In Ireland, we are never far from at least one…
The River Suir: Ardfinnan Family Fun Day, Sunday September 25th
Rivers users, wildlife experts, water professionals and the local community in Ardfinnan put on a Family Funday spectacular along the River Suir on Sunday 25th September. And not to disappoint the river wildlife turned out in force showing just how important the River Suir is when it comes to nature and our natural heritage.
The river events started off with the now regular and increasingly popular Canoe-BQ which is run and organised by the ‘Knockmealdown Active’. This saw over 40 people canoeing and kayaking from Inch Field in Cahir down to Ardfinnan Village in the morning. The weather had been very stormy and wet leading up to the event but on the day the sun shone and couldn’t have been more pleasant. Whilst the canoeists were paddling their way downstream enjoying the sights along the river, work was underway on Ardfinnan village green to set up the wide range of stands, exhibits and
community activities, the focal point being the River Suir Marquee.
Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) had a stand providing information on the wonderful fishing and natural heritage resources that we have in Ireland and Fisheries Officer Michael Byron was there to discuss this with visitors to the stand. Myles Kelly of IFI provided demonstrations on fly fishing and had rods on hand for people to try out fly casting for themselves.
Michael Long and his colleagues from the Cabragh Wetlands centre showcased the wonderful wildlife that occurs along the River Suir with some fine examples of otters and other creatures that can be seen along the river banks and also explained the importance of the Cabragh Wetlands not only as a flood plain for the River Suir but as an important ecosystem service to towns downstream of Thurles, storing water which otherwise could flood properties downstream of the centre.
Paddy Morris from the EPA Catchments Unit provided information on how it is in all of our interests to manage water quality properly, and had copies of the Catchments Newsletter to give out to the public.
Outside the Marquee, Michael Hickey and his colleagues of the Carrick-on-Suir River Rescue together with Tony Duggan and the Cahir River Rescue had their boats and equipment on display. They were on hand to demonstrate the important work that they do for local communities and how they conduct searches along the river when tragic events do occur. They sophistication of the equipment on display is truly impressive and all paid for by public donations and fund raising. The dedication of these volunteers cannot be overstated.
Great fun was had when the Clonmel Canoeing Club and the Ardfinnan Paddlers combined forces to put on a showcase of kayaking along the river including some find freestyle kayaking displays. Michael Butler and friends from the Clonmel Canoeing Club and Will Nugent of the Ardfinnan Paddlers provided the perfect opportunity for people to practice the sport of kayaking safely. It is estimated that close to 200 kids lined up to try out a kayak, giving them a taste of a new sport available to them on their doorstep.
Further down river and in calmer waters, heritage boats were on display which were available to bring people out and get a feel for how traditional boating was and is carried out on the River Suir. These boats also known as cots are used by commercial fishermen even today for salmon fishing when the river is open for such activity. A beautiful green cot was provided by the Workmens Boat Club in Clonmel and was skippered by well known naturalist and River Suir heritage expert Shay Hurley. The second boat, a lovely blue boat sporting the colours of Co Waterford, was manned by Jim Bruton a supervisor, counsellor and boat enthusiast at the UCasadh project in Waterford City. This project does great work and according to the Irish Times, it provides a structured programme of therapeutic support, education, training, employment and enterprise opportunities for former prisoners and people who have been in trouble with the authorities. The national recidivism rate for former prisoners is 62 per cent on average; for alumni of U-Casadh it is 27 per cent. The boat was built in the heritage style of the Lower Suir.
Kieran Murphy, Community Water Officer led biodiversity walks along the river bank. During these walks Kieran pointed out the various habitat and wildlife features along the river and showed people where otters enter and leave the river. Included in his demonstration was an inspection of otter spraints or “otter pooh” left as territory markers by the otters along with foraging routes. The shells of crayfish could be seen clearly. Kieran allowed people to have a good sniff of these spraints and to peoples surprise the smell wasn’t the disgusting smell that you might expect but the spraints
smelled strongly of prawns. The fact that crayfish would appear to form the main diet of otters in this stretch of river strongly points to good water quality. Then as one of the groups moved further along the river a Kingisher obligingly flew by showing off its bright and vibrant colours to everybody’s amazement. Then to top it off two buzzards flew overhead calling to each other adding to the spectacle. Well known wildlife author and columnist Albert Nolan took part on the walk and also lead a scavenger hunt with kids.
Sheevaun Thompson and Alan Walsh of the Waters and Communities Office were on hand to explain the role of the new office and how local communities can get involved in helping their local rivers.
Back in the Marquee Tipperary County Council environment staff Ruth Hennessy and Pat O’Dwyer had invertebrates on display to show people how aquatic invertebrates are indictors of water quality. A mini-bioblitz was organised and school children got a chance to see what the river water quality is like in their area. On the previous day Dr Fran Igoe Regional Coordinator with the Waters and Communities Office and Ann Phelan, Community Water Officer had visited local National Schools to talk about the River Suir and explain how these aquatic bugs can be used as a barometer for water quality.
“Dr. Bioman” also known as Michael Pollard, IT and Research specialist with the Waters and Communities Office, provided a bit of theatre and fun as he gave out water quality certificates to the school kids after the mini-bioblitz was completed.
The river themed events culminated with a presentation by international mammal expert, Dr. Paddy Sleeman who gave a very entertaining and interesting talk on bats along Irish rivers. He then led the bat walk down along the Suir in the green at Ardfinnan itself. A big crowd of over 100 people turned up of all ages and there was great excitement as the crowd gathered along the river bank in anticipation. The bats were a bit slow at coming out though and while we patently waited Fran, gathered up a few freshwater crayfish and explained their importance to the life in the river. Then finally the bats turned up putting in some fine flying performances.
Inland Fisheries Ireland kindly had provided the loan of strong search lights so people could see the large Daubenton’s bats as the flew low over the water in search of insects. Dr. Paddy Sleeman explained that these bats also known as the hovercraft bat as they hover over the water. In fact they too like the crayfish are a sign of clean water feeding on emerging trichoptera or caddisfly.
Dr Igoe commented that although there are areas on the River Suir that need to be cleaned up from a pollution point of view, the large showing of wildlife and particularly water quality sensitive wildlife in Ardfinnan is a great indicator that most people are doing their bit to help the river and protect the quality of the water. It was a wonderful day all round, and a great showcase of wildlife, the Suir river heritage, recreation opportunities and what a wonderful resource that the River Suir is, and right on our door steps. The whole day was captured on film by Irish TV and a feature will air later on Tipperary matters, detail of this will be available on www.watersandcommunities.ie and www.facebook.com/watersandcommunities/.
This event was a collaboration between, The Waters and Communities Office, Ardfinnan Community Council and Tipperary County Council. It was well supported by the various community groups, public bodies and voluntary organisations mentioned. The success of the day can only be attributed to the efforts of all those involved.