Ecofact Ireland recently posted some wonderful photos of Greenland white-fronted Geese on the River Suck Callows.
The River Suck Callows form part of the whole River Shannon system as defined by the EU Water Framework Directive. Under the terms of the Directive all EU Member States must maintain “high status” of waters where it exists, prevent any deterioration in the existing status of waters and achieve at least “good status” in relation to all waters by 2015. In Ireland, it has been decided to divide the country into eight River Basin Districts (RBD) and develop management plans for each in accordance with the Water Framework Directive.
The Shannon RBD covers the natural drainage basin of the Shannon, stretching from its source, the Shannon Pot, in the Cuilcagh Mountains in Co. Cavan, to the tip of the Dingle peninsula in north Kerry. It also includes coastal parts of Kerry and Clare, which drain to the sea. It flows through 18 local authority areas (the largest being Limerick, Clare, North Tipperary, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford and Roscommon) and is also considered an international RBD as a small portion of County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland drains underground to the Shannon Pot. What this adds up to is a significantly larger catchment than has been attributed to the Shannon in the past. The Shannon River Basin District covers around 18,000 square kilometres, mostly in the lowland central area of the Republic.
Callow is an anglicized version of the word ‘Caladh’, which means river meadow. This anglicized version was used in the early 19th century to describe ‘lands liable to flood beside the River Shannon’. These callows stretch for 40km between Athlone and Portumna, where the river is broad and sluggish due to the slight gradient. During winter and spring the water level of the river rises and floods the surrounding grasslands. The grassland dries out enough during the summer to accommodate grazing and hay production.
There are 3,500 hectares of callows along that 40km stretch of river, including The Callows along the Little Brosna River, which enters the Shannon just below Victoria Lock, north of Portumna. If you include the River Suck Callows then the figure rises to 5000. The Shannon Callows are of huge importance in terms of conservation. They are home to a variety of rare and endangered plant and animal species, and an excellent example of a habitat that is becoming extremely rare throughout the world.
The grasslands of the Callows are classified as semi-natural, lowland, wet grassland (The fact that the summer meadows are grazed and eventually cut for hay is what makes this habitat ‘semi-natural’). If there was no human intervention at all, then trees such as hazel and alder would colonize, and gradually a woodland habitat would evolve. So without agriculture, the plant and animal life currently found on the Callows would no longer exist, and the Callows grasslands would cease to be. It is a rare case of productive farming and diverse wildlife not only existing in harmony, but actually dependent on one another.
For an very detailed account of The Shannon Callows see Stephen Heery’s excellent book “The Shannon Floodlands” available for purchase on the IWAI website at http://www.iwai.ie/publications/#Shannon