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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Muir takes action on water quality and Lough Neagh

Green algae on Lough Neagh

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister Andrew Muir has announced 20 actions his Department will take to improve water quality, address the challenges in Lough Neagh and tackle blue green algae (BGA).


Minister Muir made the announcement in the Assembly today, highlighting that many of the DAERA actions were already underway and those remaining will be taken forward by his Department as soon as possible.



The 20 DAERA actions form part of the wider Lough Neagh Report and Action Plan which is currently under consideration by the Executive. The 20 measures announced today are DAERA-only actions and do not require Executive approval.


Speaking of the announcement Minister Muir said:


“Lough Neagh is of huge importance to people here.  It is our most important natural resource, supplies 40% of our drinking water and its significance to those who depend on the Lough for business and recreational purposes cannot be overstated.



“Whilst the wider Lough Neagh Report and Action Plan remains under consideration by the Executive colleagues I have a responsibility to ensure that the actions that my Department can take are taken and taken at pace. The time for action is now.


“I will continue to engage with Executive colleagues to secure agreement on the remaining issues within the report, but the situation is such that it is important to take the necessary action that we can now.


“We know that the policies and programmes we have advanced in the past have contributed to creating the impacts we are now witnessing. We also know that excess nutrients in the environment cause pollution in our waterways and we also know the main contributing sources are agriculture and, to a lesser but still significant extent, wastewater, from both treatment works and septic tanks.



“I am committed to improve water quality, address the challenges in Lough Neagh and tackle blue green algae and have already allocated £7.5million towards this, however, further investment will be needed not only in the short but in the longer term. Inadequate funding will have a detrimental impact on implementing the interventions needed.”


The actions announced today, and those remaining within the Lough Neagh Action plan, are grouped into four key pillars:


  1. Education: empowering knowledge and skills and encouraging best practice;

  2. Incentivisation: investment and innovation aimed at motivating, and funding actions which will drive the adoption of behavioural change;

  3. Regulation: our statutory obligation to protect the quality of our water; and

  4. Enforcement: taking strong, meaningful action when compliance with regulation fails.



The Minister concluded:


“The issues surrounding the Lough and the wider water environment are complex and very challenging. Addressing these issues will require changes in our behaviours and practices and I am determined to build and sustain a culture of environmental responsibility fostering an attitude of zero tolerance to pollution.”


The 20 actions relevant to DAERA are:


Education


1. Deliver Water Quality monitoring outreach events to farm businesses in the Lough Neagh catchment to build on the information provided by soil analysis and runoff risk mapping within the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS).


To optimise nutrient application on the farm.


2. Provision of training in compliance and environmental performance to slurry spreading contractors. To reduce risk of runoff to watercourses.


3. Scope and implement a suite of water quality-based initiatives including farm sustainability training and advisory campaigns, ensuring that these incorporate actions to promote experiential learning.


4. Deliver a Lough Neagh Catchment wide awareness campaign on Education and Enforcement practices through a departmental mailshot to raise awareness.



Incentivisation/Innovation/Investment


5. Launch a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Phase 2 project to improve the Sustainable Utilisation of Livestock Slurry (SULS) and develop demonstrator sites to process livestock manure/slurry. Removes excess phosphorus from the environment.


6. Establish and deliver a Livestock Dietary Emissions Challenge through the Defra-Led Dairy Demonstrator Project to formulate and test on farm livestock diets which reduce ammonia emissions, phosphorus losses and greenhouse gas in Dairy herds in Northern Ireland. Reduces phosphorus and nitrogen inputs.


7. Commence a Small Business Research Initiative to investigate feasible and affordable solutions to reduce Blue Green Algal blooms when they occur.


8. Scope the expansion of the Sustainable Catchment Programme (SCP) into more Lough Neagh catchment areas. Reducing point and diffuse nutrient losses from agricultural sources.


Scope the mandatory participation in the SCP within the FwN packages.


9. Deliver the Farming with Nature (FwN) Package.


10. Continue Lough Neagh Environmental Farming Scheme Group Project. To ensure an Environmental Management Plan for each participating farm.



Regulation


11. Complete the statutory review of the Nutrients Action Programme (NAP), consult on proposals within the updated NAP and introduce revised NAP Regulations. Reduce the nutrient losses to water from agricultural sources.


12. Establish a DAERA group to develop a proposed response to the excess nutrient problem that will significantly reduce the adverse environmental consequences.


Engage and fully consult with stakeholders regarding a new regulatory framework for the processing of slurry to reduce land spreading of excess phosphorus, resulting in renewable energy production and recycling/reuse of organic nutrients. 


Reduce phosphorus loading to land.

13. Review of 3rd cycle River Basin Management Plan and programme of measures as overall water quality improvement strategy for DAERA. Improving water quality.



Enforcement


14. Increased activity focused in areas of highest risk including cumulative breaches and informed by scientific evidence with a view to having a focussed enforcement taskforce. Improving water quality. 


15. The provision of additional Water Quality Inspectors to enhance responses to reports of water pollution. Improving water quality. 


16. Establish an enforcement project team to explore and fully consult on enforcement methods including fixed penalty notices for non-compliance. Deterrent to reduce pollution incidents.


17. Scope the provision of a dedicated team for those catchments of poorest water quality. Initially focused on the Lough Neagh catchment. This team, separate from NIEA, will work alongside key stakeholders to educate and support farm businesses in steps that can be taken to improve water quality, allowing space and time to implement these improvements and following up with appropriate enforcement action.


Science and Governance


18. Within the DAERA Postgraduate Studentship Scheme, have a focus on PhDs on nature-based solutions for Lough Neagh to increase knowledge and understanding.


19. Commence a scientific review of the environmental impact of sand extraction at Lough Neagh. Phase 1 Report (Review of existing evidence).


20. Implement the InterAgency Blue-Green Algae monitoring protocol. Response to incidents and public health advice.

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