Webinar: Reimagining Irish Rivers: working with nature

This week I attended the ‘Reimagining Irish Rivers: working with nature’ conference online. This was a partnership between The Rivers Trust, Local Authority Waters Programme, European Green Leaf, and Maigue Rivers Trust.

Day 1:

First Pádraic Fogarty (Irish Wildlife Trust) presented on Rewilding. He mentioned how there is not a clear definition for what rewilding is, however it involves looking forward to the potential impacts of future climate. We don’t know what species will benefit most, but we should be patient and adapt land. Rewilding is recognising the landscape processes occurring such as hydrology, which can encourage the creation of wetlands and wet bog habitats.

Rewilding recognises rivers are dynamic and play vital roles in recycling nutrients and regulating flow of water off land. What happens in our rivers is a symptom of what happens in the landscape. Pádraic finished by asking ‘What if we get it right?’. The benefits could be a mosaic of wetted, wooded habitats, with improved water quality.

William Cormacan & Sam Birch (National Parks & Wildlife Service) then presented on Riparian Management in the Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park. Challenges to riparian planting management include planting without fencing or tree shelters, which can lead to trees being destroyed within 2 weeks by sheep and deer. Now all trees planted need to be protected, and regular monitoring and repairs are therefore required. Individual tree shelters were useful in areas which were hard to fence. In some areas, another challenge was the presence of dense Rhododendron which has to be treated at some expense. This has to be treated and then cleared to allow light to reach the channel and clear space for other riparian planting.

Following this, Hamish Moir (cbec eco-engineering) presented on hydromorphology and what a natural river looks like. Hydromorphology or fluvial geomorphology is the physical form of rivers and floodplains. Morphology reflects the balance between sediment supply and ability of the river to transport that supply.

Hamish mentioned reference condition, a benchmark against which we define management targets. We need to consider practical issues when defining reference state, and think about how far back in history to look at the landscape. Reference conditions should reflect the current environmental conditions which are influencing variables, and incorporate dynamic, changing behaviours of rivers.

Humans have significantly influenced rivers without understanding the consequences of this development. We now have a modern understanding and need to develop a more sustainable relationship with rivers. Practical targets for natural river conditions should consider reinstating natural processes rather than trying to make the river ‘look’ like previous condition.

Next, Dan Turner (The Rivers Trust) presented on Natural Flood Management (NFM): Wyre Investment Readiness Project. NFM involves techniques to increase catchment roughness to intercept, slow and store water. This brings other benefits including nature recovery, carbon sequestration, reducing agricultural pollution, and connecting habitats.

Investment Readiness means getting a business to a stage where it can stand up to investment scrutiny. There are several flood effected communities in the Wyre catchment which could benefit from investment in NFM. Initial modelling showed where to locate NFM for greatest impact on downstream flood risk. But how can we bring together lots of different stakeholders to fund this? Dan mentioned highlighting the companies who will benefit from the interventions and developing a Social Enterprise Model. As well as this, a dashboard or platform will be created for buyers, sellers, investors and the local community to engage with the project at any time.

Challenges included how to develop metrics and valuation of ecosystem services; the payment structures to understand what triggers payments from the buyers; how this project can coexist with current stewardship agreements such as ELMS; and how to ensure shared risk between investors and buyers.

Conor Galvin (Office of Public Works) then talked about the Irish context for nature-based solutions for Flood Risk Management. The Irish Government has been looking into how to improve flood risk management, including maps detailing flood hazards and plans setting out potential flood risk schemes. Flood Risk Management Plans set out long-term strategy for catchments. These plans aim to protect water resources and reduce flood risk by restoring or maintaining ecosystems, natural features and characteristics of water bodies.

These plans have been found effective for small catchments (up to 10km2) in frequent flood events (1 in 10 chance of happening in any given year). These offer a wide range of multiple benefits including water quality improvements, habitat creation, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. So far, there are plans to implement these Plans through pilot projects, ensure interdepartmental cooperation, and Flood Relief Schemes.

Alan Cullagh (Inland Fisheries Ireland) then gave an overview of dam and weir removal examples and issues. He mentioned there are 2 main barrier project in Ireland – the National Barriers Programme, and AMBER programme.

Free flowing streams provide free movement of water, sediment and fish. Dams create a barrier to movement of all these factors in the ecosystem. Almost 72,000 possible barriers to fish passage were identified in Ireland through mapping and GIS. Work is underway to investigate how to alleviate barriers, particularly where it is not possible to completely take them out of the stream. There are up to 15 surveys needed in order to gain planning permission for enhancements to barriers. Alan gave lots of examples of pre and post barrier enhancement.