Aerial view of Athlone Weir on the River Shannon.

National Barriers Programme

River fragmentation is the breaking up of a river’s continual flow from source to the sea. It is one of the greatest global threats to freshwater ecosystems because it interrupts fish migration, blocks the movement of fish and other animals within the channel, alters the flow of sediment throughout the channel, affects habitat diversity and impacts overall biodiversity.

Irish rivers are heavily fragmented by weirs, dams, sluices, culverts, bridges and other artificial barriers.  The impact of these structures can be broken down into two broad categories:

  • Obstructing to fish migration
  • Habitat damage

The National Barriers Programme deals with issues related to barriers and works to reduce their impact, within the context of the Water Framework Directive.  There are five main aims of this programme:

  • Developing a barriers assessment tool
  • Barrier surveys and risk assessment
  • Creating a national barriers database
  • Focusing our efforts
  • Guidance for planning and construction
Diagram of the effect of dams on rivers and fish movements.

Diagram of the effects of barriers on rivers and fish movements.

Developing a barriers assessment tool

For primary assessment, Inland Fisheries Ireland has developed the I-BAST (IFI Barrier Assessment and Screening Tool) application as an initial screening and barriers assessment tool. This portable data collection application captures information such as barrier location, barrier type, structural dimensions and images. This assessment has been developed to assist in the assessment of instream structures, with the aim of improving fish passage on the island of Ireland. A secondary, more intensive survey may be done subsequently to advise on potential mitigation measures.

Barrier surveys and risk assessment

To date, we have surveyed almost 22,600 structures using the I-BAST assessment and a further 175 structures using the secondary assessment. Inland Fisheries Ireland has also been joined by colleagues in the Local Authority Waters Programme (LAWPRO), a number of whom we have trained to help record barriers, which further adds information to our national database.

Creating a national barriers database

Thanks to other national organisations, who have given us lots of data, we have been able to use desk-based techniques to add to our list of potential barriers around Ireland. This supplements our on-the-ground surveys and has increased our total to 73,077 potential barriers on the Irish river network. We aim to develop an interactive web application to help people use this information.

Drone survey of breach at Ballyclough Weir on the Mulkear River.

Focusing our efforts

Identifying barriers is only the first step, after which mitigation measures may be necessary. Naturally, this can be an expensive endeavour, and some should take priority over others. Prioritisation incorporates many factors, such as amenity value, requirements for compliance with EU Directives, cost-benefit analysis and fish migration benefits.

Rock ramp at Castletown Weir on the River Nore.

Guidance for planning and construction

The National Barriers Programme will produce guidance documents that may be used by various stages of the planning, construction and mitigation processes to advise them on best practices and help them comply with legislation.

This project is being done by Inland Fisheries Ireland under the direction of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, with assistance from colleagues in various Catchment Flood Risk Assessment & Management (CFRAM) groups, Irish Rail, Local Authorities Waters Programme (LAWPRO), Office of Public Works (OPW), Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI), Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and Waterways Ireland.