Cattle accessing rivers and streams can have a negative impact on the quality of water, which could lead to an impact on both the health of humans and the health of animals, according to a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The report was carried out by researchers from Teagasc, DCU, UCD and Dundalk IT. It found that the bed sediments at all sites in the study, even those upstream of cattle access points, were contaminated with E. coli.

According to the report in-stream activity of cattle resulted in increases in E. coli levels downstream of the access site during all events. There was a subsequent general decrease in E. coli levels at access sites in the post-grazing season.

However, it was reported that cattle had “no noticeable effect on water nutrient concentrations, which did not show any differences between upstream levels and levels at cattle access points for samples taken in the absence of cattle”.

Preventive measures

When discussing preventive measures that could be implemented to reduce the spread of E. coli the report stated:

If farmers believe that the adoption of a measure such as the fencing off of watercourses is going to be costly in terms of time, money and hassle, they are less likely to adopt such a measure voluntarily.

The report also believes that a regulatory approach will be more successful than a voluntary one.

The report stated: “In this case, it’s probable that a regulatory approach [coupled with incentives] will be more successful, particularly in light of the significant influence of policy compliance on adoption.”

According to the report, there are 129,600 farms with 2.9 million fields in Ireland. 95,000 of these farms and 382,000 of these fields adjoin a watercourse. Of these farms, 73% have an on-farm watercourse.