Litter Challenge

Litter is a serious problem in Lough Neagh and its feeder rivers and poses a threat to wildlife, water users and the wider environment. Lough Neagh – a unique environment that needs protection.

Its shoreline is also important habitat for shelduck, teal, shoveler, lapwing and curlew. As a result, Lough Neagh has been designed RAMSAR Site (Internationally important wetland), Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA). There are also eight Nature Reserves on and around Lough Neagh. Lough Neagh is an internationally important wetland for migratory birds such as Whopper Swans as well as over 20,000 wintering wildfowl.

The Journey of Litter

From land to lough

Littering and fly tipping along the banks of the lough’s six major in-flowing river (Ballinderry, Blackwater, Maine, Moyola, Six Mile Water, and Upper Bann rivers) gets transported downstream by high flows and flood waters, to Lough Neagh.

There is also littering and fly-tipping around the shore of Lough Neagh itself which either directly enters the water or gets blown into the Lough by strong winds gusting across the flat expanses of land around the Lough’s edge.

There is currently no estimate of the amount of rubbish that ends up in Lough Neagh each year but we do know that it is skip-full’s rather than bag-full’s by the amount of rubbish that is collected each year by volunteer litter-picking groups around the lough shore and along the rivers.

Everything from plastic cutlery, disposable coffer cups, polystyrene food trays, plastic bottles and drinks cans to chemical containers, tyres, silage wrap and bin-bags full of household rubbish have been collected along the 78 miles of the lough’s shoreline and from its many islands.  Even desks, beds and other items of household furniture have been washed up along the lough’s shore.

Much of the rubbish that is floating ends up in the north-east corner of the lough, near Randalstown Forest, Rea’s Wood National Nature Reserve and Shanes Castle estate, or on the south-western shores of the lough’s islands such as Coney Island and Rams Island to name a few.

Some rubbish escapes Lough Neagh through its one outflowing river, the Lower Bann, where if not causing blockages in the ell traps at Toome, it makes it way down the river to Lough Beg and on to the North Coast of Northern Ireland and the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s not impossible that a plastic bottle getting into the Ballinderry or Moyola Rivers in the Sperrin Mountains, the Blackwater River in County Monaghan, the Upper Bann River in Mourne Mountains, the Six Mile in the Belfast Hills or the River Maine in the Glens of Antrim, could eventually end up on the beach at Castlerock or Benone over 100 miles away.

The Litter Legacy

Out of sight, out of mind

This rubbish also persists for a long time in our environment, breaking down extremely slowly in some cases. Did you know it take this long for these items to break down in the environment?

Cigarette butt

2 years

Carrier bag

20 years


50 years

Styrofoam Cup

50 years

Confectionery wrapper

80 years

Aluminium Can

200 years

Plastic Bottle

500 years


2,000,000 years plus

When plastic items such as drinks bottles degrade, they do not actually disappear, they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces, contributing to the microplastics problem in our freshwater and marine environments.  It is a sad but sobering fact that scientist believe that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish.

The truth of the matter is that whatever journey litter takes to get into Lough Neagh, it all starts with the person who dropped it, dumped it, or lost it in the first place. We all have a role to play in protecting our environment and reducing the amount of litter entering our waterways and our loughs.