A few local anglers with a vision got together…
The River rises up in the hills of Kingsmoss and Ballyrobert (Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim Northern Ireland) and flows in an easterly direction to Belfast Lough at Whiteabbey, not far from the former Glenavna Hotel. From source to sea, the river is roughly 7 miles long and varies from less than 1 to 10 metres in width. It is a spate river with a catchment size of approximately 24 kilometres squared.
The main river meanders through a number of areas in Newtownabbey, which include Ballyhenry, Mossley, Woodford, Ballyduff, Monkstown, Jordanstown and Whiteabbey. Main tributaries of the river come down from Knockagh and from Carnmoney Hill, which include Cully’s Burn and Pound Burn and also the Ashley and Ballyhenry Burns further upstream of Mossley.
The Association was formed in 1996 when a few local anglers came together with a view to restore and enhance their local derelict waterway, the Three Mile Water River. Prior to the anglers taking action, the river was little more than an ‘open sewer’ that was overgrown and chocked, of little habitat value for fish or wildlife.
The anglers set about clearing back the overgrown bushes, trees and scrub. They pulled out decades worth of dumped materials ranging from fridges, matresses, washing machines, car parts and of course the ever-present bicycles and shopping trolleys. They then formulated a full river habitat restoration plan with the help and guidance of Dr Paul Johnston.
Groins were built while pools were deepened. Spawning gravels were tipped in. Trout and Salmon were stocked into the river. Soon after, for the first time in decades, trout were observed spawning in the newly created spawning beds. Fish were rising in the newly created pools. Elsewhere on the banks, the anglers dug ponds and planted trees. This provided habitats for other species of native flora and fauna. All this hard work was eventually recognised by the Wild Trout Trust, and the Association was the first from the island of Ireland to win the WTT Conservation Prize.
The objectives of the association are to fully restore and conserve the Three Mile Water River and all tributaries for the benefit of fish and wildlife, and to conserve the riparian habitats to protect the native flora and fauna in the rest of the catchment. We are science and research-led, and conduct regular monitoring of all habitats and quality within our catchment area. Data sets obtained are used to identify potential sources of pollution and habitat degradation. We also use them to gauge success of our conservation work and to ascertain where could use attention in terms of future enhancement work.
Our Association aims to promote affordable fly fishing on our stocked fishery at Mossley Mill, which is managed in partnership with Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council. Low cost fishing is available to both members and the general public through day tickets. We also aim to promote the art of fly tying and watercraft, through the organisation of fly tying evenings and demonstrations which are all open to the public as well as members throughout the year.
Primarily, angling within the association takes place on Mossley Dam, with the river managed as a conservation project, in the hope that one day we can make the river and consequently Belfast Lough into a feasible Sea Trout fishery, therefore adding recreational value and possibly boosting the local economy.
We are always keen to hear from individuals and groups who may wish to join and work with us to further enhance the Threemilewater River and the surrounding area. For those not necessarily interested in angling, we have volunteer roles available throughout the year, working on our water and habitat quality monitoring, fish stock assessment (electrofishing) and hands-on conservation work. Please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved!