses to date, perhaps it is time for some fresh thinking. Perhaps put the problem out to tender in the private sector?

Best Regards,

t:  dannymoore_ni

Incinerator at Glenavy

Mr T Burns asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development how much her Department estimates it would cost annually to dispose of poultry litter produced inNorthern Ireland lawfully, in compliance with the EU Nitrates Directive, if the proposed Rose Energy incinerator at Glenavy were not to go ahead.
(AQW 2713/11)

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: Over 200,000 tonnes of poultry litter is generated in the north of Ireland each year and the vast majority is spread on land. However, land spreading of poultry litter at current levels is not sustainable in the long term due to its high phosphorus content, the enriched phosphorus status of local soils and the resulting detrimental impact of excess phosphorus on water quality.

A working group of government officials and poultry industry representatives has recently investigated interim options for the storage and use of poultry litter pending the establishment of a sustainable long term technical alternative to land spreading. A range of options including alternative treatment systems available in Britain, the south ofIreland and further afield have been actively investigated. Conclusions of this work to date indicate that most potential options are either not available due to lack of capacity or are cost prohibitive.

Where capacity has been identified, the cost of disposal is estimated to be approximately £90 per tonne of poultry litter. However, the capacity available is limited and insufficient to deal with the amount of poultry litter currently spread on land in the north. There are also logistical and technical constraints.

As a viable option with sufficient capacity has not been identified an annual cost cannot be estimated.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Lough Neagh Ice - the fog lifts!

Lough Shore pensioners Dan Moore (on the quad) and Eamon Moore with Drew Moore out on Lough Neagh in front of 1 Ingrams Road, early afternoon, December 23rd, 2010.
The area around the proposed Moy Park Incinerator site experienced a period of unprecedented frost in the week before Christmas 2010.  At the time of writing (6pm on Christmas Eve) the temperature has already been well below freezing for eight days straight.  Minimum temperatures were between -10C and -14C, with daytime temperatures generally below -5C.  There was dense freezing fog Mon-Wed with an incredible maximum temperature of just -8C on Tuesday.  All the while the land was covered in 10 inches of powder snow.

On Thursday December 23rd the fog lifted to reveal the full extent of ice cover on Lough Neagh, which is at its most extensive since at least 1963.

The picture above shows pensioners Eamon Moore and my dad (on the quad) along with my brother Drew on the ice in front of One Ingrams Road.  The water is quite shallow, under four feet deep for a few hundred yards from the shore, so its a lot safer than it looks!

The ice extends for three miles to Langford Lodge point in the background.

I rode the quad out on the water from Ingrams Road to the mouth of the Crumlin River one and a half miles to the North earlier in the day.

The picture below shows the winter sunset over the ice, which extends for three to four miles to the southwest.

These pictures serve to remind us of two aspects of the CALNI objection to the Moy Park Incinerator.

Firstly, our part of Lough Neagh is very shallow which has created unique spawning grounds for many cold water fish species.  These same conditions create what are probably the largest expanses of "safe" ice in Ireland when there is a big freeze.  The warm water discharged from the Incinerator would threaten this whole ecosystem, not to mention almost certainly preventing the Lough from freezing again.

Second, our area is extremely beautiful, and is a designated area of high scenic value.  The incinerator buildings will destroy one of the gems in the Northern Ireland countryside.  It will be visible from 80% of the surface area of Lough Neagh and five out of the six counties in Ulster.
Sunset over the ice, 28 Shore Road, 23rd December, 2010.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Glenavy River Ice - Thank You Angling Club

View from ice on the middle of the Glenavy River, looking out towards Lough Neagh and Langford Lodge.  Early afternoon, December 8th 2010.

We're now in the middle of the second blast of Arctic air of the winter and its only December 20th!

The area around Glenavy and the Lough Shore has had two heavy snow falls in December and there was light snow cover from November 28th.  Highly unusual!  On both occasions there was significantly more snow around the Lough than over the mountain at Hannahstown, or in Belfast.  Ten inches of "powder" snow fell on Friday.

For me, the first big environmental story of the winter was the lower stretch of the Glenavy River freezing from December 6th to 10th.

Through the severe winters in the 1980s the lower stretch of the Glenavy River seemed to be frozen every year, culminating in January 1987 when the ice was 4-6 inches thick.  However, there hadn't been enough ice to walk on at any time since, including last January, when the river remained open long after many of the bays on Lough Neagh had frozen.  Our assumption was that pollution and the severely dregadated state of the river was fending off the frosts.[1]

This run was broken in early December after a series of brutal frosts over a five day period, with lows reportedly reaching -12C to -13C early on the evening of December 7th.  A few light snow showers passed through after 10pm lifting the temperature and most likely preventing an all time record low.

The ice on the river was very solid on December 8th, even though the river was ice free on the 6th.  This allowed me to get some great photos from the river.  Do note that the water is 3-4 ft deep at most, so no real danger of drowning!

I can't help but think that all the great work done by the Glenavy River Angling and Conservation club over the last few years ant the resulting transformation in water quality was as big a factor as the severe frosts in the river freezing.[2]  The ice was another strong sign of recovery in the ecosystem.

Amazingly, the shallow bay at the mouth of the Glenavy River was also frozen on December 8th and I got some photos out there also.  It had to have been the earliest there was ever strong ice on the Lough!

Now the freeze has returned with a vengeance it looks like I may have to eat my words on January 2010 being the last time our part of Lough Neagh would freeze.[3]  Watch this space!


[1]  Details of the severe pollution in the lower stretch of the Glenavy River up to 2008 can be provided on request.  See also:  http://stopthemoyparkincinerator.com/?p=629
[2]  The Glenavy River Angling and Conservation club was founded in 2008.  They have been actively restocking the river and fighting pollution over the last two and a half years.  See:  http://www.glenavyriver.com/
[3]  See the earlier blog post:

Rams Island, taken from the ice on Hillis's bay a hundred meters North of the mouth of the Glenavy River.  Early afternoon, December 8th 2010.