Author Archives: Aaron Swann



A three-year project, WaterPro, undertaken by nine main partners from Northern Europe including the Lough Neagh Partnership, has now recently come to a close.

The project which researched practical methods to reduce farming and mining nitrate run off,was part of EU Northern Peripheries Transnational Interreg Programme.  Partners were from the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland.

The project included two recent seminars at Oxford Island were the results of the research was explained to local and national stakeholders who are involved in helping improve water quality.

By coincidence the seminar occurred just as the water quality on Lough as Neagh deemed as having improved from ‘bad’ to ‘poor’, indicating that although this is positive news for the lough, there is still much work to be done.  The Lough Neagh Partnership is now working with over 60 farmers along the shoreline helping them apply and participate in the DAERA Environmental Farm Scheme and is now starting to share this best practice water quality information from the Waterpro programme

Gerry Darby, Strategic Manager at Lough Neagh Partnership, said: “Participation on the Water Pro project has enabled our team to work with some of the leading Northern European countries on water quality, hosting partner conferences in Northern Ireland and attending various working seminars.  It will help us develop new practical tools and models for future good water quality management. Whilst the improvement of water quality on Lough Neagh is not as a direct result of Lough Neagh Partnership’s participation on the project, our involvement in the project has been invaluable.”

WaterPro Gerry Darby

Later in this year the Lough Neagh Partnership also hosted a major innovative ecosystem services conference, which again was part of the Waterpro project, focusing on the value of the economic, social and environmental services that are supplied from Oxford Island.

The conference demonstrated the value of the full range of services provided by important landscapes like Oxford Island, from the rich diversity of its wetland habitats and species, to the provision of  quality educational and recreational services.  The monetary benefits of this great natural resource were also identified indicating that the annual economic value of the services provided from Oxford Island were over £2.3 million.

The final seminar in the WaterPro project happened just at the end of May, providing delegates from Lough Neagh Partnership with an opportunity to attend an international conference in Finland, were the final conclusions of the water quality research were presented.

Gerry added: “This three-year European project has brought together like minded partners who otherwise may not have had an opportunity to connect and I am confident that every one of those partners involved will be able to further benefit from the learnings and findings well into the future.”

Lough Neagh Partnership is a non-profit charity made up of representative bodies and stakeholders responsible for the integrated management and protection of the Lough.  It oversees 6 programmes in total including a £3.5 million HLF Landscape Scheme which aims to protect the built, cultural and natural heritage of the Lough.

To find out more, visit:

WaterPro Final Seminar

WaterPro Final Seminar

WaterPro Final Seminar

Presents eco-efficient tools and models for good water quality management and protection for the Northern Periphery sparsely populated area. WaterPro partners from seven countries present pilot size studies related to agricultural and mining extraction industries challenges related to nutrient runoffs.

Time: Wed 22.5.2019                  Location: Finland, Kuopio, Scandic Hotel, Satamakatu 1



9.00          Registration & Morning coffee


                  The morning speeches
9.25          Opening words by Satu Vehreävesa, Director (Regional Development), The Regional Council of Pohjois-Savo
9.30          River Basin Management in Pohjois-Savo/ Antti Kanninen, North Savo ELY Centre
10.00        Possibilities to control nitrogen discharges in extractive industry/ Anna-Kaisa Ronkanen, University of Oulu
Local challenges of Agriculture/ Teija Rantala, RavinneRenki, Savonia

11.00         Short coffee break, 20 min.

11.20        WaterPro introduction / Savonia
Case study – monitoring and controlling explosive based nutrient load in a small quarry/ Soili Solismaa, GTK Finland
Pilot site in Iceland- Challenges and lesson learned/ Jón Guðmundsson, Agricultural University of Iceland
Pilot site in Faroe Islands/ Tróndur Leivsson, Búnaðarstovan – Agricultural Agency
Nutrient reduction systems for agricultural run off/ Michael Gormley, Herriot Watt University, Scotland

13.00        Lunch


              The afternoon speeches
14.00        The potential of fast growing willows for the reduction of nutrient losses to waterbodies/ Chris Johnston, Northern                  Ireland
Integrated bio-solutions for treatment of Landfill Leachate/ Con McLaughlin, Donegal County Council, Iceland
Lough Neagh Partnership/ Gerry Darby, Northern Ireland

15.00        Nitrogen removal at cold-climate mine sites in northern Sweden/ Anders Widerlund, Luleå University of                                 Technology, Sweden


15.20        WaterPro-panel

16.00        Ending the seminar


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Oxford Island Eco System Services

Oxford Island Eco System Services



This is a major innovative conference bringing together experts and partners who have experience of assessing the wider benefits of facilities like Oxford Island. The conference will demonstrate the value of the full range of services provided by important landscapes, from the rich diversity of its wetland habitats and species, to the provision of a quality recreational service.  The conference will also present the findings of recent WaterPro research, highlighting the monetary and non monetary benefits of this great natural resource.
Order of Events
9.00am     Registration, tea and coffee

9.20am     Welcome and Introduction – Conor Jordan – Chair, Lough Neagh Partnership

9.25am     Overview of WaterPro project – Gerry Darby, Manager, Lough Neagh Partnership

9.30am     Working for better water quality in the Lough Neagh Catchment  – Mert Thompson, Catchment Officer, DAERA, Environment, Marine and Fisheries, NIEA,Water Management Unit

10.00am     Agricultural and farming services on southern shores of Lough Neagh through EFS Group Project – Michael Meherg, Lough Neagh Environmental Group Farm Scheme Coordinator

10.30am     Climate Change Adaptation – Cathy Burns, Climate Adaptation Officer, Derry City and Strabane District Council

11.00am     Tea and Coffee Break

11.30am     Biodiversity services of Oxford Island National Nature Reserve – Marcus Malley, Conservation Manager Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council

12.00pm     Cultural Services from southern shores of Lough Neagh and Oxford Island – Liam Campbell, Cultural and Build Heritage Officer, Lough Neagh Partnership

12.30pm     Assessment of Eco-Systems services in Oxford Island, WaterPro Research Findings – Philip O’Kane, JM Consulting (NI)

1.15pm     Lunch




A recent seminar was organised by Lough Neagh Partnership to examine the trends in water quality. The seminar, part of a Union European INTERREG Northern Peripheries programme, was attended by partners from Finland, Sweden, Iceland the Faroes and Ireland. Partners from Northern Ireland included the Lough Neagh Partnership and AFBI (Agri food and Biosciences Institute).

Representatives from Northern Ireland Environment Agency Water Management Unit provided a concise description of how water bodies are monitored and the 40 different biological and chemical parameters that are used to provide an indicator of a river or lake’s water quality status, ranging from Bad to Good.

Water quality in Northern Ireland was compared from 2015 to 2018 and in 2015 32.7% was classified as ‘good’ or better whilst in 2018 the percentage of river water bodies classified as ‘good’ or better has fallen slightly to 31.3% of NI. So some slight bad news for some of our catchments with soluble phosphorous, regarded as the one of the main limiting factors in holding back water quality status.

Whilst phosphorus levels in Lough Neagh remain high, and it is regarded as Eutrophic, it was clear the overall quality of water in the Lough has improved moving from Bad to Poor status. There is still some way to go and the issue of phosphorus that is retained in shoreline soils and in the lough’s bed will take some time to flush out but the trend of improvement in water quality is positive and something to celebrate.

Conor Jordan, chairperson, Lough Neagh Partnership, thanked everyone who attended the seminar and noted: “It is clear that lots of great work has been carried out on Lough Neagh and its Catchments. The trend of water quality in the 1970s and 80s was very poor. But with major infrastructure and investment by NI Water in Sewage plant upgrading and the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, the trend is now more positive and it is a good news water quality story for Lough Neagh.”

There has been a tremendous amount of work carried out by the NIEA Water Management unit in partnership with local River trusts such as the Ballinderry River and Six Mile Water River Trust, Local Councils, NI Water AFBI and the Lough Neagh Partnership.



Lough Neagh Partnership is hosting an international seminar on ‘The Management and Regulation of Water Quality in Lough Neagh’ in partnership with Interreg VB Northern Periphery and Artic Programme, WaterPro Project. The project aims to develop new tools and models to help better manage nitrate run off from farms.


Places are available for this free to attend seminar on Tuesday 27 November which will examine the management and regulation of water quality and agricultural run off into Lough Neagh as part of the exchange of knowledge on the WaterPro Project.

Conor Jordan, the Chairperson of the Lough Neagh Partnership, will chair the seminar, and speaking ahead of the event, he said;

“We all know that the Lough has historically had issues of water quality associated with it.  But through the hard work of the NIEA water quality management group and new practices adopted by farmers since the introduction of the European Nitrates Directive, we are now beginning to see positive changes in the quality of the Lough’s water.  The seminar will look at other best practices being used in Northern Europe and this will also help us continue with the good news water quality trend”


Presentations at the event, in the Discovery Centre at Oxford Island, will focus on the overall Northern Ireland regulation and management of water quality, the past problems with Lough Neagh, the present trends in water quality data and present pilot bioremediation tools to help address the problems at a local farm level. The seminar will also provide an update on the other models and pilot projects attempting to address run off problems from Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, Scotland and the Faroes.


Speakers include Mary Toland and Brenda Walker, Northern Ireland Water Management Unit; Bob Foy, retired Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute Water Quality Scientist, Chris Johnston, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute WaterPro Partner and Gerry Darby of Lough Neagh Partnership.

The seminar begins at 9.30am with registration and refreshments and ends, following lunch, at 2.00pm.

To confirm your attendance at ‘The Management Regulation of Water Quality in Lough Neagh’ seminar, email Aaron Swann at Lough Neagh Partnership –

Order Of the Events


9.30am: Registration, Tea and Coffee

10.00am: Regulation of Water in Northern Ireland and Lough Neagh River Catchment Plan: Mary Toland, Northern Ireland Water Management Unit

10.30am: Past Water Quality Issues and Nitrate Management on Lough Neagh: Bob Foy Retired AFBI Water Quality Scientist

11.00am: Present trends of water quality on Lough Neagh: TBC

12.00 noon: Willow Bioremediation Project: Waterpro Pilot Project in AFBI, Hillsborough: Chris Johnston AFBI Waterpro Partner 

12.30pm: Summary of other Northern European Waterpro Water Quality Pilot Research Projects

1.30pm: Lunch

2.00pm: Seminar Finish 

News in Research – WaterPro

News in Research – WaterPro

News in Research – WaterPro

Lino Nilsson, LTU 2018

The water flow model has been updated to the shallow water equations in 2.5D (SWE) due to a more natural way of introducing wind induced water currents into the model. The model solves the SWE in a 2d space using finite differences discretisation method for the linear terms and using an Euler-Lagrange method for solving the non-linear momentum equations.

The hydrodynamical model is fully integrated with a previously developed biogeochemical model which has previously been used to estimate nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and reactions in a cold-climate mining pond in northern sweden (Nilsson & Widerlund, 2018). Fig. 1 shows the magnitude of the water velocity (left) during winter in the LKAB Kiruna clarification pond as well as the velocities and a migration of a inflow of easily bioavailable phosphorus (contour plot, right).


Figure 1. Shows modelled water velocity using the SWE, magnitude of the velocity is shown on the left and the right shows the marked area and plotted is the water velocity as well as migration of bioavailable phosphorus.



Nilsson, L., Widerlund, A., 2018. Modelling tool for predicting and simulating nitrogen concentrations in cold-climate mining ponds. Ecological modelling (380), 40-52.

WaterPro Partners Visit Scotland for Collaborative European Water Quality Improvement Project – WaterPro

WaterPro Partners Visit Scotland for Collaborative European Water Quality Improvement Project – WaterPro

As the water quality Waterpro project comes to the end of its second year of collaborative working, representatives from Lough Neagh Partnership joined other partners form Northern Europe at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh to reflect on the impact of the project to date and to plan ahead for year three.


Gerry Darby of Lough Neagh Partnership attended and reported that The Waterpro Project continues to make good progress with Heriot Watt University coordinating work and agreeing that a new toolkit comprising new good practice information cards which will now be drawn up by each partner. Savonia University in Finland is taking the lead in developing new templates for the cards. The toolkit aims to provide a good practice information card to the farming community to provide good advice on how to manage nitrate and phosphate run off into our water systems.


The importance of the evaluation of climate change effects in each of the partner countries was also discussed during the partner conference in Edinburgh, with the agreement that each partner should research and develop a short summary of the potential effects of climate change on nutrient run off in their own area. Again, this practical advice will be feed back to the farming stakeholder community and the Lough Neagh Partnership will undertake to develop write up a small paper on the effects of climate change on the Lough and in particular its effect in the Loughs nitrate and phosphate levels.


Gerry reported that partners at Savonia University will also design a web-based selection tool, which will help stakeholders select suitable good practices based on their own nitrate run off circumstances. The toolbox will be produced by February 2019.


Commenting about the value of attending the conference, Gerry said: “Whilst we are all continuing our day to day work the Waterpro project in our own areas, coming together at these round table discussions and conferences are invaluable for partners of the Waterpro project in order to build on the impact that the project has had in the past two years and to proactively plan ahead for the next phase with a joined up approach. The face to face international interaction provides an opportunity to discuss unique partner experiences that conference calls and emails just don’t permit.”


In closing, partners attending the conference updated each other on their pilot projects and Gerry advised that progress on all sites is proceeding well with all site information being fed into the new good practice toolkit and website. Arrangements for a major water quality conference to be held on the shores of Lough Neagh in the Autumn were also agreed.

Scotland HWU June 2018

AFBI – Dairy Open Day

AFBI – Dairy Open Day

AFBI held a major Dairy Open Day at its Hillsborough research farm on Wednesday 6 June with the theme of Dairy Innovation 2018 – Profiting from AFBI Research. The sun shone all day at the Dairy Open Day at AFBI Hillsborough on Wednesday 6th June, but it was the science that shone brightest and was the star of the show. Over 800 visitors attended the all-day event, which was organised in partnership with AgriSearch and CAFRE.

In-field presentations

The open day featured a number of in-field presentations where leading AFBI researchers presented key findings from their research and discussions on how AFBI scientists are using the latest technologies to find new ways of optimising farming practices.

The in-field poster presentations can be seen HERE 

A major feature of this year’s event involved the opportunity to discuss how to adopt these innovations on farm with AFBI researchers and postgraduate students, AgriSearch staff, as well as CAFRE technologists.

A gallery of photos from the event can be viewed HERE

Partner Profile: Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Partner Profile: Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Savonia University of Applied Sciences

Savonia UAS activities include education and research, development an innovation (RDI) offering high-quality services and solutions tailor-made to regions needs. Co-operation, networking and internationalisation are the crucial factors. The School of Engineering and Technology belongs to a competence network “Energy, the Environment and Safety”, whose main focus is on water safety and bioprocesses. Savonia UAS acts as the lead partner and as a responsible partner for Management thus ensuring the smooth internal management of WaterPro as well as being the main contact between other partners and the Joint Secretariat. In Communication Savonia will actively produce materials and disseminate results in Norh Savo and other NPA regions in Finland as well as through wide “water expertise” networks and education. Savonia UAS will participate actively in other work package activities and will be the leader for North Savo pilot site demonstrations and regional and international “Advisory Board”.


Partner Updates:

Savonia started their phosphorus trapping tests in the LUKE (Natural Resources Institute Finland) research station in Maaninka at the beginning of August 2017. It is a field test that tests potential easily spreadable materials which can prevent phosphorous leaking into waterways. In Finland, majority of the phosphorus in the farmland ends up in the waters in the springtime when the snow melts, runoff is large and plants can not bind nutrients to the ground. In WaterPro project, good practices for prevent the nutrient leaching are being sought and one solution could be the substance to be spread on the grassland in autumn. Some of these substances have been somewhat studied but many environmental factors (e.g. soil type) influence phosphorus and how it reacts in different circumstances. Before the best trappers were chosen into field tests, Savonia made a literary review about different trappers and potential trappers were also tested in the laboratory. Six materials were selected for the actual field trials: four aluminum-based (one of these is the foam of aluminum-based precipitation chemicals used in the water treatment plant), wood-based fly ash from a district heating plant and GeoTrap, which differs from these other compounds and represents more minerals. It is not so reactive but its “special feature” is the ability to bind moisture and nutrients to itself.


Natural Resources Institute Finland has developed a pilot scale tool for comparing materials to each other in adjustable environmental conditions (temperature, radiation, precipitation, snow cover depth).  With this tool it is possible to adjust diurnal rhythm in temperature and radiation and possible to monitor closely the formation of surface runoff. This tool called SIMU (Surface runoff simulator) is a container which is locating in Maaninka next to test fields.


Promising nutrient trappers has now been spread in to the grassland. Before the end of the growing season, the top soil (soil layer 0-5 cm) from each plot will be lifted by a turf grass cutter and frozen. Then the grass mats will be placed individually on the sloping SIMU devices and possibly covered with snow. Infrared heaters will be used to melt the snow and ice and the melt water is collected. This melt water sample represents the runoff water during the spring time. Water samples will be analyzed after the tests and the results from the plots treated with phosphorus trappers are compared to the results from the reference area where no manipulation has been done. Many factors are completely adjustable: the treatments on the field (substances and the spreading amount), the slope of the grass mat, the duration of melting period and the amount of snow that produces the surface runoff.

WaterPro Partner Update: AFBI

WaterPro Partner Update: AFBI

Despite the implementation of EU regulations controlling the use of fertilisers inImage 1 AFBI agriculture, reserves of phosphorus (P) in soils continue to pose a threat to water quality. Mobilisation and transport of this legacy P from soil to surface waters has been highlighted as a probable and likely cause of many water bodies continuing to fail to achieve targets under the Water Framework Directive. Over recent decades, the CENIT grassland site (Fig 1) in AFBI Hillsborough has provided some insights into these concerns. From 2000 these grassland plots received P fertiliser amendments and from 2005 P applications ceased and subsequently P losses in runoff and drain flow from each plot were monitored closely until 2012. Unexpectedly, the concentration time series of losses across the plots were almost identical infact the control plot which received no P additions from 2000, and remained at Olsen P index 2 for the duration of the study, lost as much P as those plots receiving heavy applications of P until 2005.


The majority of agriculture in N.Ireland is grass-based with the production of dairy and Image 2 AFBIbeef cattle being prevalent and as such, methodologies to protect environmental water quality from agricultural runoff are of utmost importance if the region is to meet its goals under the EU Water Framework Directive. This is recognised in the recently published Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs “Sustainable Agricultural Land Management Strategy report and Executive summary” where there are recommendations for woody riparian strips, populated by plants such as willow which can withstand wet conditions and can be coppiced regularly for biomaterials (fuel or further processing). It is suggested that these strips, or bio-filtration blocks, will slow the flow of surface water, collect the sediment and absorb the Phosphorus before it enters the watercourse.


AFBI refurbished and planted riparian strips of SRC willow on 3 of 6 CENIT blocks in Image 3 AFBIMay 2016 and has been continuing with automatic overland and drainage water sampling since them. Within the cycle of SRC willow establishment are phases of land preparation, planting, establishment and cutback. Through these stages a number of issues have been dealt with including herbicide spray drift, insect and slug infestations and unexpected frosts. These let to the requirements for vigilance and some gapping up. Strong regrowth can now be seen (Fig 2). Even though there are some signs that both soluble and particulate loads are reducing as a result of the SRC willow intervention, these are not statistically significant at this stage however the plantations have been in their early days.

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