The River of Life Project forms part of Kilrush Tidy Towns efforts to build a better future, looking at the water, ecology and biodiversity contained within to promote future river walks and bolster eco-tourism.
With rivers acting as a flushing mechanism to dilute the water supply, the initiative has gone from strength to strength in removing blockages that have impeded the flow of the river. Enlisting support from bodies like Coillte and scoring successfully at a number of award ceremonies, the River of Life initiative focuses on a critical education programme for schools, targeting children in 4th, 5th and 6th through awareness and practical exercises.
Community involvement is key to the initiative which looks to strengthen our local eco-system services through fresh air and water quality, in turn looking after local health and wellbeing.
Mother of five, Caroline Bolton, has brought her expertise to the initiative, with a fascination for aquatic ecology actualised through her studies of freshwater and marine biology at GMIT. Having previously worked with inland fisheries, Caroline was brought on board the project due to her vast knowledge on biodiversity, pollination, planning and planting.
Caroline notes pesticides as one of the most serious issues relating to aquatic ecology. A 2009 Directive set out by the European Parliament set up a framework for the sustainable use of pesticides, looking at reducing the harmful effects on human health. Caroline feels that the change is slow coming and that our drinking and bathing waters have felt the brunt of this. Pesticides are not host specific and are present to target a stage or life cycle of the pest. Caroline informs that anything with a similar lifecycle will be affected also. Drifting into water bodies is the main issue, damaging other plants and animals in the facility.
Kilrush Tidy Towns sought out Caroline to address biodiversity within the initiative. “There was a good bit of storm damage. Trees had fallen into the river and there were two significant blockages that were completely impeding the natural flow of the river. We got onto Coillte and without a shadow of a doubt, they have been great supporters of us. Gerry Cosgrove was our local contact. They removed the two different blockages and got the flow going in the river again. That was the most significant thing that we needed to physically take care of. The Waters of Communities supported us in terms of funding. So did the County Council with the local agenda 21. Last year, we got a recommended award during the Tidy Towns adjudication, giving us some funding. We also won an award with the council for community initiation in the area of environment.”
The educational element is an essential part to the River of Life project, tells Caroline. The key focus is to build awareness for primary school children by bringing out the message into the community about the importance of the river, woodland area and the eco-system services available. Starting with 4th class, an informal chat takes place which then leads to a field trip along the river walk, incorporating terminology around what makes up a river. 5th and 6th class conduct a biological survey of the river.
Firstly, by collecting wildlife, bugs and insects within the river. The second part of the process is to examine and identify what is found. The final mission is to determine the overall health of the river. Caroline tells that the children cherish the experience of being a field trip ecologist for a day. ‘Most importantly, they are learning and appreciating what is on their doorstep,’ she tells.
On the importance of the project overall, Caroline concludes with, “this project gets the community involved and creates education around what is going on. People have only been doing what they knew how to do, and now the realisation is out that we are damaging our environment and human health as well. The overarching goal is to bring awareness around what our community has and what we need to do to preserve and protect it so that everyone has it there for the future. You talk about eco-system services which relates to our health as human beings. If we look after our environment and what it can do for us, it will only provide for us in the long run. In the West of Ireland, tourism is important to us. We are promoting and protecting everything we have to offer.”