Donegal landowner fined for damaging freshwater pearl mussel habitat

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A County Donegal landowner was convicted of damaging freshwater pearl mussel habitat and fined a total of €16,500 by Donegal District Court last month.

The case was brought against Mr Richard Homer of Orchard Drive, Donegal Town, by the National Parks and Wildlife Service after Mr Homer cleared vegetation, disturbed the bank of the River Eske in Milltown, Donegal and dug a number of drains to the river.

This work resulted in significant sedimentation in the river. This resulted in the death of hundreds of freshwater pearl mussels and significant stress for those who survived.

The freshwater pearl mussel is a critically endangered and increasingly endangered species and is protected by both the Wildlife Act 1976 and the European Communities (Birds and Habitats) Regulations 2011, which has designated the Eske River as a Special Area of ​​Conservation (SAC) for the species. . The River Eske in Donegal is one of the most important rivers in Europe for the species.

Freshwater pearl mussels are very vulnerable to activities that affect water quality, especially sedimentation that will settle on the riverbed, creating a physical barrier to water flow and depriving the mussels of oxygen.

Although Mr Homer pleaded not guilty to the three separate charges against him, he was found guilty of breaching Section 23 of the Wildlife Act 1976 in that he deliberately disturbed the breeding ground and rest of a protected wild animal, article 69 of the same law in which he used a mechanically propelled vehicle in the commission of an offence, and regulation 35 of the regulation on birds and natural habitats of 2011 in causing significant damage to a European site.

Mr Homer was fined €3,000 for each offence. He was also ordered to pay €2,500 for a site restoration plan and €5,000 in costs.

Reacting to the outcome of the case, Minister Malcolm Noonan said: “I really welcome this sentencing. Although once widespread in Ireland, freshwater pearl mussels are now a critically endangered species and very sensitive to environmental conditions.

“I would like to thank the efforts and dedication of the NPWS staff involved in pursuing this prosecution, as well as the efforts of staff across the country who successfully closed 21 prosecutions in 2021 and another 20 so far in 2022, and are currently progressing another 48.

“I would like to remind everyone that the NPWS has more rangers than ever before, and it has never been more focused – or more effective – on wildlife crime.”

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