Uisce Aille – Burren Integrated Catchment Management Education Project
Public and particularly local participation in protecting our rivers, lakes and water resources from pollution has never been more important. Such local engagement can be realised fully when a community becomes familiar with the often unique environmental characteristics of the local catchment. And as the old adage goes, we can’t manage what we haven’t measured.
Managing our catchments effectively requires us to understand and integrate a huge range of information. And what better way to encourage awareness, pride, and participation than through educating and training future local stakeholders?
One project aiming to fill that gap in knowledge is the Uisce Aille project in the Burren Co. Clare. Supported by Burren GeoparkLIFE program and coordinated by research student Grainne Barron from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway, transition year students from Mary Immaculate School in Lisdoonvarna are participating in a water resource awareness program. The students have named the program Uisce Aille and are exploring and mapping the natural and built environment underlying the Aille Catchment in the Burren.
In simple terms, a catchment is the area of land contributing to a river, lake or other waterbody. Water is vital not just for our health, but for the health of our ecosystems, the community and local economies. Because water is so integral to our wellbeing it is essential to know how it moves through the landscape, from the highest point and all along its route to the sea, be that through the ground or on land. Nestled into lush green hills, with the river carving its way through the resilient shale, Lisdoonvarna makes an ideal setting for learning about the natural drainage of an area. The Aille River is fed by a number of tributaries including its headwaters on the slopes of Slieve Elva upstream of Lisdoonvarna. The system is characterised by predominantly surface water features on the shales until it reaches the karstic limestone cave system at Doolin, before entering the sea.
The students have undertaken a catchment walk as well as visiting stretches of their local river to gain hands on field experience in river surveying including kick sampling, flow characteristics, identification of habitats and invasive species etc. They have also been introduced to the wealth of freely available environmental information online. Combining local knowledge, outdoor field and surveying skills with use of QGIS, which is Open Source (i.e. free to use) Geographical Information System software, the students are creating a map of the Aille catchment.
Lisdoonvarna also has a rich cultural heritage due to its fame as a spa holiday destination in the 18th and 19th century, as a result of healing properties of the mineral rich waters discharging from the shale bedrock at the Twin Wells. Lisdoonvarna is still as picturesque as ever due to the waters that sustain it. The map created by the students will be populated with lots of different datasets such as soils, geology, land use, aquifers, water resources but will also show important cultural and heritage sites. The finished map and accompanying poster will be displayed and replicated within the Burren by the Burren GeoParkLIFE project.
Uisce Aille – A transferable toolkit
The Uisce Aille program is a pilot scheme in developing a transferrable toolkit that other schools can use to channel student’s energy into positive action, empowering them to improve and protect their local water resources. It aims to enable and empower educators to explore an alternative approach to local stakeholder engagement in a three step process:
Train the Trainers;
- Engage and Educate the students;
- Empower the students so that they can share their message with their local community.
The project fits with the aims and ethos of the Water Framework Directive: it is participatory, it is educational, it is emancipatory, it is based in and of the community, and the outcomes will be replicable and transferable. Classes with the transition years began in mid- September 2016 and will ran until the end of February 2017. The students have entered their project – Uisce Aille – into the Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards (YEA) and also presented the project to local community groups on March 23rd 2017 at the Pavilion in Lisdoonvarna.