River Basin Management Planning in the Republic of Ireland: Past, Present and the Future

Abstract

The River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) is an essential component of the European Union Water Framework Directive that details an integrated approach required to protect, improve and sustainably manage water resources. RBMP were intended to be produced for the periods 2009–2015, 2016–2021 and 2022–2027. However, after two years of delays in the development processes, the Republic of Ireland produced its first RBMP in 2010.

The second RBMP cycle was also implemented in 2018 and is expected to run until the end of 2021 to give way to the third RBMP, whose consultation processes have been ongoing since December 2019. This paper contributes to the forthcoming RBMP by assessing stakeholders’ perspectives on the second RBMP through a desk-based review and by conducting interviews with nine institutions (14 interviewees).

The qualitatively analysed interviews reveal a broad spectrum of actors associated with water management and governance in the Republic of Ireland through a three-tier governance structure that has been delivered (with amendment) through the first two RBMPs.

Organisations such as the An Fóram Uisce|The Water Forum, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Local Authority Waters, and the Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme have responsibilities designated in the RBMPs to deliver improved water quality, integrated catchment management, community engagement and awareness-raising. Trust has also been building up among these organisations and other agencies in the water sector.

Despite these responsibilities and progress made, the interviews identified communication lapses, ineffective collaboration and coordination among stakeholders and late implementation to be hampering the successful delivery of the second RBMP, in addition to significant pressures acting on water bodies from agricultural activities and urban wastewater treatment.

Towards the third RBMP, the paper concludes that optimised water sector finance, enhanced and well-resourced communications, and improved stakeholder collaboration are needed to foster effective and efficient water services delivery and quality. More so, given the cross-cutting impact of the Sustainable Development Goals on water resources and the interconnected relations among the goals, the paper further recommends the integration of the SDGs in the various plans of actions and a co-benefits approach to derive the triple benefits from biodiversity, climate change initiatives and water quality measures.

ESRI Joint Research Programme on Water

This programme undertakes research on behavioural and attitudinal change in respect of Ireland’s water resources. 

There are two overarching research questions: are policy measures implemented under the River Basin Management Plan intended to change behaviours successful (i.e., do behaviours change) and are the changes in behaviour having a non-negligible impact on the primary objective, in this case improving water quality? 

The research is being undertaken in collaboration with Ireland’s Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

https://www.esri.ie/current-research/research-programme-on-water

Knowledge and awareness of water quality protection issues within Local Authorities

An evaluation of public initiatives to change behaviours that affect water quality

Using AERMOD and ArcGIS to Model Ammonia Emissions from Irish Broiler Houses

Broiler and layer production in Ireland combined account for approximately 2% of Ireland’s national ammonia emissions (EEA, 2015).

Poultry production in Ireland is predominantly in the form of intensive agriculture. Broiler production involves raising chickens in large houses for 35 – 40 days, after which they and the manure that has built up are removed from the house.

Layer birds are housed continuously throughout the year and manure is removed via conveyor belts. As
the farms are located in discrete locations, any atmospheric ammonia produced by poultry manure during production is considered a point source of atmospheric ammonia.

As a point source, the concentration around these houses is more likely to exceed limits designed to protect sensitive habitats and species at a local level, compared to diffuse sources such as cattle housing or land spreading of manure.

WINDHARRIER: Interactions between Hen Harriers and wind turbines

Duration: 2012 – 2014


Background:
The Hen Harrier is an Annex 1 listed species afforded protection under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that is found sparsely distributed across ireland. Researchers at University College Cork have examining the relationship between Hen Harriers and land-use change since 2000. This study on Hen Harriers and wind farms was focused on expanding the knowledge base on Hen Harrier ecology and windfarm interactions in an Irish context, to provide evidence based data for policy makers, industry and other stakeholders. The 30 month study was undertaken at University College Cork School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Science under the leadership of Professor John O’Halloran.


Project Objectives:
The aim of this project was to provide scientific support for strategic planning for the development of the wind energy sector in an environmentally sustainable manner, while ensuring the conservation interests of the Hen Harrier are protected. Members of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) the national association for the wind industry in Ireland provided financial support for this study.

Project Findings:
The primary conflict between wind energy development and Hen Harrier conservation is the large spatial overlap between these competing resources. Of the 69 survey squares across Ireland where breeding Hen Harriers were recorded in 2010, this study found that 28% of squares coincided with one or more wind energy developments by 2012. A weak negative relationship was identified between wind farm presence and the observed change in the number of breeding Hen Harrier pairs in survey squares between 2000 and 2010. However, the available evidence suggests that this was not a causative relationship.

Prey availability is an important factor in mediating the effects of land use change on Hen Harrier populations and, in this study, densities of small birds on which Hen Harrier prey were lower at wind farm study sites than at control sites and lower closer to turbines (within 100m) at wind farm study sites than further away. The particular species of bird that were impacted by wind farm development was dependent on the existing habitat at the site and the extent of the area affected by modifications related to wind farm construction.

The impacts of land use change are often mediated through impacts on foraging success, which was investigated during this study using novel GPS tags combined with traditional vantage point watches. The findings highlight the importance for Hen Harriers of open habitats suitable for foraging and the selection of foraging habitats by Hen Harriers differed between wind farm and control study sites. Although the availability of open and young forested habitats was similar at all study sites, the use of forested areas was lower around wind farms relative to control study sites.

Impacts of wind farms on either prey availability or hunting efficiency may ultimately impact on birds through effects breeding success and so this study also examined the breeding performance of Hen Harrier pairs in Ireland in relation to wind energy development. Three measures of breeding performance (nest success, fledged brood size and productivity) were used and no statistically significant relationships with distance to wind turbines were found. However, lower nest success rates were recorded within 1km of turbines which, although not statistically significantly different to nest success rates further away from turbines, may be of biological relevance and cannot be ignored. Where nests within 1km of wind turbines were successful, their fledged brood sizes were not different from those nests further away from turbines.

Birds are at risk of collision with wind turbines only when their flight path overlaps with the rotor blade sweep area of a wind turbine and in the current study, adult Hen Harriers were seen to spend 12% of their flight time at wind farms at turbine rotor sweep height and this did not differ between wind farm and control sites. The amount of time spent flying at this height by newly fledged Hen Harriers close to the nest was negligible (<1%). Using conservative estimates, collision risk analysis revealed that, over the life time of a typical wind farm in Ireland (25 years), the number of Hen Harrier deaths resulting from collisions with wind turbines is estimated to be in the range of 0.8 to 2.5 birds. These findings demonstrate that Hen Harriers are at low risk of collision with wind farm infrastructure as a result of their typically low flight height and known avoidance behaviour.

This study makes a significant contribution to the body of knowledge on the interaction between wind farm development and Hen Harriers in Ireland and provides high quality scientific evidence to support the formulation of policy and practice. This is the first study of this kind in Ireland and further investigations will be required, when further data become available, to understand more fully the effects involved.

Publications: 

  • Fernández-Bellon, D., Wilson, M.W., Irwin, S. and O’Halloran, J. 2018. Effects of development of wind energy and associated changes in land use on bird densities in upland areas. Conservation Biology, 33(2): 413-422. ConservationBiology2018
  • Wilson, M.W., Fernández-Bellon, D., Irwin, S. and O’Halloran, J. 2016.  Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus population trends in relation to wind farms. Bird Study, 64:20-29. Wilsonetal2016
  • Fernández-Bellon, D., Irwin, S., Wilson, M.W. and O’Halloran, J. 2015. Reproductive output of Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus in relation to wind turbine proximity. Irish Birds, 10: 145-150. FernandezBellon2015

Final Project Report: 

For further information on this project please contact Prof. John O’Halloran.

Interview request – EPA-IRC co-funded PhD research project on urban river management

PhD student working on urban river management by looking at the River Poddle as a case study

Anyone available for research interviews?

Details as follows:

Through my case study, I have been looking at various dimensions of the wider Irish river management context from flood risk management to water quality, riparian ecology but also the question of land use and thus planning within catchments. An important focus of my research is governance in the sense of transparency, access to information, stakeholder cooperation and integration. Therefore I believe your input into the research would be hugely valuable.

Interviews may take place online via Teams, over the phone or in outdoor settings and usually last for 45 to 60 minutes. Attached are the research information sheet and consent form and, should you have any further query, please feel free to reach me anytime by email or on 0896016463.

I thank you very much for your time and consideration,

Kind regards,

Laure Tymowski (she/her)

PhD student, Human Geography

Maynooth University

LAURE.DETYMOWSKI.2021@mumail.ie

Developing peatland ecosystem accounts to guide targets for restoration

The United Nations System of Environmental and Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) is a geospatial approach, whereby existing data on ecosystem stocks and flows are collated to show changes over time. The framework has been proposed as a means to track and monitor ecosystem restoration targets across the EU. Condition is a key consideration in the conservation assessment of habitats protected under the EU Habitats Directive and ecosystem condition accounts are also integral to the SEEA EA.

While SEEA EA accounts have been developed at EU level for an array for ecosystem types, condition accounts remain the least developed. Collating available datasets under the SEEA EA framework, we developed extent and rudimentary condition accounts for peatland ecosystems at catchment scale in Ireland.

Information relating to peatland ecosystem sub-types or habitat types was collated for peatland habitats listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive, as well as degraded peatlands not included in EU nature conservation networks. While data relating to peatland condition were limited, understanding changes in ecosystem extent and incorporating knowledge of habitat types and degradation served as a proxy for ecosystem condition in the absence of more comprehensive data. This highlighted the importance of the ecosystem extent account, which underpins all other accounts in the SEEA EA framework. Reflecting findings at EU level, drainage, disturbance and land conversion were identified as the main pressures affecting peatland condition.

We highlighted a number of options to gather data to build more robust, time-series extent and condition accounts for peatlands at varying accounting scales. Overall, despite the absence of comprehensive data, bringing information under the SEEA EA framework is considered a good starting point, with the integration of expert ecological opinion considered essential to ensure development of reliable accounts, particularly when working at ecosystem sub-type (habitat type) and catchment scale.

https://oneecosystem.pensoft.net/article/76838/

All-Island Climate and Biodiversity Research Network (AICBRN)

This major initiative brings together leading research centres across the whole island of Ireland to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergency where a trans-national approach is essential.

Researchers from all of the centres across the network have come together to work with national, regional and local governments, communities and industry to effectively deliver solutions to climate, biodiversity and social challenges caused by global warming.

‘The ambition of the AICBRN is to develop a large-scale research and innovation initiative to improve public good policy and management decisions, underpin business and enterprise strategies and strengthen societal capacity to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies’

We will be investigating:

  • Clean energy solutions and how to economically implement these to achieve a socially just transition away from fossil fuels
  • Prevention of biodiversity loss, reversing degradation in ecosystems and how to make our natural environment more resilient to climate change
  • Protecting and enhancing agriculture in Ireland and looking to achieve negative carbon emissions
  • Improving climate predictions and the level of uncertainty to improve forecasting of adverse weather and flood risk

https://www.aicbrn.net/network-members

Developing and Testing an Environmental Sensitivity Mapping Webtool to Support Strategic Environmental Assessment in Ireland

Environmental sensitivity is a critical consideration in natural resource management. In the context of the legislative requirements for impact assessment, environmental sensitivity (or vulnerability) assessments present a framework for systematically determining the potential for significant adverse impacts.

This is reflected in the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive’s requirement to take account of the vulnerability of the area likely to be affected when identifying and characterising potential impacts (EC, 2001, Annex II, 2), as well as in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive’s cautioning on the potential for significant effects when proposing developments in environmentally sensitive locations (EC, 2014, Article 28).

Assessing environmental sensitivity provides further insight into the baseline environment by contributing an additional dimension to the purely technical consideration of environmental characteristics. It can serve as an empirical and systematic approach, and as a more objective critical foundation to promote evidence-based impact assessment and environmental planning.

https://researchrepository.ucd.ie/handle/10197/11110