Rivers trusts are charities, established by local people to look…
Creating a vision for Dundalk Bay Rivers
Dundalk Bay is an important area for shellfish, wetland birds and a range of marine and coastal habitats including vegetated shingle and saltmarsh, and because of this it is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The rivers that flow into Dundalk Bay rise in most of the neighbouring counties: The Flurry in Co. Down; the Kilcurry and Castletown in Co. Armagh; the Fane in Co. Monaghan; the Gylde in Counties Cavan and Monaghan; and the Dee in County Meath. The catchment covers an area of approximately 1,600km2 with a population of 117,000 in the Republic of Ireland, so creating a vision for the rivers of Dundalk Bay could be rather a challenge!
Under the guidance of Mark Horton of the Ballinderry Rivers Trust, and with the assistance of Alec Rolston from Dundalk IT, the border region Community Water Officers and their trusty leader Bernie O’Flaherty decided to take on this very challenge. We used the community engagement methodologies developed by the Ballinderry Rivers Trust called the RIPPLE methodology: Rivers Involving People, Places and Leading by Example. During the month of March this year the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office organised seven community meetings, which were held in four counties encompassing the catchment.
On arrival at a meeting the participants were given a name tag and assigned to a table (this ensured that special interest groups could not dominate discussions at any table). After a welcome and introduction to the evening each table created a poster to display their memories of their local rivers, lakes and coastlines. They were given an opportunity to share these memories with everyone.
We then asked each table to create a poster with their ‘vision’ for their rivers. Each table was given magazines to help prompt ideas for this vision, and to assist in the creation of their posters. After 15 minutes, each table was asked to present their poster and their key vision items to the rest of the room.
From this everyone was asked to identify the actions required to deliver this vision, who and what organisations might be needed to carry it out, and if they would like to have a part in the development of the vision.
An advisory group formed of members of staff from Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Louth County councils, Inland Fisheries Ireland representation, Lough’s Agency, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Dundalk Institute of Technology has been set up to act as a steering group to the project.
When all the meetings were completed, we created a spreadsheet showing all the vision items and actions identified at each meeting and this information was collated into thematic areas. The breakdown of action points is shown in Figure 4.
Mark Horton, Bernie O’Flaherty and Gretta McCarron met in the Fire Station in Monaghan to collate all the vision points and supporting actions into a draft Vision for Dundalk Bay Rivers which was presented to the community for ratification in Carrickmacross Workhouse on 21st September.
• Protect and improve the water quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters
• Protect and improve habitats and biodiversity of our aquatic ecosystems and adjacent areas
• Learn more about our water environment and the role we can play in its protection and improvement
• A water environment and community that is more resilient to climate change
• Sustainable recreation and tourism along our waterways and loughs that provides benefits for the community, environment and local economy
The ratification meeting was well attended and the draft vision was welcomed by all present, although they did request some small changes which were added.
We were delighted to have Mr Ken Whelan as a guest speaker at our Vision ratification event when he gave us an inspiring presentation on the need to protect our rivers. He spoke of how the rivers were managed in the past and of our future challenges not least of which is the impacts of climate change. Ken recommends a multiagency approach to rebuild catchments including bogs, wetlands, improved farm management practice, along with the Waters and Communities Office encouraging environmental stewardship within communities. It is important to manage extreme low water as well as extreme high water. Describing a river as ‘a living breathing creature’, Ken believes we need to engender pride in our rivers, loughs and waterways.
It is wonderful to have a community vision for our rivers of Dundalk Bay – but of course now the real work has to begin. The next step for our vision is to break down the ideas identified into quick wins versus more challenging longer-term actions, and to develop partnerships to bring about the required actions.
The overarching aim of this project would be to develop a Dundalk Bay Rivers Trust, but we are realistic, and firmly believe we need to walk before we can run. We have several different groups keen to deliver projects in their own local catchment, so we will support these groups in the first instance, and build on each success to help drive our communities vision further.
Bernie O’Flaherty, Gretta McCarron, Karen Kennedy, Jimmy McVeigh (Local Authority Waters and Communities Office) with support from Mark Horton (Rivers Trust) and Alec Rolston (Dundalk IT)