As a member of the South East Regional Water Framework Directive Operational Committee, the NFGWS was invited on an insightful field trip during May to learn about the Duncannon Blue Flag Farming & Communities Scheme in County Wexford. The European Innovation Partnership (EIP) project has been working to improve water quality at Duncannon Beach through an approach that shares many characteristics with group water scheme integrated source protection planning. In this piece, the project’s manager, Eoin Kinsella, discusses its results.
The Duncannon Blue Flag Farming & Communities Scheme has been working with locals in an innovative effort to improve water quality.
The exciting project is part of the European Innovation Partnership (EIP), co-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine. As of May, it had received funding of €721,197, which will end on 31 August 2023. The main aim of the scheme was to increase the bacterial quality of the two coastal streams that flow onto Duncannon Beach, located in southwest Wexford, which would contribute to the recovery and long-term retention of the beach’s Blue Flag status.
To achieve this, the project pursued specific objectives within the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and integrated catchment management (ICM) approach. It sought to sustainably restore, protect and enhance the quality of the bathing and riverine waters at Duncannon by reducing pollution (mainly faecal bacteria but also nutrients and sediment) from rural agricultural and domestic sources, whilst protecting farm incomes.
The project also hoped to develop an effective model for future sustainable management of similar catchments and foster positive relations between farmers and householders in the catchment area and the local natural landscape — particularly the water environment and associated biodiversity.
With mitigation actions that have included activities such as creating a farm-specific Pollution Potential Zone (PPZ) plan for each farm, the appointment of a full-time project manager helped participant farmers achieve objectives by guiding them through their PPZ plans and by developing and delivering several knowledge exchange initiatives.
Cognisant of the ‘right measure in the right place approach’ the project developed a suite of co-beneficial mitigation measures for farmers. These measures included fencing of watercourses, arable grass margins, tree planting, riparian buffers, movement of water troughs, maintenance of roadways, installation of sediment traps and ponds, and increased buffer zones for slurry spreading. It also included other agronomic measures such as soil sampling, nutrient management plans, TAMS grants etc.
Very interesting event today, learning about the @DuncannonEIP. Different agencies, farmers and the local community have been working together to improve water quality in the area. Lots of innovative thinking and co-operation. pic.twitter.com/HdGFTnCBqG
— National Federation of Group Water Schemes (@nfgws) May 10, 2023
Farm practice change and water quality in the wider catchment was continuously monitored, along with the development of a local awareness programme for the domestic waste-water treatment systems. The project also looked at developing community-wide engagement, with the objective of creating a sense of local ownership, responsibility and appreciation for the local water environment.
A results-based reward system was implemented, which rewarded farmers not just for the condition of their facilities but also for management of various areas around the farm. An Annual Water Protection Payment was made to farmers, depending on the PPZ status of the farm each year. Farmers were given time to implement measures during this period to increase their PPZ score, whereby farmers received Water Protection Improvement Payments to implement mitigation measures.
The project was given a huge boost in 2022, when Arthurstown wastewater treatment plant was commissioned to serve Duncannon, Ballhack, and Arthurstown village. Its construction will eliminate the equivalent of 1,300 wheelie bin loads of raw sewage entering the estuary every day.
To date, the EIP project has seen many positive results and important lessons for all those involved in the protection of water. It has observed an improvement in the bacterial, chemical and ecological quality of the two targeted coastal streams. Duncannon beach has also seen an improvement in bathing water quality. The local community can be proud of what has been achieved, thanks to the hard work of everyone involved.
For more information, see www.duncannonblueflag.ie.
This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.