Catchment News

2020 EPA Water Conference – watch online now

On 17 and 18 June 2020 the EPA held its National Water Event as an online conference. This year’s theme was ‘Restoring our waters’.

This years event was free to attend. It was the EPA’s largest water event ever, with over 1250 attending this online event.

To everyone who joined us: thanks for attending; thanks for your probing questions; thanks for your passion; thanks for caring about our waters. We can achieve more working together.

Special thanks to all our presenters and the team who worked behind the scenes to make sure this years conference happened.

On this page you can find:

  • A YouTube playlist with videos of all the presentations
  • The word cloud generated from words submitted by attendees
  • Questions and Answers – some of the presenters have answered additional questions they did not have time to answer on the day; special thanks to the presenters who volunteered and took the time to do this
  • The slide decks of all presentations


This playlist has all the presentations from the 2020 EPA Water Conference

Word cloud

This word cloud was made form words submitted by the more than 1200 people who attended this conference.

Questions and Answers

Session 1: Water Quality in Ireland – setting the scene

Dr Mícheál Lehane, EPA – The State of Ireland’s Water Environment

Q. What is PAA?

A. Priority Area for Action. These are the areas prioritised under the current River Basin Management Plan where LAWPRO and the ASSAP programme are focussing their efforts.

Q.  Is there a list of the high-status waterbodies that are in particular need of attention please?

A.  The waterbodies with a high-status objective, and their current status, can be displayed on a map in the mapping section on

Q.  Is there any consideration given to reclassifying waterbodies which have been heavily modified hydromorphologically? These waterbodies could be equally as diverse as high-status sites but with a different range of invertebrates

A.  A review is currently underway of Ireland’s heavily modified waters. The list of waterbodies meeting the designation criteria will be published in the 3rd cycle draft river basin management plan in December 2020 for public consultation. Waterbodies that are heavily modified are classified in terms of their ecological potential rather than ecological status. Ecological potential recognises that the physical habitat conditions (hydromorphology) have been modified and that some aspects of the ecology may be different.

Q.  You referenced Q values vs microbiology in a watercourse.  Specifically, you noted that Q-values when read in isolation could be interpreted to over-represent the status a watercourse and indeed that if the microbiology content is low, then this would pull the status down. Do you think improvement of microbiology should be considered separately to Q-values or at least should be given an equal importance? E.g. increasing flows, albeit sacrificing some Q parameters, to encourage microbiology.

A. The Q-value which is based on macroinvertebrates may not always be the same as the ecological status which includes a broader assessment of other biological and supporting elements such as fish, nutrients and other physio-chemical parameters and hydromorphology.  The overall ecological status, is determined based on the element with the lowest status (sometimes referred to as the ‘one out, all out’ principle).  Measures to improve the water quality in a waterbody will be targeted at the element or elements which are resulting in the water body not meeting its objective.

Q.  Thank you for an interesting presentation. What is the nitrate concentration (as NO3 / N?) which defines ‘elevated nitrates’ in a groundwater?

A. Natural background levels are generally up to 10 mg/l NO3 in groundwater in relatively low intensity areas. Concentrations above 25 mg/l NO3 in groundwater would be termed elevated, but there is potential for groundwater concentrations from 15 mg/l NO3 to impact on sensitive receptors if there is a high dependency on groundwater flow.

Q.  Do we now have the data we need to link water status with N derogation farms in the waterbody catchment, in order to assess the impact of the N derogation on the water environment and whether it is compromising Ireland meeting WFD objectives?

A.  EPA and DAFM have recently signed an MOU that facilitates the exchange of data. EPA and DAFM are currently working closely together to assess the impacts of agriculture on water quality, with a particular focus on the impacts of dairy expansion and the derogation. These assessments will be used to inform the 3rd cycle river basin management plan and the Nitrates Action Programme.

Q.  In relation to prioritisation, of all the waterbodies in the country that are not at good status (or at risk) what proportion (even approximately) are being targeted for action in the Priority Areas for Action?

A.  It was identified in the 2nd cycle river basin management plan that there were 1459 waterbodies that were At Risk of not achieving their objectives. The 190 priority areas for action include 726 waterbodies, 551 of which were At Risk (38% of the total waterbodies At Risk). Most of the other waterbodies in the Areas for Action are unmonitored and are in Review because they require additional assessment to determine whether or not they are meeting their objectives.

Q.  Using the “one out/all out” approach to WFD Status classification its usually one parameter that drags a waterbody down, are stats available on what parameters are causing receiving waters to fail to meet at least Good status and are these specific parameters being targeted in the RBMPs and catchment projects?

A.  The latest EPA Water Quality in Ireland report (2013-18) includes an assessment of the parameters influencing status. In rivers for example, in 91% of cases, macroinvertebrates, which are sensitive to organic and nutrient pollution, are the driving factor. Tackling the sources of this pollution is a fundamental part of the river basin management plan.

Session 2: Pressure, Challenges & Opportunities

Carol McCarthy, Local Authority Waters Programme – Two Years on the Ground – Identifying Problems & Fixing Them

Q.  What do you do if you find land reclamation/changes being undertaken without planning permission?

A. Much of the land drainage we come across is exempt from planning permission.

Q. Do you have information on the amount of high carbon soil being drained – causes approx. 8% of GHG from Agriculture?

A.  I don’t have that information as not all land drainage is regulated.

Q. Was there any quarrying activity in the catchment you studied? Have you witnessed any impact from such activities on water quality?

A. There was no active quarrying in the catchment. Our local catchment assessments to-date have identified a small number of sites nationally that require additional assessment to determine if they are a significant pressure.

Q.  Will the Priority Areas for Action be expanded and how will these be prioritised?

A. Work is currently progressing on characterisation of Ireland’s waters for the 3rd cycle. This will inform the selection of areas for action in the 3rd cycle. It is expected that these areas will be listed in the draft RBMP.

Q.  Your presentation provided reason for optimism, especially regarding riparian vegetation/buffer strips.  It fits ecological theory since riparian vegetation stabilizes stream banks, blunts sheetflow runoff, absorbs nutrients and boosts biodiversity if native species.  Thus, it reduces topsoil erosion and retains our real agricultural capital.  So, What percentage of Irish streams have such buffer strips and is this aspect of your project in Cork being up-scaled across Ireland?

A.  I do not have national data for % of Irish streams with buffer strips. These are a local measure, following discussion between landowner and implementing body or advisor. LAWPRO is working in 726 water bodies across Ireland during the second cycle and recommending buffer strips for critical source areas on land. Nationally, we are also working to influence policy in this area. One key result of this is that where a buffer is recommended by an ASSAP advisor, that land does not lose its eligibility under the Basic Payment Scheme.

Q.  How do the public get information about the pressures identified in PAAs and the management measures being implemented?  Is there any opportunity for public participation in decision-making regarding measures?

A. There are two types of measures – basic measures which are statutory (and mandatory). Designation of basic measures often has a public consultation phase where comments are invited from the public. Voluntary measures are site specific and are a matter between the implementing body and the landowner. LAWPRO is working to increase the availability of data on its website, to complement that already available on

Q.  Could you describe in more detail the steps involved in implementing measures to address the impacts of cattle access, who oversees it; how is it resourced; what is the timeline for implementation?

A.  Cattle access points are not always a significant pressure. Assessment of their significance depends on the characteristics of adjacent land, their number within a water body and frequency of use, their location within the catchment and whether the water body has a special designation or has a high-status objective.

Q.  In your last slide you outlined some policy considerations.  From LAWPRO’s work to date, what is the one national policy change that you believe is needed to address systemic issues in agriculture?

A.  The issue of drainage (from all sources, not just agriculture) will benefit from a review into its regulation, construction and maintenance.

Q.  Under the Planning & Development Regs, the threshold above which a landowner must conduct a mandatory EIA is 2 hectares and the threshold above which they must apply for planning permission (& screening for EIA) is 0.1 hectares.   Do you believe that most of the drainage you are detecting is below this threshold or that these regulations are not being adhered to/enforced?

A.  The local catchment assessment process has identified a number of areas where tightening up of systems and legislation may need to be considered and the whole issue of drainage, in all contexts – not just agriculture, is one of those areas.

Q.  What kind of soil assessments were carried out on the Caha sites?

A.  Soil assessments are not carried out during local catchment assessment. Where agriculture is identified as a pressure, the ASSAP advisor will work the landowner and review all documentation including nutrient management plans and soil samples where appropriate.

Session 3: Restoring our Waters

Dr Emma Quinlan, EPA – Dealing with Physical Damage to Rivers: The Morphological Quality Index and Restoration

Q.  Why are morphological measures being proposed when linkages between the hydromorph methods and biology have not been established and, therefore, the ecological benefits are non-known?

A.  Our current biological indicators are sensitive to nutrient pressures and therefore the impacts of hydromorphological pressures on the ecology is not always evident. Research to find better biological indicators that are sensitive to hydromorphological pressures is ongoing internationally. The general consensus worldwide is that if hydromorphological conditions are good, habitat can be created and maintained, which in turn can support ecology. For example, Hamish Moir’s presentation demonstrated this with regard to improvements in fish habitat, and as Mary Liz Walsh stated – ‘A healthy river is a robust river’. 

Q.  Given the emphasis on the importance of biodiversity, how do you propose to demonstrate biodiversity benefits and incorporate biodiversity objectives into WFD measures?

A.  It is increasingly recognised that measures can often be selected that will achieve multiple benefits, for water, climate, air quality, biodiversity, natural flood mitigation and health and wellbeing. Rewetting organic soils would be one example. The multiple benefits principle is an important mechanism for achieving synergies across several legislative areas to help us achieve more from less. It will be important that we build on this concept in the next river basin management plan.

Q.  Which key agencies would have to work together on river restoration and does Ireland have many fluvial geomorphologists to guide this work?

A.  River restoration requires a multi-Agency approach. Relevant agencies include IFI, OPW, EPA, NPWS, Local Authorities, Waterways Ireland, Irish Water, LAWPRO and various Departments including DHPLG, DAFM, DCCAE, etc. Ireland has a small pool of local fluvial geomorphologists who are currently supporting the EPA in a technical capacity to develop our hydromorphological assessment tools.

Q.  How will the MQI Ireland assessment tool be used to designate HMWBs? Does it consider the WFD water body unit in isolation or can it be used to assess a full river system where there may be multiple hydromorphological pressures?

A.  The designation of heavily modified waterbodies is currently under review. It is an evidence-based assessment using EU guidance, various hydromorphological assessment tools including the MQI, and input from stakeholders. The MQI-Ireland tool is carried out at reach scale taking into account the cumulative impact of multiple pressures within the reach. The assessments are carried out initially at reach scale for the HMWB designation process but ultimately a designation is at waterbody scale.

Q.  What is the system in the North and does it work for cross-border rivers? Is it MQI too?

A.  The Northern Ireland Environment Agency use the physical habitat assessment, RHAT (River Hydromorphology Assessment Technique) for hydromorphological classification and characterisation. NI-EA carry out a 500m survey and two spot checks for a river waterbody. This survey is also used in the republic – EPA use the same RHAT survey for hydromorphological classification at biological monitoring stations.

Dr Hamish Moir, CBEC Eco-Engineering – Process-Based River Restoration Design in Practice 

Q.  Given the emphasis on the importance of biodiversity, how do you propose to demonstrate biodiversity benefits and incorporate biodiversity objectives into WFD measures?

A.  In terms of physical diversity, we have conducted detailed post-implementation re-surveys to monitor topographical and sedimentary change. There are various metrics that can be used to define physical diversity but we employed Joe Wheaton’s Geomorphic Unit Tool (GUT) on the Allt Lorgy (Williams et al 2020, Science of the Total Environment). This showed a clear trajectory of increasing diversity of geomorphic (habitat) units over time. We also conducted habitat modelling for the Lorgy and the River Nairn, predicting the effects of the restoration measures on spawning and juvenile salmon habitat, subsequently validated through habitat use (redd surveys and electrofishing data)

Q.  Do you have recommendations for how natural channel and flood management can be promoted as viable options to planners and land owners when considering flood risk and land use management?

A.  The multiple benefits of ‘process-based’ river restoration/ management should be highlighted when promoting such work. Reinstating natural processes can result in a cascade of improvements over time – e.g. flood risk reduction, biodiversity gain, greater aesthetic appearance (and associated improved public interaction with the site), improved fishery etc. Also, the sustainability of re-naturalising is significant – allowing the river to self-regulate with minimal future intervention required (if the design is appropriately implemented). However, I think better policy (and providing funding for implementing such work) will ultimately be the best driver for having this type of work implemented at the scale that it needs to be in order to realise tangible benefits at the catchment scale.

Q.  Given the importance of large wood for river restoration, do you think this provides evidence for the benefits of reintroducing beavers?

A.  I answered this question in the conference itself but, in short, yes (but with significant caveats relating to the current use of the land and the associated risks to that). The ecology of our river systems evolved with the interaction of many species, including beaver. And beaver are known to have a crucial role in the delivery and storage of large wood to channels in a more natural setting, a critical influence on geomorphic processes. However, the influence of beavers in a heavily managed river environment often results in problems, particularly where there are straightened/ over-deepened/ enbanked channels (producing a response in the river that is very different to that in a natural setting). So, it might be best to remove or reduce the artificial constraints (certainly in the most significantly impacted areas) that are managing the channel (i.e. physical restoration) prior to the reintroduction of beaver.

Note: Beaver are not a native species in Ireland so ‘reintroduction’ in Hamish’s answer is referring to the UK context.

Q.  Fascinating presentation and would love to see more of this carried out in Ireland. What kind of cost is associated with this work?

A.  The ‘purer’ process-based restoration approaches where ‘Stage 0’ or assisted recovery is implented do not require significant ground works (e.g. removing constraints to physical process such as bank protection, embankments etc rather than excavating a new channel etc) and therefore are relatively cheap. This perhaps seems paradoxical since these approaches are the ‘ideal’ and result on the greatest improvements over time (but this is related to the river doing most of the work in moving to a more natural state).

A caveat being that these approaches should only be applied where there is relatively little risk to infrastrcture/ services/ property etc and where the river has the potential to conduct sufficient ‘geomorphic work’ (i.e. sediment transport). In terms of actual costs, the Allt Lorgy project was completed from inception to delivery for ~£50k (although this was 8 years ago). Given the greater degree to risk and the fact that a discrete new (initial) channel alignment had to be excavated, the River Nairn project cost ~£300k (this included all the option development, modelling and detailed design phases of the work, as well as construction). Generally, the greater the degree of risk gets, the greater the cost will be.

Q.  How do you secure the large wood structure into the bank?

A.  If the wood is large enough (about as long as the channel is wide, roughly) and has the root plate and stumps of branches still in place (i.e. to act as ‘anchors’), no measures are required to stabilise the wood. No additional stabilisation was used for large wood in the Allt Lorgy project and none has moved in 8 years and a few very significant flood events. However, persuading a client that further stabilisation is not required is sometimes challenging, especially where there is risk to infrastructure etc downstream if the wood mobilises. So, we often require to bury the large wood into the bank and/or bed of the channel, back-filling with ballast in the form of river boulders and then covering with natural bank sediments/ top soil/ turf etc. A large boulder positioned leaning onto the trunk of the large wood piece just behind the root plate on the downstream side provides a very good anchor. Where there is a very twitchy client, we conduct force balance (drag vs buoyancy) assessments on each large wood structure to determine the mass of ballast require to keep them stable under a design flood condition in order to provide assurance that they will not mobilise.

Q. Some really good case studies there Hamish. What has been the level of community engagement with these projects? Are they projects that Local Communities could take on with expert input?

A.  Not so much the Upper River Nairn project (it is on a relatively remote sporting estate where some degree of privacy is desired) but the Allt Lorgy is only about 1 km outside of the town of Carrbridge in the Cairngorm National Park. There has been a huge amount of engagement by the local and wider communities, including schools, nature groups etc. This has been largely promoted by the River Spey Catchment Initiative, a local NGO.

Q.  It is great to see the appearance of redds in restored river sections. Do you know of any dedicated studies on the recovery of fisheries and macroinvertebrates after these types of works?

A.  Internationally, there is a wealth of information on the ecological response to river restoration but not so much on the ‘Stage 0’, ‘process-based’, ‘assisted recovery’, ‘rewilding’ type of approaches. However, as these types of project become more common, there is an increasing number of studies looking at the response of the biota. We have worked on one published paper (Williams et al 2020, Science of the Total Environment) that looked at the physical response of the Allt Lorgy to this type of restoration (with inferences for the ecology) and we are working on another two now that consider the ecology more specifically (both on the Upper River Nairn project). We do need more ecological sampling though and I’m very keen to explore how biota utilise online wetland environments (very little is known about this as they are all but absent from our environment now, despite being widespread in (pre)historical times).

Q.  Could you comment on this type of river restoration in a heavily constrained, urban environment.  Have you had experience with this type of scenario?

A.  The consideration of physical river processes should be considered in any river restoration/ management/ engineering project – failure to do so is almost always the reason a project fails! However, how much freedom you can give the river to apply those processes (typically dictated by the available width of the ‘floodplain’) is constrained by infrastructure/ services/ property etc. You just need to work within the defined constraints and, where these are more significant, produce a more ‘fixed’ design. However, this should still be based on a sound understanding of the physical processes imposed on the site and, as such, will allow for some degree of (controlled) adjustment of the channel.

Rivers are inherently dynamic and we must incorporate some potential for change in our designs (or they will fail over time). We have worked on a large number of urban projects (e.g. Mains of Dyce, Aberdeen; East Tullos Burn, Aberdeen; River Darent, Dartford), developing as naturally functioning a design as the site will permit. Indeed, the greatest positive feedback that we receive following the implementation of a restoration project tends to be in urban projects (much greater room for improvement I think!).

Q.  What one policy change would you think is critical for river restoration?

A.  I think any policy that encourages ‘buy-in’ from landowners. Without the mechanism for something similar to ‘compulsory purchase’ for river restoration works that will have a disproportionate benefit to the environment and society, some reasonable degree of compensation for landowners to ‘set aside’ a sufficiently wide river corridor to nature would be greatly help in delivering ambitious targets for restoration. Perhaps some elements of farming subsidy could be redirected to environmental ‘rewilding’. We certainly need a step change in the way society regards the importance of the environment if we are to build in climate change resilience etc.

Q.  Did you have to put in measures to prevent colonisation of invasive non-native species along the restored riparian zones?

A.  I addressed this question in the talk but this is always a consideration in all restoration projects. We tend to focus on designing the physical elements of the project so are not so directly involved in these aspects. But it is determined what the local status of INNS is, and appropriate eradication work is undertaken prior to the implementation of the physical works. Furthermore, these schemes usually also involve the development of a planting plan for native species and, often, the fencing off of the site (particularly if deer grazing is an issue).

Q.  When developing a restoration plan what stakeholders are involved in the design stage? How do you encourage landowners to agree to the river restoration especially when it would remove some of their lands?

A.  This really depends on the project and which stakeholders there are for a given site. There tends to be fewer stakeholders in sites with a lower degree of constraints (i.e. relating to infrastructure, services, property etc), perhaps partly because such sites are more rural/ remote. However, stakeholders will usually include the landowner, farmers (if in a rural setting), the regulators, local authority and relevant NGOs (e.g. fishery/ river trusts etc). Sometimes local community groups too.

We typically begin an ‘options appraisal’ process for a restoration project, identifying a range of feasible options. Then we will request feedback on these options from stakeholders, often in a ‘workshop’ type of forum. In some projects there is quite a specific steer from the beginning on what types of options are appropriate from stakeholders though (some people have strongly held views from the outset on what they want from their river).

We have found that, in agricultural settings at least, getting agreement for this type of work (effectively, giving the river more space so requiring some land take) is to demonstrate the benefits to field drainage of a more naturally functioning river corridor. Watercourses in agricultural environments are often artificially straightened, meaning that sediment can only be stored in the bed of the channel. Over time this ‘perches’ the channel above the adjacent land meaning that the field drainage systems become ineffective (resulting in areas of saturated ground for long periods of the year) and increasing the impact (extents and residence time) of flooding when the channel banks are over-topped.

A renaturalised river corridor stores sediment in the margins of the channel, always maintaining a channel bed lower than the outfall of the field drains and will not so catastrophically inundate (area and duration) agricultural land during floods.

Q.  Have you seen ecological recovery since the works were completed at the case study sites and what was the time frame for evidence of recovery since completion of the works?

A.  Yes, this was shown in my talk for both the Allt Lorgy and the upper River Nairn. The response in the latter was almost immediate – the design was completed on 21st Sept and fish (sea trout) were spawning in the realigned channel by Oct 9th!

Since the Lorgy project required the river to do most of the work of restoring the channel, the ecological response took a bit longer (first spawning in the second season after the works were completed) but has been progressive since. We do need to collect more ecological data pre- and post-restoration on these projects, especially for juvenile fish and invertebrates. However, there is VERY rarely any monitoring budget to be able to undertake this (all the monitoring undertaken on the Lorgy and the Nairn was funded by ourselves, although this has provided excellent data for research purposes and for presentations!).

Q.  How was the experience of interaction with landowners on both banks in the case where works were restricted to one side of the river (straightened section)?

A.  That was the upper River Nairn project. It was the same landowner on both banks, just that it was only on the north side of the river where there was any land suitable for agriculture. We had the freedom to pretty much do what we wanted in terms of design on the south side of the previous channel course.

Mary-Liz Walshe, Dublin City Council – Restoring the River Camac

Q.  Given the emphasis on the importance of biodiversity, how do you propose to demonstrate biodiversity benefits and incorporate biodiversity objectives into WFD measures?

A.  Great question. In many respects, this aspect of river protection and enhancement is known intuitively by members of the public. In some respects, it’s almost more important, in my view, to get other professionals to remember their secondary school geography. The features and processes of natural untouched rivers, from waterfalls in the upper reaches, to wetlands and ox-bow lakes in the lowlands, from river cliffs and beaches to the transitional zones where the river mixes with sea water, make a river system so diverse with such a variety of different habitats. Add in seasonal flood and drought conditions and you get an added layer of complexity and diversity. When humans alter a river, channelise it, fix its bed and banks with concrete or other stabilisation methods, cut it off from its floodplains, we make it uniform. We run the risk of removing a multitude of habitats. In trying to put some of the above features and processes back into a river system that has been altered, we are trying to recreate some of these diverse conditions and potential habitats for improved biodiversity.

To my knowledge, the metrics are not all available to river managers or enthusiasts to formally link this back to WFD targets but the beauty of the WFD legislation is that through the emphasis it places on Community Engagement, it allows these issues to be brought to the table by them and that has come through very strongly for DCC on our public engagement and visioning exercises we have carried out in the Camac River Catchment. With the public’s help, the WFD agenda can be broader that just the technical at this point, while we wait for the science to catch up.

We are very conscious of the need for the monitoring of ecology and biodiversity both before and after an intervention in the river system, including riparian habitats, so that the changes can be tracked and assessed. Again, the feedback we receive from the general public in relation to such changes, both positive and negative, is very helpful.

Q.  Have you any ideas on how best to achieve having open water bodies in our urban areas where there sometimes is a level of fear about the apparent dangers of same for the public.  How can authorities overcome this fear? Is this something that DCC have dealt with?

A.  I’m delighted you picked up on this point from my presentation as it is something I would have loved to had time to develop further.

Yes, there is often a fear in relation to safety and open water bodies, even with respect to SuDS features, in urban areas. I believe we’re at a point now where these concerns can typically be addressed through the design approach and public engagement.

For urban rivers, very often the man-made modifications the rivers have been subjected to actually have the effect of making a river more dangerous. To give one obvious example, a modified u-shaped river channel can be very difficult to climb out of. In my slides I contrast an over-deepened channel with fast flowing water with another example of another small urban river running through a park in the UK. In the second example it’s clear that the dangers associated with someone falling into the river are reduced, relative to the first example. Yes, greater access is provided to the river in the second example, but I think we can all see that it’s probably safer. There is most certainly a public awareness aspect to this and in DCC we have a very strong dedicated community engagement programme that exists in parallel with our various WFD projects on many of our rivers.

Going back again to the UK example of the river properly connected to its floodplains within a public park: in flood conditions, a larger portion of the park is likely to be flooded when compared to the over-deepened examples so the managers of this river and park would need to ensure that a reliable flood warning system is in place for the users of this public space. The river in full flood in the first example would still be likely to be more dangerous if someone was to fall into the river channel.

In DCC, we find that good design and strong public engagement is the key to overcoming this challenge. This work is ongoing and public safety is a critical consideration.

Q.  Is the Camac the worst example of over development along its banks of the rivers running through Dublin?

A.  Thanks very much for your question. Dublin, as the capital city probably has more examples of this than anywhere else in Ireland. Other rivers in Dublin with historic over-development would include the Poddle, as well as parts of the Liffey and the Dodder. The legal requirement for planning permission for development was only put in place in Ireland in 1964 and the legacy of, what we would consider now to be, inappropriate development in the wrong location remains with us to the present day.

Within Dublin City, there are a further 33 smaller, historic rivers, which are completely underground today: some of these actually now form part of the City’s combined drainage system. The river Camac was very industrial dating as far back as the 1600 and urban settlements within Kilmainham, the local historians tell me, date back even earlier than settlements further down the Liffey towards Dublin Bay, where we consider historical Viking Dublin to be now. When we considered the many roles the river fulfilled for inhabitants hundreds of years ago, including food (fish), drinking water, cleaning, carrying away wastes, water for farm animals and later for power, we start to understand why proximity to the river was so important. From my understanding of the Camac’s particular characteristics, what may make it unique in Dublin City is its ownership patterns. Relative to other city rivers of a similar size, a large proportion of it is in private land.

I hope this goes some way to answering your question.

Session 4: Communities in Action

Con McLaughlin, Donegal County Council, & Andy Griggs, Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon District Council – CatchmentCARE – Improving Water Quality in Cross Border Catchments

Q.  Catchment by catchment seems to be the way to achieve best improvements working with all stakeholders but how can this motivation and interest be maintained after the project is finished?

A. The CatchmentCARE Project has always included the need for a project legacy following the project delivery period which concludes at October 2022. Ongoing work across the various work packages and across the Project Partnership will no doubt contribute to that legacy. However, in the context of ‘communities in action’ the CatchmentCARE’s ‘Community Incentive Scheme’ (CIS) projects; its on-going Training Programme and Education Programmes should all help instil that sense of local ownership required.

One of the original aims of the CIS/Training was to raise public awareness to have long term positive consequences for the protection and preservation of our rivers and water quality. Citizen scientists and local involvement are essential to a water quality directive and empowering people with knowledge and skills will give a long-lasting return. We need volunteers to be the catchments eyes and ears in order to maintain and enhance water quality.

The CIS and training elements of CatchmentCARE will ensure groups and individuals are in a better position to discuss problem areas and methods of mitigation with the wider public and understand which statutory agencies/NGOs are accountable for water quality/ maintaining local waterways – e.g.  IFI, IFA, LAWCO/LAWPRO, NIEA, The Rivers Agency/Rivers Trusts / DAERA / UFU.

From a CatchmentCARE perspective, this is where the interest and motivation for local people and stakeholders should continue post project.

Q.  Given the high biodiversity including Zostera marina beds and native oyster beds as well as serious pollution and seafloor damage issues, is there any work on managing the waters of Lough Foyle X border and does any include citizen science?

A.  Whilst the waters and seabed of Lough Foyle are not being dealt with directly by CatchmentCARE, Loughs Agency are working on projects to conserve, protect and restore the native oyster population in Lough Foyle. Citizen science is difficult in sub tidal habitats, but Loughs Agency does glean additional information from fishermen on the health of the native oyster population by asking fishermen to report issues such as mortalities and invasive species in addition to their landing returns.

Q.  Do you think BREXIT Negotiations will have any impact on on-going Cross-Border Catchment Work and Future Funding via INTERREG etc?

A. The Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) who manage cross border funding as part of the Interreg and Peace Programmes have indicated that they expect the new Peace+ Programme to continue post Brexit.

Q.  Hi Andy, Firstly, thank you very much for your presentation. It’s great to children taking part in educational activities in the environment. I worked abroad in Canada and the UK teaching environmental education. I saw a huge benefit education has had on communities abroad. My question to you is, do you feel enough funding and attention is being given to education and if so is this an area that can be developed more widely around Ireland?

A. This was answered on the day at the Q&A session which is summarised as follows:

  • There are many good exemplars of Environmental Education (EE) across Ireland which are teaching our young people the importance of caring for nature e.g. Eco / Green Schools, Streamscapes, Eco-Unesco’s YEA, and many NGO and statutory programmes. So much attention has been given to EE in recent years, however there are problems…
  • Unfortunately, whenever funding is tight or withdrawn from the conservation sector it always seems to be the education element which is hit or cut first – it is seen as the fluffy side of the sector but for me it is a hugely important if not crucial part of our work.
  • We need to develop our future generations with sustainability in mind, who will care for and have empathy with and want to protect the natural world including our local rivers and catchments.
  • In the Northern Irish curriculum, we have a quote under the ‘World Around Us’ subject which states that “Every young person should have the opportunity to develop a sense of awe and wonder of the world around them”
  • We also need to train the educators so that they have the skills and confidence to teach environmental education outside of the classroom and we need to set statutory targets for children to experience the outdoors either in a school’s grounds setting or further afield.
  • These are the issues and yes there are many opportunities arising out of these which could be rolled out across the country if properly funded and supported.

Donal Sheehan – The BRIDE Project – Opportunities for Multiple Benefits

Q.  The current GLAS scheme allows control spraying of pesticides in numerous cases, would you support the complete elimination of spraying in the new eco-schemes?

A.  The first step to reduce pesticide use on farms is to eliminate them from natural habitats such as field margins, hedgerows, riparian margins etc. etc. In other words, pesticides should only be allowed in the cropping area. In the example given, it is allowed to spray certain weeds in GLAS measures such as wild bird cover, this, to me, is ridiculous, as the weeds that are being sprayed are often more beneficial than the wild bird cover that was planted! Banning pesticides from natural habitats should be implemented immediately.

There is an underlying problem, when dealing with the issue of pesticide reduction and this is the Noxious Weeds Act of almost 100 years ago, where farmers can still be penalised and even fined for having any of these noxious weeds growing on their farm.

Going down the road of biological farming where the focus is on the soil rather than the crop is, in my opinion, the next step to eliminating pesticides from farming. It will be easier for the grassland farmer than the tillage farmer.

Q.  What do you think needs to be the priority under the new CAP to promote the Bride approach across all farms?

A.  Safeguard and retain all existing habitats such as wet grassland, hedgerows, species-rich grassland, marsh, etc. etc. Farm payments should go to maintaining these habitats and rewarding farmers for managing them to a high ecological quality. Results-based payments should be implemented so that farmers who are contributing most to environmental improvement get paid most for their work.

Get rid of the eligible land rule.

Q.  Who decides if a target species is present and decides how much and how good habitat is on a farm?

A.  Our ecologist decides on both. Breeding evidence is required for our target species and we have scoresheets to determine the quality of farmland habitats.

Q.  Re his thoughts on the farm advisory system. Do farmers put a lot of value on farm advice they receive and is it this advice that ultimately makes them decide on the measure to implement and where to implement them?

A.  Farm advisory services give advice based on producing food whether milk meat or cereals, as efficiently as possible. This is often contradictory to good environmental practice. Peer influence is a bigger factor as if one farmer is implementing a particular farm practice and it’s working, others soon follow.

An ecologist should visit every farm once per year and let farmers know the importance of habitats they may have on their farm. Lack of biodiversity awareness (in particular) is a big problem at farm level. How are farmers supposed to conserve biodiversity if they don’t know what they are protecting?

Q.  Do you think we need a database where citizens can access help and expertise to help overcome the initial hurdle of ‘being taken seriously’?

A.  I think if there was a forum where citizens could have an influence and air their ideas for others to support and follow up, it would be helpful. Re the issue of biodiversity loss and other environmental issues, farmers are the best to give solutions because they can see practically, on the ground, what will work and what won’t.

Q.  Is there any way we can develop a connection between community and farming education with regards macroinvertebrate training? Or is there a funding and training already available?

A.  This could be taught in schools. Teacher training courses during the summer months could train up teachers to kick sample and identify macroinvertebrates. It would be great for teachers to go to a local stream during May or June with their class and carry out this as part of a nature walk. Get local Tidy Towns group to support the initiative.

Q.  What is Donal’s view of the Nitrates derogation? What is his experience of its impact in the Bride catchment and does he believe that it is necessary for viable dairy farming?

A.  The Nitrates Derogation is a safety net that encourages us to put out more fertiliser rather than less. As an industry we should be seen to be cutting back on the high nitrogen use on our farms. Leaving derogation is the first step.

The Bride river has a moderate water quality standard and it suffers as much as any other river. Blaming farmers isn’t the solution, we all drink the same water and a co-ordinated and co-operative approach is needed to sort out the problem. It certainly isn’t necessary for viable dairy farming as many dairy farmers are not in derogation. It would encourage farmers to utilise artificial fertilisers and slurry more efficiently if derogation was to go. It would also ensure clover swards and multi-species swards, both of which contribute to biodiversity also, could become common place. 

Conference presentations

1. The state of Ireland’s water environment – Micheal Lehane, EPA
2. The road ahead – European water policy and developments – Dr Leanne Roche, EU Commission DG Environment
3. Preparing for the third River Basin Management Plan and beyond – Feargal O’Coigligh, DHPLG
4. Two years on the ground identifying problems and fixing them – Carol McCarthy, LAWPRO
5. The complex challenges of dealing with bathing waters – Prof. David Kay, Aberystwyth University
6. Public water infrastructure: what the future holds – Sean Laffey, Irish Water
7. Agriculture and water: what the future holds – Jack Nolan, DAFM
8. Dealing with physical damage to rivers: the Morphological Quality Index and restoration – Emma Quinlan, EPA
9. Process based river restoration design in practice – Hamish Moir, CBEC EcoEngineering
10. Restoring the River Camac – Mary-Liz Walshe, DCC
11. CatchmentCARE: improving water quality in cross-border catchments – Con McLaughlin / Andy Griggs
12. Working with local communities to protect the Maigue – Tom Harrington, Maigue Rivers Trust
13. The BRIDE project: working for multiple benefits – Donal Sheehan, BRIDE Project
Funding communities to engage in protecting waters – Fran Igoe, LAWPRO

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.