Lough Erne Invasive Species Group
An inter-agency strategic response to the previously unseen levels of aquatic weed-growth on Lough Erne was initiated in early 2011. Called the Lough Erne Invasive Species Group (LEISG) the group is a sub-group of the Lough Erne Management Consultative Committee which is facilitated by Fermanagh District Council. Members of the group include Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Waterways Ireland, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) Inland Fisheries, Destination Fermanagh and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
A specific threat was identified in an invasive weed first identified on Lough Erne a number of years ago but which spread dramatically in 2010. Commonly called ‘Nuttall’s Pondweed’, the weed survived the 2010 winter period in significant quantities and the potential for further growth was acknowledged as having further implications for recreation and tourism in Co Fermanagh for which this multi-agency response was established.
The inter-agency group has gathered information about Nuttall’s Pondweed and developed a Commonly Asked Questions information document for users and operators of the Lough. Weed-cutting and harvesting has been identified as the most appropriate control measure available at present. This year weed-cutting was undertaken by Waterways Ireland within the marked navigation channels at the appropriate time in the growth cycle of Nuttall’s Pondweed. In addition a trial using “trailing cutting knives” took place in April 2011 to control the growth of the weed.
The focus of Waterways Ireland’s weed cutting has been primarily to keep the main channel and then access to the public amenities open. Waterways Ireland was also involved in harvesting the weed and sending it for composting to prevent further spread.
Upper Lough Erne is a European Natura 2000 designated site and therefore control measures must not undermine the conservation objectives of the area.
Management of the water levels is also seen to have a role in weed management as Nuttall’s Pondweed grows in up to three meters of water. The review of water level control on the Erne system, as recommended in the July 2010 Flooding Taskforce report, will take into account flood risk, recreational and environmental interests.
The group is advising individuals, groups or private commercial interests wishing to undertake weed-cutting on Lough Erne to contact NIEA directly via the contact details at www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/ to obtain permission.