A number of restrictions will be placed on residents living by Lough Ree as a result of a new bird conservation status for the area which is due to come into effect within weeks.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed on Monday that Lough Ree, in counties Westmeath, Roscommon and Longford, will soon become a Special Protection Area (SPA) for wild birds. A Statutory Instrument is being drawn up to make this status legally binding.
"We are proceeding to complete the designation process, with the drafting of a new Statutory Instrument for the site already underway. This process should be completed in the coming weeks," said a Department spokesperson.
The new status will mean locals must seek permission in advance for activities including drainage works; any removal or disturbance of rock, minerals, mud, sand, gravel or sediment; the cutting or uprooting of plants; and planting trees or bioenergy crops.
A landowner will need to get approval if he or she plans to develop or consent to the development of "commercial / recreational visitor facilities or activities."
Permission will also be needed for the introduction or reintroduction of any plants or animals not currently found in the area.
In all cases, permission will have to be sought from the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, unless another public body or local authority previously granted permission for the activity in question.
Letters were sent to lakeside residents informing them of the impending change last year, but three objections to the plan were subsequently lodged. Speaking to this newspaper last year, Michael Silke, the chairman of the IFA's Floods and Waterways project team, described the new status as "another imposition on the freedom of people living near the lake".
He feared it would be used as an excuse to further postpone a programme of maintenance on the lake which the IFA felt was badly needed.
In February, it emerged that at least one objector to the status had opted to have his case heard before an appeals advisory board.
However the Department said this week that "all appeals (were) now finalised" and the new status was going ahead.
The area in which the status will come into effect will incorporate Ballykeeran, Bethlehem, Clonbrusk, Hillquarter, Maghera, Muckanagh, Portaneena, Portlick, and numerous other areas.
Outlining the background to the measure last year, the National Parks and Wildlife Service said "one of Ireland's obligations as an EU member State is to protect places important to birds."
It added: "Internationally important numbers of waterbirds come here for the winter from North America, Greenland, Iceland and the Arctic. In Spring and Summer, Ireland provides important breeding grounds for bird species from the continents of Europe and Africa."
The Lough Ree designation is for the conservation of the following species: Whooper Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Coot, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Common Tern.