The removal of Ballyclough Weir during the sea lamprey spawning season, and without Appropriate Assessment, is a serious matter
Mulkear Life posted on their website at the end of July 2013 that they have just completed a “month of major instream works“. See the story here. They also posted that they had removed Ballyclough Weir on the lower reaches of the River Mulkear; again major instream works. See this story here. These works have been completed during the spawning season of sea lamprey, a key conservation interest of the Lower Shannon SAC (which includes the River Mulkear).
“There should be no instream works or disturbance during the period April to July inclusive to protect spawning lampreys (all three species)“
The Old River Shannon Research Group generally support riverine development works (when aimed at improving habitat and not just facilitating the killing of Annex II fish) and the removal of barriers of migration within this SAC. However, such works need be planned properly, take place outside the lamprey and salmonid spawning seasons, and be subject to appropriate assessment. We are very concerned when a state agency stops following its own rules. Mulkear Life also completed a major electrofishing survey during June 2013; yet Inland Fisheries Ireland refuse Section 14 licence applications for survey work at this time of the year to private consultancies (and rightly so on the basis that young-of-the year salmonids are too small to catch in June). This was particularly relevant in 2013 due to the very cold spring. Moreover June is the peak of the sea lamprey spawning season and no disturbance of rivers where this species occur should happen at this time. The conditions of a recent planning application granted on the River Maigue, Co Limerick for a small hydroelectric scheme specified that instream works should only take place during August and September to protect Brook lampreys and River lampreys. Sea lampreys spawn later than these two species, and their ova and larvae will be vulnerable to disturbance and suspended solids pollution for at least a month after spawning has been completed.
The removal of Ballyclough Weir is a great development when a long-term view is taken, and we are happy that this is happening. After the millions of Euro that have been spent on Mulkear Life to date, it is great to see that there will be a likely long-term improvement in fish passage at one location at least. However this work should not have been undertaken during the sea lamprey spawning season. We see that significant cumulative negative impacts on sea lampreys (and other receptors) have now occurred within an SAC that is designated for this species. We do not accept that these works were properly planned, and there was no Appropriate Assessment. Only last year Mulkear Life installed one of their “lamprey ramps” at this weir illustrating that the removal of this obstacle is a new development. The absence of any water quality mitigation at the site also confirms that this was not planned appropriately. We find it incredulous that Mulkear Life are boasting about (1) a month of major instream works, (2) major instream weir removal works and (3) a major electrofishing survey, all during the sea lamprey spawning season. The fact that this work took place in an SAC without Appropriate Assessment is a serious issue.
“Full-on instream works during June and July is verging on wildlife crime”
Sea lampreys are at unfavourable conservation status in Ireland and are supposed to be protected from damaging works like this, particularly within Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) that have been designated for them. The River Mulkear is a designated SAC for sea lampreys. There should be no instream works or disturbance during the period April to July inclusive to protect spawning lampreys (all three species). Ideally there should also be no instream works during August to give sea lamprey larvae time to settle. Full-on instream works during June and July is verging on wildlife crime. Instream works like these cause the release of suspended solids which enter the interstitial spaces of gravel areas where lamprey spawn and kill the ova through physical effects and reducing oxygen levels. The effect is the same as on salmon and trout spawning areas. Sea lampreys were still spawning at the time of these works, and claims by Mulkear Life that they had snorkelled the river and confirmed that lampreys have moved upstream are misleading. The majority of the sea lamprey spawning in the Mulkear takes place at Annacotty, and below, and this area was significantly impacted on by suspended solids pollution resulting from these works. Ova and larvae are particularly sensitive to suspended solids pollution and the low water levels and high temperatures at the time of these works ensured that signifiant effects did occur. Mulkear Life dismissed the need for an Appropriate Assessment in their screening report and erroneously concluded that there was no potential for significiant adverse effects. There needs to be an investigation into the decision making, and regulation by Inland Fisheries Ireland and National Parks and Wildlife, that lead to this failure to apply the requirements of the Habitats Directive.
The fact that Mulkear Like has just completed a “month of major instream works”, weir removal, and invasive electrofishing work during the sea lamprey spawning season is beyond disappointing. It is certainly not something they should be boasting about on their website. This coupled with the fact that these major instream works were not subject to Appropriate Assessment is a very serious matter indeed, These works were also all undertaken during the bird nesting season.
We believe that sea lampreys would be better off in the River Mulkear if there had never been a Mulkear Life project. Mulkear Life’s cavalier approach to protecting this species has taken from the few positive things they have achieved, and it will bring this project to an end when this is realised by more enlightened regulators in Brussels. When the extent of their insensitivity to their target species fully appreciated, it may well jeopardize funding of similar projects in Ireland the future. It is quite incredible that Inland Fisheries Ireland themselves are now a significant threat to lampreys in this country; both by actions like this and through inaction when it comes to protecting lampreys from OPW flood schemes for example, and also though placing concrete crump weirs that block lamprey migration on all our salmon rivers.
Undertaking Instream works during the sea lamprey spawning season within an SAC clearly illustrates how little this project really cares for lampreys. Other damage could also have been done, and there is the potential that a whole range of significant direct, indirect and cumulative effects occurred during these works. Other impacts also be realised as the works are completed, and indeed for some months going forward. Ballyclough Weir is over 200 years old and there were perhaps thousands of tonnes of silt deposited upstream of this obstacle for a kilometre or more. Much of this silt is now being mobilsed and transported downstream, and may have effects well into the future on salmonids spawning downstream also. Upstream river banks may also have become destabilised and may slew off into the river. Otters holts, kingfisher nests, annex I alluvial woodland upstream could all be affected indirectly. There could be hydraulic issues during floods that could make the removed section of weir impassable at certain flows. These impacts could all potentially occur, would all be significant, and this is the reason that such works need to be carefully designed and planned and subject to Appropriate Assessment and indeed Ecological Impact Assessment. It is also noteworthy that there has been significant habitat loss for juvenile brook lampreys behind the weir. Brook lampreys should have been translocated out of the way prior to these works. It is likely that local populations of the Annex II white-clawed crayfish were also affected. It is also noteworthy that a significant access road was built to access the site with the potential to have affected local ecological interests such as badger setts, breeding birds etc.
“It is quite incredible that Inland Fisheries Ireland themselves are now a significant threat to lampreys in this country”
We have to ask why do Mulkear Life – who are supposed to be there for the lampreys – insist on causing so much disturbance during the most critical time for these animals? This follows on from the ridiculous and damaging “tag as many as we can catch” sea lamprey work three years ago, which served no purpose whatsoever except demonstrating the obvious – i.e. that sea lampreys generally can’t pass the weir at Annacotty. Their tagging work caused extensive direct disturbance to an Annex II species within an SAC on its spawning beds. The weir at Annacotty remains generally impassable for lampreys. Mulkear Life have never presented any scientific evidence that their ‘lamprey ramps’ at Annacotty work. We are quite sure that these ramps offer no significant help to lampreys. We have reviewed this issue in detail, with reference to the scientific literature, in a previous article. Access it here.
“after the millions of Euros that have been spent on Mulkear Life it is great to see that there will be at least one tangible legacy to this project”
It is noted that there was also one of these lamprey ramps installed last year at Ballyclough, at presumably considerable expense, and this ramp has been dumped on the site now (see photo below). This shows how unplanned the current works were, and also that Mulkear Life themselves know that these ramps are of no value.
The bottom line here is that we are delighted that this obstacle has been removed, but are very disappointed by the significant avoidable damage that has occurred achieving this. However, after the millions of Euros that have been spent on Mulkear Life it is great to see that there will be at least one tangible legacy to this project.
We are glad the weir is gone, but undertaking major instream works during the lamprey spawning season is wrong, and working in an an SAC without Appropriate Assessment is also wrong. The ORSRG was set up because we are tired of things being like this in Ireland and are exposing the offenders and campaigning for proper protection for Irish lampreys.