A continuing high level of pesticide exceedances during 2020 has persuaded Stranooden GWS to re-evaluate its strategies to tackle this source of contamination in its drinking water source catchment.
After the detection of a high number of pesticide exceedances during the last spraying season, the scheme’s source protection officer, Ross MacDonald has said that ‘there is clearly a need for a shift in how we address this issue’.
He said: 'While we will continue to offer the weed-wiping service, as per the last 2 years, we will be more selective in deciding who should avail of the service. While many farmers implemented the required follow-up actions, we have identified quite a few that availed of the service but then failed to cut back the rushes after treatment, as they were supposed to.
'Nor have they limed the fields involved to mitigate against the incidence of rush infestation. We see little value in continuously weed-wiping their lands for the sake of it.'
A major focus of the group water scheme this year is in addressing the risk posed by poorly-performing boom sprayers within the Derryvalley stream section of the source catchment. Approximately 80 farmers in this sub-catchment use such a sprayer, generally on ‘improved’ lands.
A trained certifier has been retained by the GWS which is offering a free pre-inspection service, the fitting of low drift nozzles, calibration and certification of the boom sprayer, thereby ensuring that it is fit for purpose.
Where the boom sprayer is deemed to be beyond recalibration and, therefore, not fit for purpose, the scheme will be seeking to decommission it, but is offering an interim boom-sprayer service to the farmer and financial assistance towards the purchase of a new one.
As an alternative, the scheme is offering to provide an ongoing spraying service for an agreed price and will introduce an integrated land-management approach that will require less (or no) pesticide use.
Farmers have responded very well to this initiative, according to MacDonald:
We have approached those farmers that use boom sprayers as part of pasture management plan on fields along all tributaries in the sub-catchment and explained exactly what we plan to do. We are delighted to report that there has been close to universal support for the proposal.
The initiative will also be receiving national coverage on RTÉ Radio One's CountryWide programme on Saturday 8 May in a piece that will feature Ross, Teagasc's Arthur Kearns, and local farmer, Victor Niblock.
Let it bloom
Nine primary schools across the Stranooden source catchment are taking part in a “Let it Bloom” campaign that is modelled on the Roscommon ‘I’ve planted a tree and my garden is pesticide free’ initiative. 1,000 trees were recently given to pupils to plant at home and the feedback from schools and families has been hugely positive.
The Gardening for Biodiversity booklet is also being provided to all households in the catchment, along with ‘do and don’t’ information leaflets that aim to encourage water protection.