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Nearly half of all rivers in Ireland are below good ecological health standards.

That’s according to the 2024 edition of The Rivers Trust’s State of Our Rivers report, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the health of rivers across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain.  

This is the first occasion on which data from Ireland and Northern Ireland has been included in the report, reflecting the increasing membership and the range of project work being undertaken by the leading freshwater environmental charity on the island of Ireland.

The report, published on Monday (26 February), provides insights into the range of pressing issues affecting water sources and proposes urgent actions to address these challenges.

And The Rivers Trust says its findings for Ireland are concerning:

  • Just over half of all river stretches (1,602) achieved good or high ecological health status, and 17% are classified as in poor or bad ecological health. Compared to lakes, coastal and transitional waters, a far lower percentage of rivers sampled achieved high ecological status.
  • Only 39% of rivers in Ireland have reached good or high biological standards, which considers the health of aquatic plants, fish, insects and other invertebrates living in the water. These living creatures are directly affected by their environment, and their health can be used as an indicator of the overall condition of the river.
  • 94% of rivers in Ireland were not assessed for chemicals — monitoring was instead targeted around areas where chemical pollution was more likely. Of the 193 surveyed, 60% failed.
  • Nearly half of all rivers in Ireland are below good ecological health standards, highlighting the significant challenges facing the freshwater ecosystems. Agriculture emerges as the leading contributor, impacting 63% of stretches of river (1,023 in total). Activities such as altering river hydromorphology, forestry and urban runoff further exacerbate the situation.

Statistics from The Rivers Trust’s State of Our Rivers report for 2024

The Rivers Trust Ireland development manager, Dr Constanze O’Toole said: “Our new State of Our Rivers report underscores the urgent need for comprehensive action to address these pressures and safeguard the future of Ireland’s freshwater environment.”

While “everyone has a part to play”, from maintaining septic tanks to being careful not to flush objects that can cause blockage in sewers, Dr O’Toole reserved special mention for the Government which “must also provide adequate investment in water infrastructure, conservation and alleviation projects and community empowerment, and creating joined-up legislation that puts water quality at its centre”.

Dr O’Toole adds: “Most of the governance apparatus is there to improve water quality in Ireland but we must take affirmative action to ensure it all works together for the desired outcome.”

In light of these findings, Mark Horton, director of The Rivers Trust All-Ireland, emphasises the urgent need for action.

“This report is an alarm bell to every local community, citizen, politician, landowner and our business community that we need to take collective action now if we want to improve and protect this vital freshwater resource that we all depend on and avert a deepening environmental and ecological crisis,” he said.  

“I urge everyone to engage with our new report, contact their political representatives, and join us to take practical action.”

Despite the “dire” current state of our rivers, Horton says he remains optimistic “because, as this report shows, almost all the pressures negatively impacting our rivers, loughs and groundwater are caused by human activities, and it is, therefore, within our gift to reverse some of these impacts.  

“With the support of political representatives providing legislation and funding, as a society, we can work together to change behaviours and initiate catchment-scale, nature-based solutions to tackle the pressures polluting our freshwater resources.  

“Our 2024 State of Our Rivers report underscores why The Rivers Trust will increase our efforts to create cleaner and healthier rivers across Ireland, with communities empowered to protect and enjoy them.”

Published in Inland Waterways
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The Rivers Trust supports the findings of new report that rings alarm bells about the critical state of water quality management in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

The Surfers Against Sewage Water Quality Report for 2023 says that in Northern Ireland, there is a lack of the discharge of raw sewage into waters at popular beaches and inland waterways bathing sites — and both anecdotal reports and water quality data suggest the problem is significant.

Mark Horton, all-Ireland director of The Rivers Trust said the report “underscores longstanding environmental concerns we continually raise. The evidence of the effects of sewage and pollution is there and clear.

“The severe algal bloom in Lough Neagh is a stark illustration of the consequences of poor environmental stewardship in Northern Ireland.”

NI’s 2,398 operational sewage overflows — and the sparse data on their performance — emphasise an urgent need for investment in increased monitoring and more transparency so the public can make informed decisions and remedial actions can be taken, The Rivers Trust says.

Horton added: “The management of sewage in Northern Ireland shows a critical need for investment and modernisation. With the absence of a functioning Stormont Executive and no independent environment agency, decisive actions to protect and restore water quality are practically impossible.

“This inaction is unacceptable. Water users in Northern Ireland deserve the same level of safety and information as those elsewhere. Ultimately, we need proper resourcing of Northern Ireland Water to enable it to put in place real-time sewage alerts, so swimmers, surfers and anglers can protect themselves from direct discharges of untreated sewage.”

Horton acknowledged NI water’s plans to deploy monitoring systems by 2024 as “a positive step”, but cautioned that “the lack of clarity on how data will be dissemination and public accessibility to the data remains a concern”.

“Real-time, accessible water quality information isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity for the health and safety of our communities and ecosystems,” he said.

The Rivers Trust is calling for a complete ban in Ireland on the manufacture, sale, distribution or free offer of single-use disposable vaping devices.

Responding to the recent public consultation on disposable vaping devices, the river conservation charity wants single-use plastic vapes removed from sale because of their increasing pollution impact on inland waterways and the marine environment.

Dr Constanze O’Toole, Ireland development manager for The Rivers Trust said: “Disposable vapes containing plastic, electronics, chemicals and lithium-ion batteries are increasingly leaching harmful waste materials such as mercury and cadmium into our rivers and waterways, which is posing a threat to human health and nature’s biodiversity.

“The prevalence of disposable vapes as a source of litter pollution in Ireland is staggering, with nearly 12.5 million vapes estimated to have been sold last year alone.

“The return and recycle rate for disposable vapes is exceptionally low and the message that they must be recycled is not cutting through to the public. Unfortunately, the improper disposal of these vapes, often due to confusion among consumers on recycling methods, results in a major source of chemical and plastic pollution in our rivers.

“That is why we are calling on Minister Ryan to now ban the manufacture, sale, and distribution of single-use disposable vaping devices in Ireland. The current use of such vapes is not compliant with Ireland’s commitments to The Circular Economy Act or the EU Directive on Single-Use Plastics.”

O’Toole emphasised the risks that disposable vapes pose to aquatic life: “Birds, animals, and fish are at risk of ingesting plastic fragments and toxic chemicals, disrupting the delicate balance of our ecosystems. This not only affects aquatic animal, insect and plant species but also poses risks to humans who rely on these waterways for drinking water abstraction and recreational activities.”

She added that The Rivers Trust “firmly believes that a comprehensive ban on single-use disposable vapes is a necessary step towards preserving the health of our waterways.

“By reducing the amount of non-biodegradable waste entering rivers and marine environments, we can mitigate the environmental damage caused by these items. Moreover, such a ban will serve as an opportunity to raise public awareness about the proper disposal of vapes, it also reinforces understanding of the vulnerability of our rivers and the need for all of us to protect them.”

Published in Inland Waterways

About Rosslare Europort

2021 sees Rosslare Europort hitting a new record with a total of 36 shipping services a week operating from the port making it one of the premier Irish ports serving the European Continent. Rosslare Europort is a gateway to Europe for the freight and tourist industries. It is strategically located on the sunny south-east coast of Ireland.

Rosslare is within a 90-minute driving radius of major Irish cities; Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Rosslare Europort is a RoRo, RoPax, offshore and bulk port with three RoRo berths with a two-tier linkspan, we also have a dedicated offshore bulk berth.

Exports in Rosslare Europort comprise mainly of fresh products, food, pharmaceuticals, steel, timber and building supplies. While imports are largely in the form of consumer goods such as clothes, furniture, food, trade vehicles, and electronics.

The entire Europort is bar-swept to 7.2 meters, allowing unrestricted access to vessels with draughts up to 6.5 metres. Rosslare Europort offers a comprehensive service including mooring, stevedoring and passenger-car check-in for RoRo shipping lines. It also provides facilities for offshore, dry bulk and general cargo.

The port currently has twice-daily round services to the UK and direct services to the continent each day. Rosslare Europort has a fleet of Tugmasters service, fork-lift trucks, tractors and other handling equipment to cater for non-standard RoRo freight.