Lough Derg groups told to use European model

Conference hears up to a dozen bodies responsible for lake

 

Up to a dozen bodies responsible for environmental protection and tourism development on Lough Derg, should copy the efforts of international commissions for large European Lakes, a conference on the future of the lake has been told.

The conference in Ballina, Co Tipperary today heard aspects of Ireland’s largest Shannon lake are administered by three county councils, two regional authorities, Waterways Ireland, the Heritage Council, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the ESB, Coillte and a range of tourism bodies including Shannon Development and the Lough Derg Marketing group.

Delegates at the conference organised jointly by the local authorities and the Heritage Council heard while water quality in the lake had improved in recent years, , testing has revealed localised issues during the summer months, partly due to high levels of algae.

Brian Callanan an advisor to the Mid West regional authority said there were lessons to be learned from European lake tourism projects such as an international commission for the protection of Lake Constance which bordered Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

He said disparate groups had recognised environmental quality was “crucial”, and tourism development as “complementary” to the environmental integrity of the region.

Paula Treacy of Waterways Ireland, a North South body which manages navigation and facilities for waterway users, said the environment of Lough Derg was an “incredibly valuable asset”.

“The reality is that this is the golden goose” and the “basis of tourism potential” she said. Ms Treacy added that more than 90 percent of inland waterways were in EU and Irish protected areas and while this many be considered onerous at times, it was the basis for the growth of eco-tourism.

Ms Treacy said all sorts of activities could be undertaken within an eco tourism framework, “using nature appropriately”. These included boating which was worth €70 million to the Irish economy each year, angling which was worth €90 million, and water sport which was worth about €20 million. She said cycling was worth more then €200m nationally each year, and walking and hill walking more than €649 million.

However Dan Minchin of the voluntary, Lough Derg Science Group said it has been tracking the spread of exotic species such zebra mussels, and certain species of toxin-producing blue-green algae, which may present risks to livestock and bathers.

He said the Asian clam which was an invasive species which colonised rivers to the point where the river bed resembled “living gravel” had been discovered south of Portumna at the head of the lake. He said invasive plant species which grew in densities where they could cause a person to drown, were also discovered.

The conference, entitled Lough Derg: realising its potential, heard the lake had a surface area of 118 square kilometres and is a major source of tourism revenue, particularly in some 16 towns and villages in east Galway, east Clare and west Tipperary.

Liam Connelly director of the Mid West Regional Authority told the delegates collaboration was “the key” to protecting the environment of the lake and promoting it as a tourism, cultural and heritage destination. He said a Lough Derg Task Group was currently creating the kind of consensus which many of the speakers agreed was necessary to realise the potential of the lake.