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Ministers ride to the rescue of the horse mussel

Friday, 23 January 2009

Stormont Ministers today launched a new bid to successfully restore the Horse Mussel (Modiolus) to Strangford Lough.

Environment Minister Sammy Wilson and Fisheries Minister Michelle Gildernew confirmed their departments were behind a new initiative to conserve the species which plays an important biological role in the Lough.

Both Ministers visited the Exploris Centre in Portaferry to see at first hand the progress being made.

Mr Wilson said: “The Horse Mussel is crucial to the ecology of Strangford Lough and forms an important habitat which other species depend on for their survival.

“The reef beds which they form are unique to the Lough and support a wide range of other important species.”

Horse Mussels clump together and form reefs on the bed of the Lough, providing valuable habitats for several other species in what is a dedicated European site of Special Area of Conservation.

Scientific data has indicated a decline in the extent and condition of the reef beds with the use of mobile fishing gear presenting an immediate threat to the remaining mussel beds.

DARD Fisheries introduced legislation to ban the use of the gear and both Departments have devised a comprehensive restoration plan to restore the Horse Mussel.

Mr Wilson continued: “Both my department and DARD are committed to this restoration project and are delighted with the progress which both our officials and the scientific staff within Queen’s University have made so far.

“There is Executive support for a Marine Bill in Northern Ireland to take forward issues such as marine planning. I hope to consult later in the year on this and other issues relating to the marine environment.”

Minister Gildernew said: “I am pleased to be associated with such a worthwhile and innovative project in the marine environment which underscores the benefits of integration between Departments.

“Strangford Lough is a unique marine environment which supports many species and many diverse activities. Restoration of the horse mussel within the Lough is key to achieving improvement in biodiversity.

“In taking this action we aim to improve the marine habitat for most species which has many advantages for the environment and will assist the long term sustainability of the Lough’s fisheries.”

During the visit, the Minister of the Environment also took the opportunity to highlight the consultation on the draft River Basin Management Plans which commenced in December 2008.

The plans, required under the Water Framework Directive, set out how it is intended to achieve good status for water bodies by 2015.

Notes to Editors:

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