NFGWS launching ‘Orchards for Farmers’ initiative to help protect water quality

Gerard Hannon (Roscommon County Council), Noel Carroll (Mid Roscommon Group Water Scheme) Kirsty Phillips, Mark Farrelly and Seán Corrigan (all National Federation of Group Water Schemes) promoting the new ‘Orchards for Farmers’ initiative.

A nationwide group water scheme (GWS) initiative to inspire farming families to protect water quality and biodiversity is being launched by the National Federation of Group Water Schemes (NFGWS) in County Roscommon on Tuesday, 31 October.

‘Orchards for Farmers’ will see the provision of apple orchards to 230 farming families in four different counties. The apple trees are a symbol of the links between the protection of drinking water sources, sustainable land management and biodiversity. As part of the initiative, each family is planning to manage their orchards in a pesticide-free manner, given the risks of ‘weed killer’ to both drinking water and biodiversity.

The community event that will launch the initiative takes place at 2pm in the Four Mile House Community Centre. Broadcaster and member of the Tree Council of Ireland, Éanna Ní Lamhna, will be guest of honour at the launch, which will feature educational talks, baking demonstrations and an outside radio broadcast by a Shannonside Northern Sound FM. The day will also include training for farmers on best practices to protect water quality in their GWS catchments.

Some 80 farming families in Mid Roscommon Group Water Scheme and 10 families in Corracreigh Group Water Scheme are among the first orchard recipients. They will join 140 families across counties Mayo, Cavan and Monaghan in planting heritage apple orchards, with plans for a wider future roll-out across other group water schemes around the county. The initiative, which has been developed by the National Federation of Group Water Schemes as part of a Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine funded source protection project, seeks to educate communities about the need to protect water while also giving families something actionable that they can experience together.

The orchards have significant co-benefits for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and, of course, the possibility of some tasty, apple-based treats!

Welcoming the launch of the initiative, Barry Deane, CEO of the NFGWS explained its importance:

‘Pesticide usage in gardens, on verges outside households, and on the farm can pose a threat to drinking water quality and to biodiversity in general. When communities understand this, they can play a vital role in mitigating this risk. An important element of this project is our collaborative approach with the Teagasc Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme (ASSAP), who we will be working with on a programme to educate the farming community on alternative controls to unwanted vegetation.’

Barry was highlighted the partnership approach of the GWS sector with local authorities:

We have worked closely with Roscommon County Council and the local community regarding source protection for a number of years now. This initiative is one of many aimed at the farming community and the wider community too. Safe drinking water is everyone’s responsibility.’

Noel Carroll, Manager of the Mid Roscommon GWS added:

‘We take sustainability, water quality and biodiversity seriously on all our projects, and we are thrilled to be a part of this. It’s a fantastic idea that will make a big impact in our community. We are delighted with all of the support that we have received at a local and national level, and with the interest from the farming and wider community, as well as community groups from all over the country. We have a fantastic line-up at our opening event and even have the Roscommon Drama Group producing an innovative video to promote the initiative.’