Blackwater River at Ballygawley in the Arney catchment.


Community Actions for Resilient Ecosystems

The aim of the CatchmentCARE programme is to examine measures and actions and to investigate their effectiveness for improving waterbody status as required by the EU Water Framework Directive. We focus on three cross-border catchments, the Finn, Arney and Blackwater.

High nutrient levels, particularly of phosphorus, in freshwater can allow excessive growth of plant plankton and rooted plants, causing a waterbody to become nutrient enriched. Our partners each undertake different tasks in the project, but all contributions are related to the ecological quality of waters within the three selected catchments. 

The programme is a collaboration between local communities and several local authorities and government agencies, led by Donegal County Council:

  • Donegal County Council
  • Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland
  • Inland Fisheries Ireland
  • Loughs Agency
  • Ulster University
  • Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council
  • British Geological Survey
  • Geological Survey of Ireland
Aerial photograph of the Arney River during phase 1 restoration works.

Focusing on the right place

Inland Fisheries Ireland works on the implementation of hydromorphology in river restoration. This includes instream and riparian measures that lead to improvements in waterbody status. The CatchmentCARE team at Inland Fisheries Ireland leads the scoping and targeting package of the programme, which is aimed at identifying locations and measures that will be effective in contributing to waterbody improvement. We also work with partners to undertake appropriate action based on our combined learnings from the scoping study.

Management decisions

The team from the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) in Northern Ireland looks at nutrient management on farms and works with individual farmers along the Blackwater River to monitor fertiliser use and management. AFBI also examines the potential to use of planting trees as a form of water treatment from small-scale sewage works. Trees can intercept and absorb nutrients, preventing them from reaching the local river or at least significantly reducing their impact.

Nutrient enrichment

Too much phosphorus can encourage excessive algae and rooted plant growth. Ulster University examines the possibility of treating heavily-enriched lakes with chemicals to immobilize phosphorus in both lake water and sediment.

Groundwater networks

The Geological Survey of Ireland and British Geological Survey are drilling a series of boreholes and wells to examine the health of groundwater. Surface water is visible in streams, rivers and lakes, but much of it is absorbed into the soils, passing down through layers of rock to form groundwater. The amount of groundwater depends on many factors, including permeability of the local rock formations. The Arney catchment, for example, contains lot of limestone with special features, such as swallow holes and caves. By deploying special dyes and chemical tracers at these locations, we can see where they re-emerge and get valuable information on the health and connectivity local groundwater systems.

Restoring the natural connection between land and water

The Loughs Agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council are involved in undertaking instream and riparian actions that will lead to improvements in the hydromorphology within the three catchments.

  • fencing off livestock
  • creation of buffer zones to slow the passage of nutrients from the land into the rivers
  • riverbank protection from erosion that is not natural
  • restoring sections of river channel that have been over-widened or over-straightened by human activity
  • examining barriers to fish migration, including removal where appropriate 

Community engagement

The Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council also leads a Community Incentive Scheme that invites local community groups to come up with ideas for their local waterbody and to apply for project funding.

The CatchmentCARE programme is funded by EU INTERREG (2017–2022).

For more information, please visit

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