Celebration of Conservation Successes at Lough Arrow

A fascinated audience of anglers, conservationists and academics met on the shores of Lough Arrow,  recently and in the sunshine between hail flurries celebrated the conservation successes on Lough Arrow, Co. Sligo and learned about future plans for the site. The event showcased the work of the newly incorporated Atlantic Technological University (formerly IT Sligo) in an innovative trial of techniques to control and prevent the further spread of the alien invasive plant Elodea Nuttallii (Nuttal’s pondweed). This weed has been having devastating effects on the unique biodiversity of stoneworts on the lake and the brown trout fishery that depends on them.

The event included a practical demonstration from Dr Joe Caffrey of INVAS Biosecurity of how the invasive weed is ideally evolved to spread within the lake and how easy it is for fragments of the plant to infect neighbouring water bodies through the equipment and boats of lake users.

Dr Joe Caffrey, INVAS with Nuttalls pondweed

Although it may be that the weed can never be eradicated due to practicalities and cost, the idea of using jute matting to suppress the weed in biosecure channels has long term potential. This means that people can safely access the deep weed-free waters to fish, swim, and boat without breaking weeds, preventing spread within or out of the Lough.

Scientists from The Atlantic Technological University were pleased to announce that the Nuttall’s weed has been entirely suppressed under the matting and, even more importantly, the charophytes or stoneworts that are such an essential part of the lifecycles of the lake are successfully growing through the jute.

An announcement was also made at the event that the Lough is due to be central within the next stage of the River Basin Management Plans, and so work and research will continue on the Lough, carrying CANN’s legacy into the future.

Film…Camera…Action

Since lockdown eased slightly, the work to create a video of the CANN project has been progressing. Before lockdown, we filmed some fabulous footage of the skilful digger drivers blocking old drains at Cranny Bogs. The diggers rest on huge wooden bog mats which weigh over a tonne each, these are moved by the machine operator as he progresses across the bog allowing the machines to continue work even when the bog is like a sea of jelly. To see these huge machines delicately moving peat from sacrificial pits to block the drains is quite amazing.  ASG, our video contractors, are getting used to the soggy feet of working on wetlands and now bring wellies as standard. They were thrilled to film a demonstration of our Robocut machine which, working by remote control can get into areas which are unsafe for a ride-on cutter (and cameramen!). The machine has been a huge hit with farmers wanting to find out how to manage their land better for biodiversity.

During the main part of lockdown, filming was postponed but as soon as it eased the cameras were back on the job using skilful drone work and pared-back crew to ensure social distancing and safe working practices. Their first date was in Peatlands park where volunteers from the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership were pulling scots pine seedlings out of the bog and cutting down young rhododendrons.

The team also got close up and personal with a licenced filming of young hen harriers at the nest on Sliabh Beagh and had a meeting with lovely traditional breed cattle on the mountain, these Dexter cattle act like mobile conservation rangers, they are light enough to not get bogged down and will eat the roughest of vegetation, they are also incredibly photogenic with their big dark eyes.

A trip out onto Lough Arrow was carefully carried out to avoid close contact with our scientists. Clever camera angles to mimic the camera being on the boat complete with drone footage demonstrated water sampling and the laying of jute carpets to control alien invasives and encourage native charophytes.

Jute laying at Lough Arrow

Laden with gear, the team climbed to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain and were able to film the delicate work of restoring the unique boreal and subalpine heathland on the peak. This habitat has sadly been a victim of its own popularity being eroded away by the thousands of visitors climbing the boardwalk. Still, our fabulous contractors were able to show the film crew how they put together the giant rock, plant and soil jigsaw, searching for exactly the right shape of stone to fit.

On Lecale fens just outside Downpatrick, the team got the macro lenses out to film the tiny Desmoulin’s whorl snail and the webs of the beautiful marsh fritillary butterfly. Filming is in the home stretch now, and a trip to Scotland in October will tell the tale of making Colonsay Island a rhododendron-free island and find out about surveying birds on the loughs and mountains of this beautiful area. The final filming will be with the Ulster University team surveying white-clawed crayfish on the Kilroosky lake cluster near Clones.

We are looking forward to seeing this lovely video when it is finished it has been a long time in the making, but we are sure it will be worth it.

Carpeting the carpet

Specialist jute matting has been laid on the bottom of Lough Arrow to conserve valuable biodiversity and help local anglers reach the trout for which the lough is famous, without their engines and oars getting tangled in fast-growing dense mats of alien invasive Nuttall’s Waterweed (Elodea nuttallii).

Scientists from CANN partners, IT Sligo, and INVAS Biosecurity who are specialists in the control of alien invasive species, have come together to lay jute matting as a carpet on the bottom of Lough Arrow. This carpet of jute will block the light from the Elodea, but the native carpet of charophytes or stoneworts will be able to grow through its loose weave and flourish to provide feeding and breeding places for the trout and the insects they feed on.

Chara braunii CC Show_ryu – Obra Proprie,
Elodea nuttallii by Christian Fischer, CC 

Elodea nuttalli arrived on Lough Arrow sometime after 2010 and quickly spread in the shallower water where it blocks out light from the delicate and unique charophytes” said Dr Frances Lucy from IT Sligo who leads the CANN team on Lough Arrow

“The weed kills the native freshwater reef of stoneworts which provide food and shelter for wildlife. There is also a very strong chance that weed caught in boat engines or equipment can transfer to other water bodies, Now the CANN project funded by the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, through the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) has allowed us to actively manage this invasive weed and help prevent it spreading” she continued

A trial was carried out on the lough two years ago and was so successful that a full 80m length mat, 20m wide has now been laid extending out from the main launch area to the deep clear Elodea-free fishing grounds. The weed clear path is marked with navigation markers to make it easy for the anglers to use.

Anglers have also been provided with sanitation stations to help them clean their equipment and are being asked to follow the Elodea Code

  • Check equipment, clothing and footwear
  • Clean everything thoroughly, using hot water where possible
  • Disinfect all equipment using Virkon ® Aquatic
  • Dry everything as some alien species can live for two weeks in damp conditions
  • Follow the buoys when launching and landing

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