Western Lakes Plan: Long Term Management Plan for the Great Western Lakes

Loughs Corrib, Mask, Carra, Conn, Cullin, Arrow and Sheelin are some of the best wild brown trout fisheries in Europe and are collectively known as the Great Western Lakes.

Inland Fisheries Ireland wishes to develop a long term management plan for these lakes to address many of the factors currently impacting on the ecological wellbeing of native fish stocks in their catchments.

Lough Rinn Forbes Priority Area for Action Desktop Report

Nov 2019



Large portion of peatland has been reclaimed and is now used for agriculture.

Pollutants have the potential to enter the waterbody (phosphorus, sediment and pesticides) as their main pathways are overland flow and along drains and ditches, in poorly draining soils.

The significant pressure identified is agriculture.

Point source nutrient issues need to be addressed at farmyard level


Mohill Urban Wastewater Treatment Plant discharges into Rinn_010

The plant was taking in landfill leachate, which it did not have the additional capacity to handle

Latest EPA data on Mohill:



The PAA feeds into the Longford Central drinking water supply, abstracted from Lough Forbes, this supply has been on the EPA remedial action list since 2017 for persistent pesticide exceedances.

Detection of MCPA above the drinking water limit

Section 4s

Section 4 Trade Effluent Discharge Licence at Lough Rynn Castle and Holiday Homes

Hydromorphology was selected as a significant pressure within Lough Rinn. The issues included the
presence of locks, weirs, dams, and barriers.

Invasive species have been identified as significant issues within Lough Rinn & Lough Forbes. Zebra mussels are present in both lakes.

Abstractions were identified as issue within Lough Forbes, however it was not deemed significant. This is the drinking water abstraction plant for the Longford Central supply. This scheme serves Longford town and surrounding areas such as Clondara, Ballinalee, Drumlish, Edgeworthstown and Newtownforbes. The water is supplied from the Lough Forbes treatment plant. It is operated by Irish Water and abstracts 6970 m3/day. This supply is currently on the EPA remedial action list due to persistent detections of pesticides.

Peat extraction has been identified as a significant issue in Lough Forbes.

Derravaragh: Priority Area for Action Desk Study Report

AFA_0061 Desk Study Report

20th October 2021

AIE request to LAWPRO

Five out of the seven waterbodies within the Priority Area for Action (PAA) are characterised as At Risk of failing to meet their WFD objective of good ecological status and currently just the Yellow (Castlepollard)_020 and Lough Derravaragh are currently meeting their WFD objectives of Good Ecological Status (2021).

Small Stream Impact Score (SSIS) and visual assessments will narrow down impacted waterbody stretches.

Location of these chemistry sampling points will be determined by using existing data and the Pollution Impact Potential (PIP) maps and GIS. This will help refine areas where nutrient risk is greatest.

Agriculture pasture is listed in the EPA’s characterisation as the sole significant pressure on the Derravaragh groundwater body.

Peat harvesting is referenced multiple times, but not mapped. Mapping illegal peat extraction is difficult. The Big 3 peat operators are working large sites north of the catchment, with drainage into rivers and streams north of Derravaragh

The Derravaragh PAA was selected as a priority area for action in the 2nd cycle. The EPA report includes the following reasons:
• Three potential quick wins
• Building on existing work completed by Westmeath County Council in Multyfarnham Headwaters to Derravaragh lake
• Important fishery – one of 13 wild brown trout fisheries in Europe.
• The underlying groundwater body is At Risk – potential to build on previous karst research
• Potential to build on work completed by IFI.
• Important for tourism & heritage.
• Two deteriorated waterbodies

Castlepollard WWTP discharges: is there a separate EPA or Irish Water audit report on this plant ?

LAWPRO are flagged as the Responsible Agency for (most) of the pollution sources

Sample quarry (on the Gaine River, south of lake)


Sample peat extraction site on Graine River

Peatland sites north of Derravaragh (horticultural peat extraction sites?)

Quarry south of Derravaragh

Ongoing OPW canalisation of rivers in this area

Other pollution sources

Number of freshwater habitats reported as ‘Good Environment Status’ under Water Framework Directive monitoring

Introduced in 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) aims to protect all water resources, prevent further deterioration of all waters and to restore degraded surface and ground waters to good status by 2015 (or at the latest 2027). It was given legal effect in Ireland by the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003 (S.I. No. 722 of 2003).  The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has delegated the task of coordination and oversight of the WFD implementation in Ireland to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The WFD requires surface waters, such as rivers and lakes, to be classified into high, good, moderate, poor, or bad ecological status based on a standard, European-wide unified approach integrating a suite of biological, chemical, and morphological conditions.  Assessment of quality is based on the extent of deviation from reference conditions i.e., biological, chemical, and morphological conditions associated with no or very low human pressure. 

Since the last reporting period, there was a 3.7% drop in the number of high or good quality rivers sites (56.7%, 2010-2015; 52.6%, 2013-2018) with 47% of river sites now being of moderate to bad quality.  Overall, there has been no change in the number of high or good quality lakes between the last reporting period (46.2%, 2013-2015; 46.3.8%, 2015-2018), but there is a 1.9% decline since the 2007-2009 period (48.2%).

More information on water quality in Ireland’s lakes and rivers can be found here:


More information on the Water Framework Directive and the EPA’s Monitoring and Assessment Programme can be found here:


The Water Framework Directive Status data can be downloaded from here:



More information on European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003


Legacy Sediment Contamination

Recent research presentation to Water Forum, by Irene O’Callaghan UCC, highlighted a huge knowledge gap on sediment contamination, recommendations led to discussion at CMSC.

More monitoring is needed, no regulations in place, would recommend pilot projects.

Lake sediment is an issue and there is lots of unpublished research in this area. It would be useful to collate this information.

Sediment is the 2nd most important pollutant in water after P. It is not well understood and is significant in lakes and estuaries but unsure about its significance in rivers.

Thanks to Irene O’Callaghan

PhD Candidate, MESA Research Group
School of BEES & School of Chemistry |University College Cork |

LIFE Lough Carra

LIFE20 NAT/IE/000172

Improving ecosystem resilience & reducing nutrient pollution in Lough Carra, one of Europe’s premier SAC marl lakes

Start Date: 06/09/2021
End Date: 04/09/2026
Total Budget: 4,977,097 €
EU Contribution: 2,962,640 €

Coordinating Beneficiary: Mayo County Council
Contact Person: Martin Keating
Email: mkeating@mayococo.ie
Tel: 353949064000
Website: http://www.mayococo.ie/


Lough Carra is a marl lake (i.e. one with high alkalinity) in the Lough Carra/Mask Complex Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in the west of Ireland. Since 1970, the Lough Carra catchment has been subjected to significant pressures, particularly from agricultural intensification, with 25% of the catchment converted from natural or semi-natural vegetation to improved grassland. This has resulted in the loss of some semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland as well as limestone pavement habitats. Over the same period, there were also significant increases in cattle and sheep stocking density as well as fertiliser and slurry application. Commercial forestry has also increased and most houses in the catchment have septic tank systems for wastewater; some are old and likely losing nutrients to groundwater.


The aim of LIFE Lough Carra is to restore the marl lake habitat to favourable condition, improving its national status and trends. The project will also improve the conservation status of several other habitats and species: orchid-rich grasslands, limestone pavements, Cladium fens, common gulls, otters and lesser horseshoe bats. In addition, measures will be taken across the catchment to reduce losses of nutrients, by working with farmers and other stakeholders to change practices that are sources of pollution and biodiversity loss.

The specific objectives are to:

  1. Establish and promote a model of farming to transform nutrient management on farms in 10% of the catchment area during the project, for rollout catchment-wide afterwards, to protect and conserve 4 habitats (certain types of semi-natural dry grassland and scrubland, limestone pavement, hard water with benthic vegetation, and calcareous fen habitats);
  2. Define groundwater-surface water connectivity in the catchment through a groundwater study, to confirm the catchment boundary more exactly and help target nutrient-reduction actions;
  3. Demonstrate and adopt an integrated approach to restoring the lake’s habitats by collaboration of local authorities, other public bodies, farmers, anglers, other local stakeholders and the public – including long-term decision making, land management, community awareness and involvement. This includes management of forestry in the catchment for biodiversity by Coillte, and actions by Office of Public Works to sensitively manage public drainage channels;
  4. Reduce nutrient pollution from septic tanks/domestic wastewater by education and public awareness; establish demonstration areas of constructed wetland and associated workshops and information, to complement increased inspections being undertaken outside of LIFE funding;
  5. Implement a strategy to tackle invasive species, including preventing the introduction of zebra mussels and controlling numbers of mink and feral geese; and
  6. Maximise the project’s impact on enhancing the coherence of the Natura 2000 network, with actions complementary to conservation targets in other SACs. Lough Corrib SAC, which is downstream from Lough Carra, is designated for some of the same habitats (certain types of semi-natural dry grassland and scrubland, hard water with benthic vegetation, and limestone pavement habitats); nutrient-reduction measures in Lough Carra will reduce nutrient flow to the Corrib SAC. The Galway Bay Complex SAC is also hydrologically connected. The adjoining Moore Hall SAC and nearby Towerhill House SAC are designated for lesser horseshoe bats  so actions for this species are designed to promote the conservation interests of this species in the broader region.

LIFE Lough Carra will contribute to the development and implementation of EU policy and legislation in the area of nature and biodiversity, including the biodiversity strategy to 2030andthe Birds and Habitats directives. Specifically, the project supports the further development, implementation and management of the Natura 2000 network set up under Article 3 of the Habitats Directive, in particular the application, development, testing and demonstration of integrated approaches for the implementation of the Prioritised Action Framework for Ireland (2021-2027) prepared on the basis of Article 8 of that directive. This involves the development of a results-based agri-environmental scheme that facilitates the protection and restoration of the targeted habitats and species. In addition, LIFE Lough Carra will contribute to the EU farm to fork strategy’s aim to reduce pesticide use and nutrient loss with a focus on measures to improve nutrient management and knowledge dissemination of best practice.


Expected results:

  • Research on Lough Carra’s microbialites (rock-like underwater structures made up of microbes) has shown that significant changes can be detected within 1 year, in response to altered nutrient availability, and that these metrics are good overall indicators of the lake’s nutrient state. A 10% reduction in microbialite chlorophyll content is expected in Carra’s south basin by year 5 of the project;
  • Water monitoring in inflowing streams is expected to show significant reduction in total phosphorus over 12 years which will be demonstrated in sub-catchments with multiple participating farms by Year 5
  • Measurable changes in Carra’s emergent vegetation may not occur during the project due to internal nutrient loading from the sediment. Changes in charophytes (a group of green algae) in response to nutrient reduction are known from Lough Ennell, but measurable results may not be detected until the 10-12-year mark. However, the north and middle basin of Carra are less enriched than the south basin, and changes in charophyte communities may well be detected here by year 5 of the project;
  • Chlorophyll in water (phytoplankton) is expected to respond quickly to nutrient reduction to a significantly reduced figure by the end of the project and even further after 10 years.
  • Proxy indicators for nutrient reduction will be used in farm assessments, adapted from the ‘habitat health’ system in the Burren LIFE project. With this system, some changes in management (grazing pressure, poaching, etc.) are measurable within 1 year, and increased plant diversity in 2-3 years;
  • No further loss of limestone pavement and some calcareous fen habitats on any participating farms;
  • No loss and improved habitat quality for some types of semi-natural dry grassland and scrubland;
  • Tailored management measures in Coillte BioForest plans applied to almost 19 ha of forest;
  • Increase in the mean population count of lesser horseshoe bats in Moore Hall and Towerhill House SACs combined from 722 in 2020 to 751 during the project;
  • Successful nesting attempts by gulls are expected to recover to 2015 levels (24 breeding pairs) during the project, with further subsequent increases, following the start of mink control in year 1;
  • Feral year-round population of greylag geese removed by year 5; and
  • Continued absence of the zebra mussel.

Water Framework Directive Lake Waterbodies

These are the lake waterbody polygons delineated in accordance with Guidance Document No. 9: Implementing the Geographical Information System Elements (GIS) of the Water Framework Directive (2003) and Guidance Document No. 22: Updated Guidance on Implementing the Geographical Information System (GIS) Elements of the EU Water policy (November 2008).


Lake and TRaC Abstractions Pressures

Significant pressures have been identified for waterbodies that are At Risk of not meeting their water quality objectives under the Water Framework Directive. While there are a multitude of pressures in every waterbody, the significant pressures are those pressures which need to be addressed in order to improve water quality. Many of our waterbodies have multiple significant pressures. A robust scientific assessment process has been carried out to determine which pressures are the significant pressures. This has incorporated over 140 datasets, a suite of modelling tools, and local knowledge from field and enforcement staff from the Local Authorities, Inland Fisheries Ireland and EPA. An abstraction point pressure can refer to a public or private drinking water supply, or an agricultural or industrial facility abstraction point. Impacts from abstractions include modifications of flow regimes and morphological alterations.