THE Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is investigating claims that up to 20 metal drums filled with oily waste were illegally buried beside a river in a wildlife habitat on the outskirts of West Belfast. Two local walkers witnessed the 50 gallon drums being dumped in Glenside Community Woodlands and reported the incident to the Belfast Hills Partnership who manage the beauty spot.

The partnership have in turn referred the matter to the NIEA who confirmed this week that the dumping allegation was “under investigation”. The alleged dumping is particularly serious since it’s feared the oil could seep into the nearby Colin River with knock-on effects on water courses downstream.

The woodland, which is the site of a former quarry, is a magnet for illegal industrial dumpers due to it being in a remote location yet easily accessible by vehicles.

“As we were heading towards the waterfall inside the woodland we saw about 20 metal drums sitting right beside the Colin Glen River that a digger was trying to push into the ground,” explained one of the walkers, who both asked not to be named. “We know the drums contained oil as a fork on the digger bucket pierced the metal and we could see some of the oil spilling out.”

When an Andersonstown News reporter and photographer visited the site of the alleged dumping this week with the ramblers, we found widespread evidence of illegal dumping but no oil drums. The two men said it’s clear to them that the digger that was being used to dump the drums had buried them underground. Possible seepage will form part of the NIEA probe.

“If you hover a metal detector over that pile of soil I guarantee you it would find those oil drums as they are no more than four foot underneath,” said the second walker.

“There was also a pile of tyres that had been dumped right beside where the drums were left and they have been set alight since the last time we were here.  It sickens you – all this litter and waste being dumped here.”

Manager of the Belfast Hills Partnership, Dr Jim Bradley, said reports of illegal dumping were “always referred immediately to NIEA Environmental Crime Unit”.

“Any illegal dumping in the hills is an affront to the value of the hills for its wildlife and recreation, but dumping close to a watercourse is particularly dangerous and a threat to a river which has trout and salmon further downstream,” said Mr Bradley. A spokesperson for the Department of Environment said: “NIEA can confirm this incident was reported by Belfast Hills Partnership and is still under investigation.”