Call on Minister Coveney for agricultural buffer zones as more blue flag beaches closed

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A call has been made to the Minister for Agriculture to establish buffer zones to exclude cattle from streams, rivers and lakes.
The call comes from Friends of the Irish Environment after repeated closures this summer of west Cork beaches. Cork County Council this week closed two blue flag beaches at Tragumna and Kilcrohane.

In June the council was also forced to prohibit swimming at Fountainstown, 23km south of Cork City, after tests showed E.coli levels of more than twice the EU permissible limit. At that time, advisory notices were also placed at three beaches in West Cork — Barleycove in the Mizen peninsula, The Warren at Rosscarbery, and Tragumna.
A council spokesman admitted that recent flash flooding in the area ‘may have washed cattle faeces into the sea, resulting in the elevated levels of E.coli’.

Dugort beach in Co. Mayo  was also closed on August 1 ‘due to suspected agricultural/urban runoff triggered by rainfall’, according to An Taisce, the EU Blue Flag coordinators in Ireland.

In a statement released after the latest closures were announced, the west cork based group said ‘Climate change suggests that we will be liable to more flooding events in the coming years, exacerbating the problem of faecal contamination of not only our best beaches but of Ireland’s reputation as a safe and clean holiday destination.’

‘Under current regulations there is no exclusion zone for cattle from our rivers and streams and lakes. They are allowed to enter water bodies and contaminate the water with faeces that may contain not only E.coli but cryptosporidium.’

According to the latest figures from the European Centre for Disease Control, ‘Ireland’s rate of the water borne E. coli [VTEC/STEC] infection is higher than any other country in Europe. Our rate of cryptosporidiosis is three times the EU average.’

In June 2011 Denmark introduced a 10 meter buffer zone along all streams, rivers, and lakes.

A recent scoping survey by Teagasc, the Government’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority, investigated the factors which influence the willingness of farmers to provide a riparian buffer zone in 123 catchments across Ireland. The survey showed that less than half of the farmers surveyed were willing to accept buffer zones at the level of payments suggested. Payments suggested reached €2,500 per hectare equivalent.

The Study concluded: ‘Results from this study suggest that there is reluctance amongst the Irish farming community to adopt a 10m fixed width riparian buffer zone despite the potential availability of economic incentives.’

‘Simon Coveney is both Minister for Agriculture and TD for the area. He supports farmers in their role as guardians of the countryside. He must also ensure they accept their responsibility as guardians of our water quality.’

EU Annual Epidemiological Report 2012, click here.
Buckley, C., Hynes, S. & Mechan, S., (2012) Supply of an ecosystem service – Farmers’ willingness to adopt riparian buffer zones in agricultural catchments, Environmental Science and Policy, 24:101-109, click here.