This January, my project partner Riona Sheahan and I entered…
Catchment Case Study: The River Loobagh
The River Loobagh is a tributary of the River Maigue in County Limerick and has a catchment of approximately 129km2. The Loobagh rises in the Ballyhoura Mountains and flows through the Towns of Kilfinane and Kilmallock before joining the River Maigue south of Bruree. The Loobagh and its tributaries are important salmon spawning waters and also support healthy populations of trout.
Water quality in the Loobagh is generally good, particularly since the wastewater treatment plants serving Kilfinane and Kilmallock were upgraded in recent years. However, in August 2014, 70,000 gallons of slurry leaked from a steel slurry tower in to the Loobagh just up-stream of Kilmallock and killed hundreds of fish over several kilometres. While this event was deeply upsetting for the local community, particularly the anglers, a silver lining was that it focused attention on the river and highlighted its potential as a fishery.
As a result, the decision was taken to pilot a number of initiatives in this area with a view to developing a model of catchment management which would mobilise the local communities to become stewards of their aquatic resources and allow the river to achieve its potential as a high status water body and thriving fishery.
Aims of this pilot
To raise awareness of the multiple benefits that healthy waterways offer to all sectors of society and of the ways in which we can all impact water quality as we go about our daily lives; embed the idea that economic, social and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked, and empower communities to manage their rivers in a way that allows them to achieve the benefits they need while at the same time protecting water quality and biodiversity.
Educational and Awareness Programme
An education and awareness programme called “Streamscapes Loobagh”, developed by Coomhola Salmon Trust, was delivered to all of the primary and secondary schools in the catchment and evening sessions were held in three locations for the wider community. The programme was received with huge enthusiasm and the feedback from all those who attended was extremely positive. This pilot was funded by LCCC, however, it is hoped to encourage community groups to organise similar events in the future and to apply for funding under programmes such as Local Agenda 21.
A stakeholder group has been established with representatives from community groups, farming organisations, the local development company, Coillte, Inland Fisheries Ireland, local councillors and landowners. A study trip was undertaken to the Ballinderry catchment in Northern Ireland to look at the work of The Rivers Trust there. The group felt that the Trust’s model of community involvement in river planning and the co-operative approach to solving water quality issues would be very success in the Loobagh area, but acknowledged that having full time dedicated staff was probably something that would not be possible in the immediate future. In the meantime however, it is hoped to establish a voluntary “implementation group” which would be a sub-committee of the stakeholder group and which would be positioned to apply to for funding for relevant projects through programmes such as Rural Development Programme, Lottery Funding, Failte Ireland, Local Agenda 21 etc.
There are several other initiatives underway in the catchment including:
The Local Anglers, with the assistance of Inland Fisheries Ireland, identified in-stream works which would improve the habitat for Salmon and Trout and restore fish numbers after the fish kill. They approached the councillors in the Municipal District of Killmallock-Cappamore who enthusiastically supported the proposals and allocated funds from the General Muncipal Allocation to fund phase 1 of the works. These works included the construction of rubble mats, weirs, gravel beds, thalwegs and other structures to improve the conditions for fish to breed and thrive. The funding was used to purchase stone and gravel and the works were carried out by the OPW under their River Improvements Programme.
Riverfly Monitoring Programme
The Riverfly monitoring programme is a “citizen science” project which has been up and running in the UK for a number of years. It will be trialled in the Loobagh over the coming months. This project will provide training to interested community members, anglers and landowners in a simplified method of biological monitoring, which will allow people to monitor and assess their local rivers and streams. The first training session is scheduled for October this year and has been offered to members of the stakeholder group. If feedback from this group is positive, the programme will be offered to the wider community.
Control of Invasive Species
One of the issues highlighted by the group at an early stage was the problem of Giant Hogweed along the banks of the Loobagh. It was agreed that a high priority for the group should be to implement a programme to control this weed. Ballyhoura Development Ltd, the local development country has submitted an application for funding under Local Agenda 21, on behalf of the group, to provide training to participants in a local Rural Social Scheme in pesticide use and control of invasive species. If the application is successful, the training will be delivered in early 2016 and the control programme will commence at the start of the growing season. It is envisaged that eradication from the catchment will take between five and ten years.
Changing attitudes – engagement and empowerment
While the Loobagh project is in its early stages, already there is a perceptible shift in attitude: members of the stakeholder group and community groups in the area are already embracing the challenge and the traditional “why don’t they do something about the problem” has to become “let’s see what we can do about it”! This is the essence of meaningful community engagement and empowerment.