Rivers trusts are charities, established by local people to look…
The River Suir has a Green and Blue Future
The River Suir rises in the Devil’s Bit mountain northwest of Templemore and carves its way through the stunning landscapes of counties Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford on its 185 Km journey to the sea at Waterford harbour.
Those who live near the Suir have immediate access to a wonderful resource and there are many who regularly access the river for lifestyle and recreational purposes. Tipperary County Council engaged with these communities through two INTERREG co-funded projects, each of which had a focus on waterways. One of these projects was Green and Blue Futures: The social economy and the management of green infrastructure.
This project aimed to establish a transnational European framework to mobilise the voluntary sector in the management of green infrastructure such as nature sites, parks, woodlands and waterways. It brought together seven partners from five jurisdictions across Northwest Europe: Scottish Waterways Trust and Scottish Canals (Scotland), The Canals and Rivers Trust (England), Tipperary Co Co (Ireland), Réussir en Sambre Avesnois (France) and Province du Hainaut and West Flanders (Belgium).
The partners looked at ways to combine social objectives, such as tackling unemployment and engaging disconnected youth, with environmental activities like protecting riverbanks, controlling invasive species and the productive use of green urban spaces. Social enterprise models were explored which combine a focus on positive social outcomes with a business model to generate income in order to move away from a reliance on grant funding.
The project allowed staff from a broad range of sections within the local authority to work together on a project focused on the Suir and the communities and individuals connected to it. A 56 km stretch of the river from Cahir to Carrick on Suir was chosen to focus efforts and resources given that the timeframe was July 2012 to September 2015. The local authority had already identified the various communities and individuals connected with the Suir from a previous INTERREG project called Waterways Forward, examples of these groups are: Ardfinnan and Clonmel Canoe Clubs; Kilsheelan and Golden Tidy Towns Committees; and Cahir and Carrick on Suir River Rescue teams.
As a result, a strong network of communities emerged along the river corridor and the project provided opportunities for
regular communication and knowledge sharing.
Examples of project activities undertaken are:
- A surveying and mapping initiative which focused on existing access and egress points along the river between Cahir and Carick on Suir. Meetings held in council chambers provided opportunity for conversation and discussion about the river and the existing activities. Local knowledge identified 41 existing access locations which were then surveyed from both land and the river. The results of this were then presented back to the communities.
- A local authority led, but community driven, design process for improving river access points at locations used for canoeing/ kayaking, angling and triathlon events. Up to 80 people from the local communities engaged with this aspect of the project.
- A ‘Youth Connect’ project, which attracted 45 young people, delivered education on biodiversity and training on skills such as fly-fishing, stonework, kayaking and photography.
- Restoration of river banks using natural material such as stone, clay and willow was undertaken by the Kilsheelan Tidy Towns Committee with support from a local employment scheme. An overgrown area adjacent to an abandoned septic tank was transformed into a riverside ‘Garden of Renewal’ with seating, natural stone features and planting of native trees and shrubs.
- An art project with a river theme had installations along the river towpath at Kilsheelan reflecting local heritage and stories. This involved 182 participants and created a 2.5km art trail along the river and received 150 visitors over a single weekend.
An international conference was held in Clonmel in Oct. 2013, the theme was ‘Developing the socio-economic potential of waterways’. One of the speakers Tony Harvey, Head of Enterprise, Canals and Rivers Trust UK was so taken by the natural beauty of the Suir that he spent the first two minutes of his presentation waxing lyrical about an Otter he had seen climb the river bank with a fish in its mouth. This conference saw two hundred speakers and delegates discuss a broad range of topics from the protection of biodiversity and habitats to the development of recreational activities and tourism connected
The final outcomes of the project, particularly around the cost-effective management of green & blue infrastructure, will aim to inform European policy in the area of natural resource management and the structuring of future funding programmes. In Tipperary the Green and Blue Futures project brought about a new focus on the River Suir for both the Local Authority and the communities. The river had been viewed negatively in the past by many due to regular flooding, however flood relief schemes in the main towns and villages have acted to address this and now the focus is on more positive associations with the river. Increased activity and involvement along the river is evident today and this has resulted in more community ownership of planned future developments. For example, the development of a River Suir Blueway trail could provide a range of walking, cycling and paddling activities for local communities and visitors to the area. To compliment this a canoe/kayak activity hub in Clonmel is being driven by the local Canoe Club. Social enterprise models are being examined to provide some of the services required to establish this trail, such as canoe hire and cafés.
One thing is for certain, this project provided an opportunity to develop a new working arrangement and partnership between the local authority and local communities. The overarching vision has been to restore people’s sense of place and connection with the river, to increase biodiversity by having more life in and along the river and to utilise this natural
resource to promote recreational activity and economic development.
The newly established Local Authority Waters and Communities Office aims to build on positive experiences such as this throughout the entire country, and would like to hear about any similar initiatives or ventures connected with our natural waters. The office can be contacted by phone at 0761 065 262 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Alan Walsh, Local Authority Waters and Communities Office