The Strangford Lough Wildfowlers? and Conservation Association (SLWCA) of Northern Ireland recently went live with an innovative hydro-electric power scheme at its Glenvale Reserve, in County Down.

Money raised through the sale of electricity from the club?s new hydro-turbine, which has a 56kW peak output, will be reinvested at the reserve. The aim is to develop it into a centre of excellence for environmental education, to be used by local schools and community groups. The 88,000 units of electricity generated on the 17-acre site?s lake will save the production of 51 tonnes of CO².

The project, which saw the SLWCA team up with a commercial cross-border partner, received more than ?600,000 of funding from the European Union?s ?Interreg 3A? programme, which specifically exists to fund projects to strengthen economic and social cohesion across the Irish and Northern Irish border.

The club alone has received more than £120,000 of funding from the local Ards Borough Council, Northern Ireland Electricity?s SMART fund and the Department for Trade and Industry?s Clear Skies initiative. ?The idea started roughly three-and-a-half years ago and it was kicked off by a desire for us to protect our existing nature reserve,? the SLWCA?s Robert Morrison told ST. ?It started with a simple idea and as it went along it got bigger. The association has a long history of working with the council and has always been involved with schools using a ?hearts and minds? approach.

The council bought into our plans immediately and assisted us from a technical and financial point of view as ?mentors?. We also have a cross-border partner, a fish-processing plant that has built a 400kW scheme in Killibeg, County Donegal. To get this level of funding you have to give something back to the community, so schools from across the border in County Donegal will be able to come here and get involved in conservation. The next thing we have to do is to develop our site into a centre of excellence. We?re hoping to build a clubhouse and education centre.?

Councillor Angus Carson, mayor of Ards, commented on the scheme: ?We?ve been working with the SLWCA for a number of years to help ensure that this innovative project became a reality. As well as being of enormous benefit to the future development of the Glenvale Nature Reserve and to its educational possibilities, our aquarium in Portaferry will be reaping the benefits of this renewable energy source and reducing yet further its environmental impact.?

SLWCA retains Thyme Consultants as conservation, project and management consultants. Simon Breasley, managing director of Thyme Consultants, told ST: ?This wildfowling club is a proactive and enlightened one and an example for the sport all over the UK. They have been purchasing land since the 1960s and have an exemplary track record in nature conservation projects, environmental education and work with public bodies.

The Glenvale hydro-electric scheme is a demonstration of the vision, dedication and focus of club members. SLWCA has fully embraced the reality that to compete in the 21st century and to secure the future of the club and the sport of wildfowling locally it must invest, operate as a business, provide top-class sporting opportunities for its membership and optimise returns from its assets.?

Thyme Consultants operates throughout the UK, tel (01259) 740300. For SLWCA membership enquiries, tel (02890) 485224.