A6 dualling proposals

In 2003, Toome became the centre of proposals to build a dual carriageway which would replace part of the A6 linking Belfast and Londonderry. The site supports almost 46,000 waterbirds in the winter, including internationally important numbers of whooper swans.

A pair of whooper swans in flight above the clouds at sunset.
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The route proposed by the Roads Service (part of the Department of Regional Development) would bypass a local village and cut through fields used by wintering whooper swans - splitting the main swan area and running close to the nearby Lough Beg Special Protection Area (SPA), used by the swans for roosting.

We alerted the Roads Service to the presence of swans and the need to implement the Conservation Regulations.

But despite the Roads Service altering the route to a less damaging one it was still a cause for concern, as it ran just 150 metres from the SPA boundary, through fields used by swans for feeding.

Why is it worth fighting for?

Imagine families of whooper swans, white against a stormy winter sky, flying between Lough Beg and their feeding fields. Or young swans, still with downy patches of grey feathers, hatched months before in Iceland, now dependant on these fields to survive the winter months and the threat to their future comes alive.

Their presence is why Lough Beg is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI).

Lough Beg is also the winter home to large numbers of wildfowl, making it an internationally important site under Ramsar convention.

But the site isn't all about birds. When the swans have returned to Iceland to breed, the fields come alive in a kaleidoscope of colour with the appearance of flowers and grasses.

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Our position

We worked closely with the Roads Service and consultants on a suitable survey methodology for the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The Environmental Statement was published in April 2007 - a key job for us was to ensure that the correct procedures were followed under the Habitats and Birds Directives

Annual swan surveys commenced in 2005 and show that swans remain on site all winter. Numbers of whooper swans using the fields increased year-on-year, peaking in the winter of 2009/2010.

The numbers have decreased in recent years, this decrease coincides with high and prolonged levels of flooding and increased use of fields for winter sheep grazing. Such decreases mean the site’s carrying capacity has not yet been fully tested but the pattern of usage throughout subsequent winters was maintained. We are satisfied that the fields have not yet reached their carrying capacity and there is enough room and food for even more swans.

Observations also show the swans do not appear to be disturbed by passing road traffic and indeed a higher proportion than would be expected utilise the fields adjacent to the Toome bypass built in 2003.

Some fields are not currently used by whooper swans because they are too small - whooper swans like large fields and an open vista. Roads Service has agreed it would work with landowners to remove fences to increase field size before the road is constructed, making those fields available for swans to use.

We then compared this to how many swans would be affected by the loss of some fields to the road, and found that all those swans could be provided with alternative habitats by the field size increase we suggested.

A number of other mitigation measures were also agreed, such as sensitive construction to avoid damage, sustainable drainage, and thorough monitoring of the swans during and after construction.

Following agreement with the Roads Service on mitigation measures, we were eventually satisfied the proposal would not result in harm to the swan population, or the habitat, and withdrew our objection, conditional on the mitigation measures.


  • Ongoing (from March 2016)
    RSPB NI continues to hold the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to account to deliver all the whooper swan mitigation measures through its place on the Whooper Swan Working Group.
  • November 2019
    News article in Daily Mirror (29 November 2019) reports that complaint to European Commission is rejected.
  • March 2018
    It is announced that an individual's application to the Supreme Court is unsuccessful.
  • March 2018
    Individual states intention to take case to the European Court of Justice.
  • September 2017
    It is announced that an individual's appeal to the Appeal Court is unsuccessful.
  • April 2017
    The decision is announced that the legal challenge taken by an individual to the high court in September 2016 is unsuccessful.
  • September 2016
    Preliminary site works begin on the A6 dualling scheme. An individual submits a legal challenge to the high court due to impact on environment and Heaney country.
  • August 2016
    Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard announces his decision to proceed with the A6 Randalstown to Castledawson Dualling Scheme
  • March 2016
    As per the Public Inquiry recommendations, the Department establishes the Whooper Swan Working Group to advise and guide the whooper swan mitigation. Facilitated by the Department for Infrastructure, this Group includes among others, NIEA Natural Environment Division, DAERA Countryside Management, a Whooper Swan Expert and RSPB NI.
  • January 2016
    Transport Minister Michelle McIlveen announces improvement work to start later in the year. RSPB NI engages with Transport NI and its consultants AECOM to ensure the whooper swan mitigation measures in the inquiry report are carried out with no adverse effects on the designated site and its feature species -whooper swans.
  • October 2011
    Construction of the A6 dual carriageway has been postponed until 2014 however we continue to maintain regular contact with the consultants involved
  • 2009-2011
    We receive the whooper swan survey reports submitted for the works as part of the on-going monitoring
  • November 2009
    Roads Service accepts recommendations of the Inspector and will include all mitigation measures proposed in the Environmental statement
  • November 2007
    Public inquiry
  • October 2007
    We withdraw our objection after receiving further information and subject to agreement of mitigation measures
  • June 2007
    We object to the Environmental Statement as issued by the Roads Service, as insufficient data were included
  • Autumn 2005-Spring 2007
    Work is on-going with consultants to ensure that correct surveys are undertaken
  • July 2005
    We respond to the alternative 'red' route, now avoiding some, but not all, of the fields
  • February 2005
    We raise strong concerns about the proposed 'red' route
  • November 2003
    We are first alerted to case.

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