Minister of State Pippa Hackett travelled to Duncannon this week to congratulate a number of farmers on their efforts in improving water quality in this part of Co. Wexford.

After over two and a half years of the department-funded Duncannon Blue Flag Farming and Communities scheme, studies show bacterial counts in two streams which flow into the sea have fallen considerably, while ecological assessments also show an increase in numbers of many pollution sensitive macroinvertebrate species.

Highlighting that the project the farmers participated in was set up to contribute to the recovery and long-term retention of the Blue Flag status at Duncannon Beach, the minister said she is “really proud” of the contribution made by farmers.

“While sewage was a factor in Duncannon Beach losing its Blue Flag in 2007, nutrients and sediments from agricultural use were issues too,” Minister Hackett said.

“So it is gratifying to visit and hear about both the improvement in water quality and the increase in species which have returned to it.”

Measures for improving water quality

The project, run in collaboration with Wexford County Council, was awarded €550,000 from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Rural Development Programme, using the European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) model. 

Local farmers were provided with a full-time sustainability manager who helped with their Pollution Potential Zone (PPZ) plans and explained how sources of pollution could be dealt with.

Various measures were implemented such as fencing watercourses, putting in arable grass margins alongside the streams, moving water troughs, planting extensive runs of native hedges and implementing enhanced nutrient management planning for all farms. 

As a result, water quality has improved and many macroinvertebrate species have returned to the streams.

During her visit, Minister Hackett spoke to local farmers and the project team, acknowledging the “sense of communal pride” which built up through this project.

“You can feel the sense of local ownership, responsibility and appreciation of the local water environment,” the minister added.

“That, and the positive relations which clearly exist between farmers and their community here, have surely helped this project be the success it is.”

Accelerating municipal wastewater treatment system

The reduction in pollution from agricultural sources has highlighted other sources of bacterial contamination, resulting in Irish Water accelerating plans for a municipal wastewater treatment system for the area to 2021. 

Minister Hackett said that this was “really good news for this very scenic area on the Barrow estuary”.

The project is not yet finished, “but the collaborative approach is showing great results”, the minister added, and she said she is “quite sure Duncannon can look forward to the restoration of its Blue Flag status in the not too distant future”.