Main authors: Frode Sundnes, Cors van den Brink, Morten Graversgaard
Case study leaders: Donnacher Doody, Luke Farrow
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Sundnes, F et al. (2020) Advancing MAPs as vehicles for resolving issues on drinking water pollution from agriculture. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.5R, 56 pp


In »Multi-actor platforms as vehicles for resolving drinking water pollution issues we critically assess the MAP engagement processes in the FAIRWAY case studies. We look at lessons learned and map opportunities and bottlenecks for meaningful engagement, shed light on challenges and how they have been addressed, and explore the future sustainability of the engagement platforms beyond the lifetime of the project. Here we present feedback from Derg Catchment MAP participants on the performance and functioning of their MAP that was fed into that assessment to enable the harvesting of lessons and best practice.

Contents table
1. Description of MAP
2. Problem identification and shared understanding
3. Achievement
4. Engagement process and participation
5. Trust
6. Conflicts
7. Future sustainability of MAP
8. Lessons learned

1. Description of MAP

The MAP of the Derg case in Northern Ireland is the ‘Source to Tap’ (StT) project aimed at reducing the impact of land-use on drinking water in the Derg River Catchment. This INTERREG VA funded project is led by NIWater (Northern Irish Water Utility company) and partners including AFBI, Irish Water, University of Ulster (UU), The Rivers Trust (TRT) and East Border Regions (EBR). The project will address both forestry and agriculture. However, the main focus is on mitigating losses of MCPA, sediment and DOC from agricultural land in the catchment. During the project, a farm incentive scheme will be implemented on a cross border basis and will incentivise farmers to take-up measures to mitigate MCPA and colour/turbidity arising from farm practice in the Derg Catchment.

The scheme is delivered by dedicated TRT catchment officers who are responsible for community engagement and knowledge exchange within the catchment. Improvement in water quality arising from the implementation of the farm incentive scheme is monitored and evaluated and a UKWIR cost-benefits assessment will be done. Monitoring and evaluation is carried out in two adjacent-catchments with the incentive scheme implemented (Treatment Catchment) in the Derg, while in the second catchment has no scheme activity (Control Catchment). These catchments are monitored for discharge and water quality before, during and after the implementation of the scheme.

Stakeholders are engaged in the Derg Case Study at a number of different levels:

  • The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Republic of Ireland) have overall responsibility for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in the catchment and there are regional catchment officers who work with stakeholders on the ground. The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (NI) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (RoI) are responsible for the implementation of the Nitrates Directive Regulation and cross compliance regulations and for reporting on their implementation to the EU. NIEA & the EPA are responsible for the water quality monitoring and reporting to the EU on the WFD
  • The Source To Tap (StT) project is a voluntary initiative, which will build on the existing statutory requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive, EU Nitrates Directive and EU Drinking Water Directive. The StT project is being led by NIWater and includes a consortium of stakeholders including Irish Water (Water Utility Company) AFBI (Research Organisation), The Rivers Trust (Environmental NGO) University of Ulster (Academia) and East Border Regions (Network of cross border local authorities). The StT project will be overseen by a steering committee of cross border stakeholders, such as Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture, Farmers Unions, Local Authorities, National Parks and Wildlife Services etc. (This steering committee is currently being established)
  • NIWater has already implemented a voluntary catchment initiative called SCAMP through which they engage local and regional NGOs, community groups, farming groups and regional government stakeholders in the implementation of measures to improve drinking water quality in selected catchments. At national level the SCAMP Initiative links with the Water Catchment Partnership (WCP). The WCP is a forum that brings together representatives of Ulster Farmers Union, Northern Ireland Water, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, to discuss and coordinate activities related to the protection of drinking water in Northern Ireland, with a particular focus on pesticides.

Experiences from this MAP were collected by way of interviews. 9 individuals were interviewed: one representative of national authorities, one agricultural advisor, one researcher, and four representatives of the water supply sector. No farmers were interviewed.

As described above, the MAP has broad representation of different and relevant stakeholder groups. More than half of the respondents indicated that all relevant and required actors were part of the MAP. Representation in the MAP of the following stakeholders or organisations was called for by the respondents indicating that the MAP is incomplete: non-professional pesticide users such as homeowners; groups that might not be aware of the threat of pesticides, such as the Gaelic Athletics Association; The Forestry Service; and farmers representatives.  

2. Problem identification and shared understanding

Most respondents defined the main issue facing the MAP as being to improve protection of drinking water by addressing pesticide use.

Secondary objectives were also highlighted, such as:

  • Achieving better compliance with regulations on pesticides in drinking water
  • To implement catchment management measures in raw water as an alternative to treatment, i.e. to tackle problem at source, rather than at abstraction
  • Encourage best practice on sustainable land management or nutrients management, and facilitate landowners to manage catchment better for water quality
  • Develop community engagement/involvement and raise community awareness.

The respondents all answered that there is a large degree of shared understanding of the issues; only one indicating that this is only to some degree.  

3. Achievement

Several new insights that were due to the project were mentioned by the respondents. These relate to knowledge, awareness, stakeholder involvement and multi-actor processes.

That the project so far has led to increased knowledge and understanding was brought up by many of the respondents, such as an increased understanding of the function of water treatment works, and of pesticide use and misuse. New knowledge on pesticides’ persistence and mobility in the environment, and increased understanding of temporal patterns based on monitoring was emphasised as particularly rewarding.

Many informants also emphasised the need for awareness raising, both at the national level and at the local level, to communicate that people’s actions impact on their drinking water. A point was also made that generic messages do not work, and that information should be targeted to specific audiences. Some also brought up that providing information that speaks against widespread myths surrounding MCPA is important.

It is also clear in the feedback from the MAP participants that the multi-actor engagement is seen as valuable for facilitating change and understanding, but also that new thoughts on who should take part in the processes and be part of the MAP has become clear. For instance, some flagged the need to include householders; others that the engagement with the forestry sector is rewarding. Irish Water made it clear that these types of groups are good for relationship building, and that such opportunities don’t come up much otherwise.

Lastly, there were several reflections on new insights on the multi-actor processes:

  • Introduction of mitigation schemes doesn’t fix the problem immediately
  • Building trust takes time, but projects don't always allow for this
  • One needs patience to see the results
  • Achieving buy-in by local people takes time

Further, the informants highlighted several changes that have been observed in relations to their participation in these processes:

  • Relationship building between partners has developed well, but it is not yet clear if community engagement has translated into longer-term changes. In particular, the improved engagement between water companies and land-owners is highlighted.
  • Increased awareness (in the public mind, amongst farmers, also in non-target groups), but it is too early in the project to give definite answers on whether people have changed. One informant does however argue that there are substantial changes observed in the attitudes and behaviours of farmers in the area.
  • More dedication to communication efforts, including more national and local press activity.
  • There is an increased understanding of farmers’ perspectives, through surveys.

Many of the informants also flagged, despite reflections above on the time-consuming processes of changing practice, that one indeed does observe better protection of drinking water supplies.

“Last two years has seen a big decrease in the number of exceedances of drinking water limits by pesticides – [this] group is making an impression”

“MCPA exceedances have been down by ~ 50 - 60% in the last 2 years”

“There is a downward trend in the number of contaminated supplies points and the number and extent of exceedances experienced”

However, some of the respondents also argued that there are no direct observations yet of the impacts of the group, and that water quality changes are still to be seen, so these achievements might not have been well communicated, or seen as novel by all.  

4. Engagement process and participation

On the issues of whether the MAP participants can influence priorities within the group the picture is unclear, and the responses vary. This might relate to the discussion below on conflicts and differences of opinion. One informant pointed out that although “everyone has their opportunity to voice their opinions, […] it is not always possible to influence the group”. This does not necessarily mean that there is a skewed power balance, but rather that consensus-oriented process does not work in everyone’s favour.  

5. Trust

The elements that most respondents found important for trust building were “Improved water quality” and “increasing the knowledge-base”. Those pointing to “better understanding of other perspectives” and “informal contact” emphasised that farmers’ perspectives and informal contact with farmers was particularly important.

The national level respondent pointed out that the range of expertise present in the group, which covers nearly all actors who can influence water quality from pesticides, is a trust building element in itself. If that perspective is shared also outside the group, it can certainly be important for the legitimacy of any recommendation or results of the multi-actor process.

When it comes to what has weakened the trust in this group process, the issue of funding was raised by a few of the informants. Examples given are that farmers that believed items would be bought for them, had to buy and claim reimbursement; and that stringent financial guidelines on the project has led to slows progress on mitigation measures.

6. Conflicts

 It is clear from the feedback that there are no major conflicts in the MAP, although the confrontation of different perspectives can be a challenge. There is an overall agreement that the processes in the MAP are consensus-based, as these quotes are testament to:

“The MAP operates by consensus so if no agreement on an issue is reached, we don’t proceed as a group”

“Within meetings there is talk and debate, then majority rules after everyone talks”

“Differences of opinion are talked out”

“The chairman leads the group to consensus. Conflicts have not been seen in practice”  

7. Future sustainability of MAP

Some common issues are of concern for the MAP participants when it comes to challenges for future sustainability: funding, resources/commitment, impact, and external factors.

Funding. “The group lacks direct funding and relies on various agencies involved in the group” There should be funding in place “for the MAP to assess impacts of work and for farmers to continue to adopt new measures."

Resources/Commitment. A risk factor is staff changes within the MAP; “Catchment engagement requires dedicated staff to be effective”. Also, long-term engagement requires willingness of organisations to be involved. It is pointed out that it might be a challenge that there is no legal compulsion for organisations to be engage with the group, and participation is happening if there are expected benefits.

Impact. Long term engagement is also dependent on actual results from the project: “If no positive outcome on the ground with water quality, that would be seen as a challenge to the long-term quality of the group”

Getting results might take time, which again might jeopardise the engagement processes. “Not getting enough farmers engaged in the first place [would lead] to scheme abandonment as change is too small”. This relates to another important factor, that the catchment should be seen as a whole. There were also concerns raised with catchment engagement being a new and untraditional approach, and whether it therefore would lose momentum after some time.

External factors. Some factors outside the influence of the MAP were also mentioned, such as:

  • changing national policies
  • uncertainty in the agricultural sector
  • new, emerging pesticides  

8. Lessons learned

The lessons learned so far in the project, summarised in the following, mainly relates to the engagement process.

  • Buy-in from farmers needs an inducement (carrot) as well as regulation (stick) - reward positive behaviours
  • Using advertising and media outlets makes it much easier to contact farmers on the ground
  • Farmers’/Interviewees’ time is not paid for by the project, but if they weren’t there the meetings their priorities would get lost
  • It is important to spell out to farmers exactly how the funding and the scheme works from the beginning

In addition, it was also commented that water quality is a difficult issue in Ireland, more so than in many other countries, as many water supplies are surrounded by pasture. Another respondent raised the cross-border aspect as particularly interesting, as is allows to see how similar organisations have different approaches to the same problems.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see


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