Paddle Boarding the Shannon: The Eco-Tripping Team

Emily Cooper


This summer, a group of three intrepid explorers are paddle boarding the river Shannon in aid of river conservation, in association with The Rivers Trust. William Bossman, Liam Harrison and Oli Black—collectively the Eco-Tripping team—are setting off on a fantastic adventure over the summer. The best part? They're using the opportunity to improve the health of the Shannon; William and Liam will be removing any plastic they find, while Oli plans to monitor water quality from the source to mouth. We spoke to the Eco-Tripping Team to find out more about their plans...

William Bossman

The Irish summer is by all accounts an even more fickle and elusive beast than the British. While the island of Ireland presents itself - to me at least - as a much discussed, yet never touched mystery. Searching for an elusive summer through an unknown land. Sounds like an adventure, right? So off we will go down the Shannon River that snakes down eastern Ireland all the way from its source near the IRE-UK border as its spills out semi-saline into the Atlantic. Who is we? The Eco-Tripping team. A crack team. All three of us super-duper at being fairly average guys. Average guys, though, that want for an adventure on a budget. After roping Liam into joining me on the Portuguese leg of my Tagus trip last summer, this time around another over-keen adventurer is coming with, which is great and I’m sure he won’t, at any point, for even a single moment, regret his decision to join us.
What’s this ‘eco’ bit about? Plastic and other pollution: it’s blighting our natural environments. From English canals to Pacific coral reefs, it’s the world’s mess from the night before. Except it’s now a few mornings after, the morning after and we all need to really, if not “man up”, then “mankind up” and get to grips with it.
The extraordinarily average Eco-Tripping team are going to pitch in and have a go at clearing up the Shannon. Every bit of plastic we find on the Shannon we will grab while Oli will have a sensor to collect usable data on the water. Oh, and we’ll be on inflatable SUPs and a kayak so we can lug our craft with us when we need to. All clear? Excellent. The Rivers Trust, which unites Trusts that protect and nurture rivers, is building relationships over national borders by bringing together groups in the Republic of Ireland with those in the UK. They are great partners to have as we set off on this adventure. People are, in my experience, naturally inclined to help each other out. The Rivers Trust is proving this to be true and are a great association to have. We don’t know what’s in store. Trials and tribulations there will be but the moments when the emotions come quick and fast are those we will remember. All the while we will be in search of that elusive Irish summer...

Liam Harrison

Last year myself and Will embarked on an epic kayaking odyssey down the Tagus river through Portugal. An uncoordinated, off-grid - often hair-raising - adventure, with highlights including traversing 100ft hydroelectric dams, fending off territorial wild dogs and being generally supported, rescued and cheered along by the many bemused and amusing folk we met along the way. The expedition gave us a taste for a holiday less ordinary and we began brainstorming our next challenge. The thing that stuck with us was the people we encountered, how kind and willing to help each of them had been. With that in mind, our thoughts turned to how we might bring something to the communities of people we moved through – how could we make ourselves into travellers more symbiotic to the places we visited? On our first meeting with another team member now in tow, Oliver Back, Will suggested we tackle the longest river in the British Isles: the Shannon, which runs through Ireland. His addendum was that we clean the river of plastic rubbish as we went… and that we do it on paddle boards this time.
The perfect combination of foolhardy physical challenge, environmental focus and giving back to, or in this case taking what’s unwanted away from, the communities we would pass on our way.
Oli, with the help of his university lab at King's College London set about building a sensor to test the water quality of the river as we went. And so EcoTripping, our gang of enthusiastic environmental travellers was born.

Oli Back

Last year I watched the vlogs of Liam and Will paddling down the River Tagus – it looked fun so I signed up to join them another time. A few months back we met for ping pong and it was decided that the River Shannon would be the next location, for our paddling trip. The decision coincided with my postgraduate study including work on water quality and working with Arduino technology with King’s College London. The trip seemed like a great opportunity to create a research project, and EcoTripping's plan to do a plastic clean up on the Shannon dovetailed with my own desire to collect data on the river's water quality changes from the source to the mouth. Retail sensors can be pretty expensive, so I started looking at building my own using Arduino which is an open source electronics platform that has really easy to use hardware and software. Using an Arduino microcontroller (amongst other components) in some waterproof housing, we should be able to get some water quality data for the river. At the moment, I’m still getting to grips with the coding, but I’m making lights flash and things move so I think I’m on the right track.
I’ve not found a huge amount of research on the river quality, but an EU report in 2001 suggested there were major issues with pollution in the river. This was mainly caused by agricultural and industrial runoff and various historical mining sites; this could easily have changed over the last 18 years so we are don’t have any specific expectations on what we’ll find.
It's great to be doing this all of this in association with the Rivers Trust as I hope the data we aim to collect would, in the fullness of time, assist the organisations the trust aims to co-ordinate. I've recently received sponsorship from Itiwit, which has a range of quality inflatable kayaks. Just what I need! Looking ahead to the trip, there are articles on the return of wildlife to the Shannon and some of Ireland's most beautiful landscapes along stretches. Apparently there are dolphins in the Shannon Estuary where we will finish up all being well – hopefully, we can enter the home straight in their company? EcoTrippers River Shannon Paddle Board
We can't wait to hear how the guys get on on their adventure! If you'd like to help the Rivers Trust movement but aren't the paddle boarding type, take a look at our Events page.
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