All-Ireland Director of The Rivers Trust and Chief Executive of Ballinderry Rivers Trust Mark Horton is calling for urgent action, leadership, and meaningful collaboration across a range of stakeholders, from Government to charities and local community groups, to address the ecological disaster of blue-green algae, which is engulfing and choking Lough Neagh.
“Lough Neagh should be the cherished environmental and cultural jewel of Northern Ireland, but instead is suffering an ecological emergency of alarming proportions as toxic blue-green algae blooms have made visible to everyone the significant environmental pressures the Lough is facing,” he said.
“These toxic blooms have shocked the public in Northern Ireland and beyond and have led to widespread anxiety regarding the impact on water quality, biodiversity, human health, the economy, and tourism.
“There is a lot of fear and misinformation about the plight of the lough, and that is why we want to provide expert insight and understanding into the causes and solutions. To do this, we have compiled all the important information into one booklet, which is now free to download on The Rivers Trust website, to help better inform the public.
“Sadly, the current situation is of no great surprise to those concerned for our freshwater environment who have been warning for decades about the mounting environmental pressure being placed on the Lough and other rivers and loughs across Northern Ireland.
“And while they may not be attracting the same attention as the disaster in Lough Neagh, blue-green algae has been confirmed in many of our other rivers and water bodies. The bad news is that unless we invest in preventative measures now, the problem will only worsen in the future.
“The current state of Lough Neagh serves as an ominous warning of the future health of our freshwater habitats. Urgent action is imperative to safeguard and rejuvenate this vital natural resource. Leadership is needed to address the genuine and immediate public concern, as well as the difficult decisions that will need to be taken about how we, as a society, manage our water, land, and air.”
The Rivers Trust is the leading charity in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Britain for conserving and restoring rivers and their catchments. There are currently seven local Rivers Trusts in Northern Ireland and a further 14 across Ireland.
The charity is committed to empowering the Northern Ireland public, legislators, agri-business, journalists, and the commercial sector to understand the complex circumstances which have come together to create this year’s record-breaking algae blooms on Lough Neagh.
The Rivers Trust has created a free-to-download information booklet which brings together the most up-to-date background information and best practice examples in one place in an accessible way. It explains the root causes of the blue-green algae crisis and provides examples of catchment-scale, nature-based solutions to protect Lough Neagh for future generations. The information booklet can be downloaded from www.theriverstrust.org or by clicking here
Mark continued: “The escalating frequency and severity of blue-green algae blooms pose a grave threat to the well-being of this essential waterbody. Lough Neagh, which supplies nearly half of Northern Ireland's drinking water and sustains a rich tapestry of biodiversity, is now in crisis due to a complex interaction of environmental factors. There are no simple answers, but there are viable solutions.
“This critical situation necessitates comprehensive, collaborative, and catchment-wide interventions to avert further ecological deterioration. With fact-based information about the causes of blue-green algae in Lough Neagh and an explanation of catchment-based solutions to reduce the future nutrient loads that contribute to the formation of algal blooms, we want to galvanise coordinated action now.
“As a movement, The Rivers Trust and our local rivers trusts around Lough Neagh, (Ballinderry Rivers Trust, Six Mile Water Trust and River Blackwater Catchment Trust), have been working for many years with landowners throughout these river catchments to change land management practices, reduce nutrient and sediment loss by installing nature-based solutions such as tree planting, creating buffer zones along rivers and empowering the public to actively monitor the quality of their local rivers and loughs through training citizen science programmes.”
For example, Six Mile Water Trust has a long running citizen science programme where volunteers monitor river flies to detect changes in water quality, with the river fly life acting a bit like the ‘canary in the mine,’ providing an early warning if there is problem in the river. This has led to several pollution pressures being found and resolved.
River Blackwater Catchment Trust has worked with landowners to prevent cattle from accessing the river which stops bank erosion and reduces nutrient and sediment loss.
Ballinderry Rivers Trust has worked with over 120 landowners to implement water-friendly farming measures on their farms, from separating clean and dirty water to better livestock management along watercourses.
The team have recently completed a project that, in partnership with landowners, which designed and trialled an innovative nature-based water cleaning system. The process gathers dirty water from the farm and uses the power of plants to clean the nutrients from the water. These are harvested – making cleaning dirty water profitable and providing a win-win solution for both landowners and the environment.
“These are just some of the solutions that need to be scaled up and applied across the whole Lough Neagh catchment and beyond but require proper resourcing and cross-sectoral support to be achieved,” Mark continued.
“We urge our political leaders, the public and stakeholders from all sectors to unite and address this pressing challenge. Collaboration, visionary leadership, scientifically sound catchment-based solutions, adequate funding, a long-term vision, and community involvement are all essential for the recovery strategy.
“The health of Lough Neagh is a reflection of our commitment to environmental stewardship and the preservation of a cherished cultural and ecological asset. Let us work together to protect and rejuvenate this iconic water body, ensuring that future generations can enjoy its beauty and bounty. Together, we can reverse the course of this ecological crisis, preserving Lough Neagh's legacy for the benefit of all now and in the future,” he concluded.
Download the report
The Rivers Trust has created a free-to-download information booklet which brings together the most up-to-date background information and best practice examples in one place in an accessible way.