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16 Aug 2022

Donegal landowner receives fine for damaging Freshwater Pearl Mussel Habitat

Donegal Town Courthouse

Donegal Town Courthouse. PHOTO: Siobhán McNamara

A County Donegal landowner was found guilty of damaging the habitat of Freshwater Pearl Mussel and fined a total of €16,500 in 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 had 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 to the river. It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Freshwater Pearl Mussels and significant stress on those that survived.

Freshwater Pearl Mussel are a critically and increasingly endangered species and are protected under both the Wildlife Act 1976 and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011, which has designated the River Eske 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 Mussel are very vulnerable to activities that affect water quality, particularly sedimentation which will settle on the river bed, creating a physical barrier to water circulation and depriving the mussels of oxygen.

Although Mr Homer pleaded not guilty to all three separate charges against him, he was found guilty of breaching Section 23 of the Wildlife Act 1976 in that he wilfully disturbed the breeding and resting place of a protected wild animal, Section 69 of the same Act in that he used a mechanically propelled vehicle in the commissioning of an offense, and Regulation 35 of the Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations 2011 in that he caused significant damage to a European site.

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

Responding to the outcome of this case, Minister Malcolm Noonan said: “I really welcome this conviction. Though they were once widespread in Ireland, Freshwater Pearl Mussels are now a critically endangered species and highly sensitive to environmental conditions.

"I’d like to acknowledge the sterling efforts and dedication of the NPWS staff involved in bringing this prosecution, and indeed the efforts of staff all around the country who successfully closed 21 prosecutions in 2021 and 20 more to date in 2022, and are currently progressing a further 48.

"I’d like to remind everyone that the NPWS has more rangers than ever, and that it has never been more focussed – or more effective – on wildlife crime.”

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