Heritage Week took place this year from 17- 25 August.…
Going online to support communities working to enhance water quality and biodiversity
In these strange times, the work of the Local Authority Community Waters Officers has had to move online. Ruairí Ó Conchúir tells us how he has moved to Zoom training events for local communities – and that while this has allowed him to support communities during the pandemic, it can never be as effective as chatting face-to-face over a cup of tea…
What started out as one to one online support to individual community groups in late March 2020, at the very start of the COVID-19 lockdown, soon developed into a comprehensive training programme. The online Zoom based training was designed to support community groups in the Mid-West to engage with their local water bodies in terms of water quality, biodiversity, habitat enhancement work, biosecurity and the sharing of ideas on water related projects and ways in which local groups and individual champions can help build local community resilience.
In the period from mid-April to early July 2020 a total of 12 online training events for community groups were delivered. These free online training events were designed to support groups to gain a better understanding of the various interrelated issues at play within their local water bodies.
Amongst other focus areas, the training included the following:
- Otter Identification & Citizen Science Survey Work and Approaches focused on otter and American mink identification, otter survey work, recording of data and possible otter habitat restoration works
- Dragonfly and Damselfly Identification and Citizen Science Survey Work focused on approaches and techniques to survey work, data capture and recording, habitat management and site-specific planning
- How Our Rivers Work and How We Can Work With Our Rivers focused on rivers as biodiversity corridors and practical measures communities can undertake to support their local river as part of their wider catchment
- Control and Management of Alien Invasive Species focused on the practical steps to take to control and manage invasive plant species along rivers
- Waterbodies and the Work of Tidy Towns focused on how groups can create a greater understanding of local water bodies, undertake practical measures to improve water quality, biodiversity planning, riparian management, and site-specific planning to lessen the impact of climate change
- Wetlands – Helping Communities Reconnect with Nature focused on the Shannon Town Community Wetlands Restoration Project and other community wetlands in Ireland helping communities reconnect with nature
- Biosecurity, You and Your Local Water Body focused on the ever-present threat of Crayfish Plague and invasive species and how communities can raise awareness of biosecurity risks and undertake preventative measures, including the Check-Clean-Dry protocol, to lessen the impacts on local rivers and recreational waters
- Project Work, Funding and Project Planning focused on how communities can access funding, plan projects, share tips and project ideas to enhance their local water bodies while building community resilience in the face of the current climate change crisis and biodiversity emergency
The online training was targeted at community and voluntary groups, Tidy Town groups, development associations, environmental NGOs, farmers and landowners throughout counties Clare, Limerick and Tipperary during the period of COVID-19 lockdown. The training was delivered by Ruairí Ó Conchúir, with joint training sessions delivered with Olive Carey of the Shannon Wetlands Project and with David Wall, of Dragonfly Ireland, on dragonfly identification, survey work and techniques.
In terms of uptake and engagement there was very considerable interest in the training with noteworthy support from LAWPRO HQ, various PPNs, local authorities and LEADER companies in the Mid-West. The need for technical and back-up support to go online is significant, especially if the training is being delivered as a one person operation. Pre-registration is also a critical factor for GDPR reasons and to prevent Zoom-bombing. A hosting platform, where the trainings can be made more widely accessible, is also essential.
Irrespective of the massive changes that have occurred in how we communicate and engage online there is no substitute to face-to-face training and practical engagements with community groups. Holding online training events and meetings during the COVID-19 public health emergency offered a way to keep communities engaged. But moving forward to the reopening phase of Irish society it is important to acknowledge that such online and virtual events can be deeply disempowering. The virtual world is all very well for those who can go virtual, but it can also be extremely marginalising, especially within isolated rural communities and for those not in a position to go virtual for multiple reasons. Ultimately going online is very poor substitute for effective public consultation, real active community engagement and networking – not forgetting the all-important cup of tea after a community meeting!