The IRD Duhallow LIFE+ programme has been an innovative project carried out over the course of the last four and a half years, initiating a conservation and restoration strategy for many endangered fish, mammals and birds found in the Munster Blackwater River Special Area of Conservation, which included farmland and in-stream works along the Allow River. Co-financed by the EU Commission and the Irish exchequer, this €1.9m project is run in partnership with Inland Fisheries Ireland. Key project on-the-ground actions are aimed at improving and protecting animal species of European importance; European otter, Kingfisher, Atlantic salmon and Freshwater Pearl Mussel found in the Upper River Blackwater (A Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive).
Working on the farm; for the agri-environment
The LIFE Project has been working with landowners, State organisations, angling clubs and the public, to advance important on-the-ground works.
River bank erosion is a major issue along rivers in the Upper Blackwater. Bare, unprotected banks are at risk of being washed away. The disturbed silt, and sediments affect the spawning beds of Atlantic salmon, and excess bank erosion can lead to loss of land for farmers. To address this, many project actions are aimed at restoring and protecting riverbanks along farmland. Over 200m of riverbank have been re-profiled and protected with rock and trees. This type of restoration eases the pressure on riverbanks caused by flood events. The Christmas trees that were so graciously donated by the public over the years have been put to great use by protecting the newly restored Duhallow riverbanks and helping in the regeneration of native vegetation.
Native plants and trees are vital for the added protection of river banks. Rural Social Scheme and Tús participants were key to the LIFE Project, helping with the planting of over 4000 trees along nearly 6.5km of river.
The Project has worked with landowners to help manage cows along riverbanks and more than 35km of waterway bank has been fenced along the Allow and Dalua Rivers. This delivers advantages to both the landowner and the environment. Along with the large-scale fencing scheme, direct dairy cattle access to the river has been replaced with alternative drinking water sources. This strategy replaces traditional cattle drinking methods rather than creating new ones, which would require planning permission. The types of alternative drinking sources that have been provided by the LIFE Project include pasture (nose) pumps, rainwater harvesting and solar powered pump troughs.
We have also continued to work with the landowners and our RSS participants in improving the system of silt trapping to reduce the siltation of riverbeds. This will greatly benefit Atlantic salmon and Freshwater Pearl Mussels.
Thanks to the dedicated work from our Rural Social Scheme and Tús participants, enthusiastic volunteers and diligent local anglers the alien invasive plant Himalayan balsam has been tackled along 35km of riverbank. Originating in the Himalayas it was planted as an ornamental flower in many gardens around Ireland. Indeed, when it was owned by the Aldworth family the grounds of the James O’Keeffe Institute in Newmarket were once planted with Himalayan balsam. While the plant has been nearly eradicated from the Allow catchment area, continued monitoring of the riverbanks will be needed as seeds from the flower can still grow after two years in the soil.
Freshwater Pearl Mussel
Since surveying began in 2013 over 28km of riverbed has been surveyed for Freshwater pearl mussel. These surveys have to be conducted under licence and by snorkelers who have been trained by experts approved by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Along with recording and mapping of each individual mussel, river conditions (substrate, vegetation, water depth etc.) have also been noted. 12895 individual mussels have been counted.
After LIFE plan
Under the regulations set out by the EU LIFE Programme the DuhallowLIFE Project will commit to maintaining the project actions delivered for a further 5 years after the project ended in June 2015. This is seen as an opportunity to build on projects successes. The main objectives are to ensure the maintenance of the measures delivered, between 2010 and 2015, and the continued input from the Allow River Integrated Catchment Management Group, which involves many relevant stakeholders.
Rural Social Scheme participants will be on hand to tackle heavy infestations of Himalayan Balsam along the Allow, Dalua, Brogeen Rivers and Rampart Stream. An eradication programme will be in place to systematically tackle all four channels. Kanturk and District Trout Angling Club has given their commitment to remove the tall invasive flower along the Allow River. Volunteers and students will also be deployed to monitor native plant regeneration.
End of Project Conference
A conference marking the end of the LIFE project took place on the 21st of May this year. The conference was chaired by Radio Kerry’s Frank Lewis. Speakers came from near and far, as did attendees. IRD Duhallow CEO Maura welcomed everybody and outlined the role of IRD Duhallow in nature conservation and how the protection of our environment is vital to sustainable communities in Rural Ireland. The Keynote address was given by John Lucey, Freshwater Pearl Mussel Expert, Author and Historian - The Freshwater Pearl Mussel: Pearl Producer and Protected Species. He gave a fascinating account of the historic importance of Pearl Mussels in Ireland and how crucial it is to protect these endangered species. Dr Fran Igoe outlined the Project and gave examples of measures that were developed to assist farmers and conservationists throughout the duration of the project. Kieran Murphy provided an overview of how the project team carried out conservation actions to assist Otters, Kingfishers and Dippers and also gave a comprehensive overview of the invasive plant species removal works. Nuala Riordan presented the public engagement and education elements of the project.
Speakers from other EU LIFE projects included Marjana Hönigsfeld, Institute for Conservation of Natural Heritage, Slovenia, who spoke on ‘Otter conservation in Slovenia and Diane O’Leary from the Pearls in Peril LIFE+ UK, presented on Freshwater Pearl Mussel conservation efforts in the UK. Ruairi O’Conchúir, Inland Fisheries Ireland, gave a riveting presentation on the work carried out for the MulkearLIFE project.
Stakeholder involvement was also an important part of the conference with presentations from Michael Twohig (Kanturk and District Trout Angling Club), Derval Vaughan (Kanturk Convent National School), Brigid Daly (Landowner), Dr Donal Daly (EPA) and Frank Donoghue (NPWS)
It was a highly successful, interesting and informative day. With over 150 people in attendance it was clear that everyone is keen to make a difference in conserving our environment.
The conference concluded with a Conference Banquet, with dinner provided by Duhallow Community Food Service, followed by entertainment by ‘Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Sliabh Luachra’. It was a great end to an impressive day.
At the end of the RaptorLIFE launch the next day, there was a successful site visit for all attendees to show some of the projects actions first hand.