River Al, Athlone: clean up and regeneration by Willow Park community group
The River Al is a tributary of the mighty River Shannon and on its journey the Al flows through the Willow Park Housing Estate in Athlone, County Westmeath. The local community in Willow Park have come together in recent months to organise several river clean-ups along the Al. The aim of these clean ups is twofold, firstly to tidy up the area and increase the amenity value of the river for the local community, and secondly to raise awareness of the wildlife and heritage to be found around Willow Park and in the wider Athlone area. Members of the ‘Willow Park Community Group’, ‘Friends of the River Al’ and Basil Mannion, Community Water Officer with the Waters and Communities Office have been joined each Saturday for the clean ups by volunteers from amongst the local community.
Unfortunately, the River Al in the area has been subject to heavy littering and illegal dumping, as is often the case along watercourses in urban areas. This Willow Park Community initiative aims to raise awareness of this problem and reduce occurrences, eventually eliminating fly-tipping and dumping all together from the area, it hoped this will be encouraged through increased local pride and community stewardship of the River Al by the local community and stakeholders. Basil Mannion is providing support and assistance to the Willow Park residents in their efforts and believes there are opportunities for this river clean up to provide a model that can be delivered in other locations for revitalising a river in an urban setting.
The Willow Park Community Group will hold awareness and educational days to share knowledge and learnings and to promote achievements, thereby further developing a sense of local pride and responsibility to protect the Al River for the benefit of wildlife and as an amenity for the local community. Funding for this initiative is being sought through the Anti-Dumping and littering Fund Second Phase, from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
The Waters and Communities Office will support and promote this collaborative approach with all local stakeholders working together to help restore and revitalise the River Al. The stakeholders are the Willow Park Community Group, Willow Park residents, Westmeath County Council, Councillor Tom Farrell, Inland Fisheries Ireland, OPW, EPA Catchments unit, Irish Wildlife Trust, Athlone Municipal Council, local business people, local angling groups and Athlone Institute of Technology.
By working together we can bring about positive and worthwhile change to protect and improve our local waters for the benefit of all.