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Flood risk rises as plains are lost to grazing

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Not on track: Flood waters on the rail line at Mooghaun in Co Clare forced the closure of Limerick to Ennis line. Photo: Press 22

Not on track: Flood waters on the rail line at Mooghaun in Co Clare forced the closure of Limerick to Ennis line. Photo: Press 22

Not on track: Flood waters on the rail line at Mooghaun in Co Clare forced the closure of Limerick to Ennis line. Photo: Press 22

Half of Ireland's floodplains are taken up with grassland for cattle, according to a report that warns of the strain traditional floodplains are under in trying to cope with increasing deluges.

The report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) said using floodplains for purposes other than nature intended reduces their ability to soak up excess water, leaves people vulnerable and diminishes wildlife.

It added that with flood risks growing, floodplain restoration has to take precedence over man-made flood protection and alleviation structures.

The EEA warning came as Met Éireann said last month was the wettest February on record at 16 weather stations around the country, including the station in Dublin's Phoenix Park where records go back to 1850. Thanks to a series of Atlantic depressions and three named storms, it was also the windiest February on record at 11 stations.

The EEA said that, across Europe, some 70-100pc of floodplains had been lost to farming and other human activities.

In Ireland, around a third of the 4,000 sq km of floodplain is taken up by rivers and lakes themselves.

But half has been converted to grassland while the rest is mainly a mixture of urban development, crops and woodland.

"Disturbances stem from, in particular, urbanisation and agriculture, which have both had a very large impact on drainage," the report said.

Its publication comes as communities in the Midlands and west continue to deal with the aftermath of weeks of heavy rain that has left farms and roads flooded and homes marooned.

Irish Independent