- An occasional series of longer Reports and Studies -

EF.11 2013: An Unusual Summer?
- Observations of factors affecting both People and Wildlife -


Summer 2013: The Topography, Environment and Wildlife of Lough Allen at this time.

(RIGHT Clicking on the above Image will give you a larger copy, but this will be wider than some Monitors!)

Much of the ‘biological wealth’ of Lough Allen is to be found on the east shore (the near shore in the photograph) and on the north shore. A rock shoal (The Spit) south of Long Island on the east shore, and Corry Shoal, Gull Island, and some isolated rocks on the north shore have, in the past, sustained good numbers of 3 species of declining Gulls. Terns and Lapwings have been present in recent years but not breeding. The rare Spiranthes orchid’s remaining colonies are all along the east and north shores. These shores receive the warm afternoon Sun.



The above image shows the names used in this Website, the localities and their importance for Plants and Animals. This photograph was taken towards the end of May and the vantage point was the foothills of The Playbank — the highest mountain at the northeast of the lake. Weather conditions were not ideal but it seems opportune, in these unusual times, to present an overview of the area and the research and informational work being undertaken by LoughAllenBasin.com

Unfortunately, this is a difficult Summer at Lough Allen. Employment has not increased, our hopes for using the environment to provide work in conservation have not materialised (yet!), and weather, resources and work time availability, have all made the goal of promoting Lough Allen — as a very Special Place — more difficult this Summer. Ireland and Britain has been enduring a very long and cold Winter/Spring and, heading into Summer, neither the climate or Nature is responding as normal. Water and air temperatures are low, rain and cold winds are prevalent, cattle are bawling and fodder is scarce. Our small project is also hindered by these very elements that are making people’s lives difficult. All Spring growth is very much held back and this also affects Lough Allen’s collection of exotic and interesting plants.

The Summer visiting birds have arrived but are not breeding. Partially this is due to flooded nesting sites. In recent years we have become used to increasing water levels towards the end of the Summer. This has been a concern in regard to rare Orchids and water birds. The Red-breasted Mergansers are present in reasonable numbers but we have seen little sign of nesting behaviour. However, they can quickly respond if suitable warmer and calmer weather arrives. Spiranthes (the Irish Lady’s Tresses) is to be found at several of the areas shown on the above panorama. (All of Lough Allen is shown in this image.) However, at this time, all suitable sites for this very rare orchid are covered in water. But that water level can quickly drop and the flowering time for this species is late July/early August?

Finally, despite the heavy rainfall, the water of Lough Allen still remains dirty. We have been looking for quantifiable proof of pollution levels but these have been hard to determine in rough and rainy conditions. Signs are present but do not meet the criteria we have laid down for measuring degrees of pollution. But the water quality is visually not good, it is affecting people’s quality of life and may be having some adverse health impacts. Unfortunately we remain fearful that if the weather changes and a good Summer does follow, Lough Allen may well ‘bloom’ again with very distressing consequences to those of us living around the lake.

During recent good weather (first half of July) water temperatures have risen dramatically, water has been relatively calm, and the Lake has remained healthy overall... with no significant algal bloom being detected to date. This is great News!

Local Climatic and Water conditions.

We present data here showing how remarkable the changes in conditions here have been between this year and 2012. The two graphs show the variation in water level between the 2 years and the drop in water temperature so far this year.

The dates are a bit random, representing days on which we were out on the lake or did nature treks along the shore. In the latter case, water temperature may not have been recorded. However, on all days when we were able to make a boat trip, water temperature was accurately recorded. (There is a temperature sensor in our depth sounding transmitter — 20cm. below the water — and we never go out on the lake without that faithful depth monitor!)

Both years have been quite wet. In 2012 water levels started to decline in July and were at a satisfactory level for both Spiranthes to flower and Mergansers to produce young.

In 2013, to date, the high volume and continuous nature of rainfall through much of the Spring has led Lough Allen’s water level to remain even higher. It has consistently been up to 1/2 metre higher than it was for a similar period last year. A drop in water level would now be desirable for both Plants and Animals in the Lake. We will update this graph as Summer progresses.

In early July water levels are lower than last year. At this level Spiranthes will be above the water line in early August if conditions remain the same.



As can be seen from attached graphs Lough Allen is very prone to rapid fluctuations in water level and temperature. The level changes are well known and are recognised as a problem for Biodiversity. They are governed by several factors, high rain levels and a steep surrounding catchment basin and control of release of water through sluices.

We were less familiar with changes in temperature until we put this data together. This year there was a surprising drop to a very low temperature at the start of May. We believe this is accurate and reflects high rainfall combined with cold nights on the mountains leading to a large volume of cold water suddenly entering Lough Allen.

Cold windy weather will inhibit the impact of pollution entering the lake. Warm still weather will exacerbate it. We had been alarmed, on 3rd June, by the presence of localised patches of scum based on warm water, pollen, and some microbial organisms. Since then the expected surge in water temperature was delayed for a month by very consistent cool stiff breezes agitating and mixing the surface water. However, it has now taken off!

This Graph represents the significant difference in water temperature between this year and last year. Just as land temperature is holding back farming activity, wildlife seems to be affected by shortage of food as well as high water levels.

For a lot of the Spring the water temperature has been 5 or more degrees colder than last year. However it is now beginning to rise and heading towards danderous levels — in terms of Blue-green Algal blooms! As of 10th. July no significant Bloom has been triggered despite very high surface water temperatures.

Blue Line data last record on July 10th, 2013. These temperature readings are from different parts of the lake with different water depths (though we have avoided obvious shallow water effects) and at different times, from early morning to late evening.




Water Quality at time of writing.

The last technical report in the WaterLOG was on 23rd of April 2013, over a month ago. This is disappointing but it is due mainly to weather factors and some health problems. It has been difficult, this year, to coincide free time with tolerable weather conditions. It is necessary to take reasonable caution and also protect valuable equipment, such as our Cameras — which were already damaged by Leitrim mist!

The tests devised during the Winter were applied on that date and indicated serious pollution in an area at the south end of the lake where we are aware of previous concerns (EPA). Since then we have applied our various tests (described HERE) on several other days. It is policy, now, not to report dubious water conditions but to hold out until we can produce unarguable data to show that Lough Allen is getting dirtier, or becoming cleaner. The tests analyse the behaviour of water (not chemical analysis of it) and require reasonably calm weather, even warm weather, to yield clear results. However, we do believe they will be useful when we get the right conditions. We just hope this won’t be a large algal bloom during a period of warm calm weather as happened last year!

Water temperature has been low, weather is wet and windy. All these conditions work against blue-green algal cells growing and joining together. The graph of water temperatures above shows how much lower present temperatures are than this time last year. This can rapidly change and the other factors needed for a full scale bloom are definitely present — added nutrients in water accompanying detergent based foams and widespread persence of Cyanophyceae species.




Risk of Blue-green algae this Summer.

It is widely known that the toxins that are produced by certain specimens of certain species of Cyanophyceae are poisonous particularly to dogs. Unfortunately the level of physical harm that some people endure can also be considerable and has been brought home to us recently. The mental stress of wondering whether the water is safe is also a major problem for families. Pollution is not a joke and the loss of amenity is not to be ignored! People are entitled to enjoy their own place in a way they have always done. We are entitled to pursue our interest in Biodiversity and seek to protect it in a reasonable manner?

We believe the risk of an incident, similar to last years, remains high. We believe there are indicators now present that suggest that changes occurring in recent years are still continuing. There is much foam on the lake, there are some persistent deposits on shores, and water surface tension is being decreased as shown by bubbles remaining long after calm water is disturbed. It is hoped to further these studies, prior to another bloom, if we are get a spell of suitable weather. Any reports of unusual water conditions or water quality would be very welcome. (Contact details HERE)

Any visual tests, conducted by LoughAllenBasin.com or others, that yield clear convincing results will, of course, be written up in the WaterLOG.




Some Biodiversity...


Whilst Lough Allen’s famous special 12 elements of its Biodiversity may be suffering, other interesting plants and animals are adapting to changing conditions and changing weather. Both climate change and eutrophication used to be slow processes; now they seem to be happening within a few years. The weather is not generated locally but much of the pollution would seem to be. To preserve Biodiversity and people’s enjoyment of Nature, local people and local authorities need to ensure that no effluent leaves their property and enters formerly clean water?

Some of the species below may reflect this process of eutrophication; others may simply be better at adapting to unusual weather?


Bog Rosemary...

These were doing quite well in Galley Bog on the R280 just as you enter Roscommon.

They are one of a select group of berry producing individual plants that thrive in the acid conditions of a bog.

They were flowering well but note the recent frost damage on the leaf.


A strange plant that we have only found in one discrete part of the Lake. Its flowers emerge straight from the ground in March or April, with the leaves only following later!

This species and others from that location are described in detail HERE.


Marsh Violet...

A lovely, somewhat uncommon, little Violet. This species seems more common this year than normal. Maybe that’s because it is quite happy in a wet mossy sort of habitat?

Found in flushes where water reaches the surface and creates marshy areas, this Violet grows in slightly different areas to the Common Violet. It is doing well in this poor Spring and Summer. More details in Log2013.





Common Sandpiper...

These arrived as normal and are now widely dispersed around the lake — but don’t seem to be breeding.

Typically feeding on insects along the waters edge, these birds may be suffering because the cold weather has greatly reduced insects on the wing.

Great Crested Grebe...

Have been only occasional on Lough Allen but this year seem to be present and displaying actively particularly in the bay near The Sluices.

These are often a species of sheltered ponds or flooded quarries with a small supply of reeds for them to nest in. They are strong divers and fish feeders but seem to occur in different areas to the Margansers.

Canada Goose...

This is one waterbird that is breeding successfully in Lough Allen — unfortunately!

It is not a native species, it is big and strong, and it may exclude other species if it takes over a body of water as it often does in Britain?

Canada Geese have given up their breeding efforts and have left the lake.







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