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Tales from the watering hole

My name is Cathal Flood. I am a postgraduate researcher at Maynooth University. I am also a member of a local citizen science project in Emyvale, County Monaghan in Ireland led by Enda Fields of DkIT and Leo McMahon, a local angler whose father was bailiff of Emy Lough for many years. I have found local knowledge so informative and inspiring as I did my thesis.


What do we do?

We take part in monthly testing of various water quality parameters in the Emyvale catchment and compare this testing to some taking place at Maynooth University.

This testing started with the DCU WaterBlitz with fourth-year biology students in the college and Dr. Gail Maher of the Department of Biology last September. Obviously given the strange times we are in the midst of with the coronavirus outbreak, it is unfeasible for us to continue our regular testing. Regular testing had only just expanded into nutrient testing for nitrates thanks to the help and support of DCU’s Water Institute with Dr. Fiona Regan in particular...but for now we cannot go rogue with our pipettes and cuvettes to break the law in the name of water quality! Stay home and stay safe I encourage you all of course. 

However, as a water quality enthusiast it is hard for my mind to switch off water. One day on the farm (I am also a part-time farmer) which I still have to attend to as an essential service, an epiphany came to me. What if I test here? I always have a great belief that farmers are part of the solution of our environmental conflicts today and not the problem as some would point to them as. By luck I still had access to the citizen science basic water monitoring equipment via my nutrient test kits (still had some left) and phosphate testing equipment from Enda (Hanna low range checker)! I decided that I could perform some nutrient tests on my own farm looking at the effects of land use activities such as slurry and fertilizer application with best practice on the local river and streams which flow through the small 30-acre farm in Ardagh, County Longford. 

There are four stream access points for cattle drinking access - or "watering holes" if you will - on this farm. I have them restricted, as my father did, for minimal access but access nonetheless to local water bodies for animal consumption and welfare reasons. My core thought was if I monitored before, during and after grazing of livestock, what would it show? What would I see from testing when I am back on the farm every couple of days? I think this mini study will be interesting - firstly to me, to see the effects my farm management is having on my local water body. Secondly, it is important to assess nutrient management planning on the farm and compare to other nutrient management systems in general. And finally, to show how farmers can learn about their local catchment issues, become advocates of best practice on farms dealing with their local water source for their livestock, and become not only custodians of the fruitful land but also of the fresh water! 

My first experiment (I guess you could call it) was simple. A before and after nutrient test for nitrates and phosphates during fertilizer/FYM application (April 17th and 23rd), which I will do a separate post on after I complete more fertilizer use in June (spreading for second cut silage and autumn pasture). My second nutrient test or experiment is on recently moved livestock from housing to grazing (May 1st) on a 1.5 acre field with one single limited stream access for water consumption, as seen in the picture above, to assess physical changes in the water body and nutrient changes of course while they are grazing near there. They will be there with maybe some livestock changes (but the same quantity of cattle and their poos) until 15th May. I will test again on Friday 8th May.  You are all welcome to provide thoughts or feedback. I am learning too in this process of how to be a more environmentally aware farmer, a citizen scientist, and a researcher.

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