Have communities began to take ownership of local rivers?

Is this a new trend? asks Donal Hickey


We could be seeing the start of a trend whereby communities are taking ownership of their local rivers. A fish kill in the catchment of the River Maigue, in Co Limerick, three years ago, has led to the setting up of a new trust “to protect, enhance, and cherish the rivers and lakes of the Maigue catchment for the benefit and enjoyment of all”.

The community came together following a fill kill in the River Loobagh, one of the main tributaries of the Maigue, to look at ways of ensuring such does not happen again. Steps are being taken to improve the habitat for fish, while an awareness programme and a pilot project to control the invasive plant, giant hogweed, are also being introduced.

A local group visited the Ballinderry Rivers Trust, Co Tyrone, to see how such trusts operate. Impressed with what they found there, they felt it could work for them and set about establishing the Maigue Rivers Trust, which has just been launched.

A director of the trust is councillor Eddie Ryan, who is convinced the move will protect the Maigue and its catchment area stretching from Martinstown, near Kilmallock, to where the river enters the Shannon Estuary near Ferrybridge.

“We all own the river and we all have a responsibility to protect and develop it. We need the farming associations, community and fishing groups, other users of the river, schools and local associations to get involved. It’s a brilliant idea which will have significant benefits for all in the long run,” he said.

Similarly, work has been underway for a several years in the River Allow, in north Cork, under the aegis of the regional development company, IRD Duhallow. This includes 500m of bank protection work and the installation of silt traps to prevent material that could damage salmon and pearl mussel habitat from entering the river.

Otter holts and kingfisher and dipper nest boxes were also provided on the river, while the invasive species Himalayan balsam was removed from more than 35km of banks along the Allow and Dalua rivers.

Rivers trusts, meanwhile, are involved in education, wildlife, fisheries, biodiversity, habitat, access, pollution, and other issues that impact a catchment, such as climate change, litter and invasive species.

The Ballinderry trust, for instance, has a trout in the classroom project through which children learn all about the river and life cycle of fish.

Meanwhile, the state of rivers nationally is far from satisfactory. According to a 2016 EPA report, there’s been a massive loss in the number of highest quality river sites — down from 575 between 1987 and 1990 to 21 in the 2013-2015 period.


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