Cavan schoolchildren receive trees as part of community initiative

Erne Valley GWS manager, Máiréad Sheridan, and NFGWS source protection officer, Sinéad Higgins, with pupils in Mullahoran National School.

Over 1,000 trees have been given to schoolchildren across 11 primary schools in Cavan as part of a group water scheme initiative to protect water quality and enhance biodiversity in the locality by encouraging householders to stop using pesticides.

The ‘I’ve planted a tree and my garden is pesticide free’ initiative has been rolled out by Crosserlough Group Water Scheme and Erne Valley Group Water Scheme, with pupils in the local community each receiving a native tree to plant at home along with educational materials that raise awareness about the dangers that pesticides pose to drinking water and the wider environment.

Crosserlough GWS and Erne Valley GWS are part of a wider National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) drinking water source protection project that aims to protect or improve the quality of their drinking water sources — namely Graddum Lough and Garty Lough — through a range of physical mitigation measures and community awareness initiatives.

Pesticides are a particular issue for both group water schemes, with just one drop of pesticide/weed killer — the equivalent of the amount of residue found on a pesticide bottle’s foil cap — enough to contaminate a 30km stretch of a stream. Their use also has a damaging impact on biodiversity and the wider aquatic environment.

‘I’ve planted a tree and my garden is pesticide free’ seeks to engage local families in the protection of their local drinking water source and encourages them to stop using pesticides in their garden and around the home.

The Local Authorities Water Programme (LAWPRO) has also provided funding for five families in the Erne Valley GWS catchment to get involved in the art of beekeeping. The award-winning ‘Let It Bee’ initiative provides bees, equipment and mentorship to each family and is again aimed at raising environmental awareness in the community.

The ‘I’ve planted a tree…’ initiative also involved a number of schools in public water supply areas that receive its water supply from Erne Valley GWS. As members of the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group, the NFGWS and Irish Water have been working together to tackle the wider pesticide issue.

Sinéad Higgins (NFGWS) and Emer Colwell (Irish Water) with pupils in Killeshandra National School.

Speaking about the roll-out of the ‘I’ve planted a tree and my garden is pesticide free’ initiative, Joe Gallagher, the NFGWS representative on the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group, said:

Given the size of catchments, many people are not aware of how their behaviour in their garden and around their homes can have a negative impact on a drinking water source miles downstream. Waterbodies are extremely vulnerable to pesticide contamination, not to mention the damage they can cause to the aquatic environment and the biodiversity our pollinators rely on.

‘By giving schoolchildren and their families an active role in this environmental initiative, it is hoped that it will inspire everyone to protect water quality and to allow their gardens blossom into vibrant habitats, buzzing with wildlife and biodiversity.

Peter Gallagher, Irish Water commented:

Providing safe, clean drinking water for all is Irish Water’s first priority. The initiative is a great way to raise the awareness of the need for us all to become more conscious of how we can protect our local rivers and lakes. By helping nature, we will also help to protect our water supplies.

Having also been recently rolled out by a number of group water schemes in Tipperary, Killaturley GWS in Co. Mayo, and Glinsk Creggs GWS, Co. Galway, it has been a very busy period for the 'I've planted a tree...' initiative.

For more information on drinking water source protection visit the NFGWS website here.