How Intel is supporting biodiversity at its Leixlip site

20 Jan 2023

Joe Bolger, Intel. Image: Marc O’Sullivan

For 30 years, Intel’s Leixlip campus has been monitoring the waters of the River Rye and sponsoring recent rehabilitation projects to protect its biodiversity.

Tech giant Intel first established manufacturing operations in Leixlip in 1989 and has been investing massively in the facility in the decades since.

Some of the more recent investments include a $7bn expansion which began in 2019, followed by the creation of 1,600 permanent high-skilled jobs at the campus, which was announced in 2021.

Last year, as part of Intel’s investment plans for semiconductor manufacturing across Europe, the company announced €12bn in funding for the Leixlip site.

The tech giant’s footprint in Kildare is undeniably strong, but while it expands its manufacturing space in the area, Intel must also be mindful of the biodiversity that surrounds it.

In order to protect the surrounding area, Intel has had a long-standing commitment to monitor the waters of the River Rye, which runs through part of Intel’s Leixlip campus.

In 2022, Intel marked the 30th anniversary of monitoring the river by commissioning a publication to document the wealth of data that has been collected.

This detailed monitoring of the River Rye, one of the longest running, continuous freshwater assessments of salmonid populations, has reached an important milestone as it is now in the 30th year of reporting.

“The publication itself was compiled by Aquens at University College Dublin,” said Joe Bolger, factory manager at Intel Ireland.

“Aquens have been completing fish studies of the Rye waters for 30 years, tracking changes in trout and salmon populations. The findings of these investigations, with a particular focus on the last 10 years, have been summarised in the new book.”

The value of River Rye data

Bolger said that although the River Rye runs along the back of Intel’s Leixlip campus, Intel does not abstract any water from it.

“In fact, the majority of water supplied to the Leixlip facility comes from the River Liffey via the water treatment plant in Leixlip. Approximately 87pc of this water is then returned to the Leixlip wastewater plant where it is treated before being returned to the River Liffey,” he said.

“When Intel first located at the Leixlip campus, the Rye Water was at risk due to large overgrowth of aquatic plants as a result of heavy silting, which destroyed the natural fish habitat. Only a few salmon spawning beds had managed to survive the siltation and bankside erosion.”

Bolger added that Intel recognised the potential to improve the river and has sponsored many rehabilitation works in order to enhance its potential as natural salmon and trout habitat.

‘The Rye Water and its valley will continue to be a treasured feature of our campus’

One of the most recent rehabilitation projects focused on gravel introduction and riverbed raking.

“The original substrate in the Rye water did not have sufficient spaces for spawning. Any spaces that were present had been filled by sediment,” he said.

“Gravel was introduced in order to improve this substrate and provide suitable spawning habitats for wild Atlantic salmon. Additionally, two sites were raked to make the spaces in the substrate more accessible for spawning.”

For Bolger, one of the most notable findings from Intel’s monitoring is the data recorded on the variety of fish species that can be found in the Rye, particularly trout, salmon and eels.

“The publication also includes data collected via a crayfish study that Intel commissioned in 2021. Crayfish play an important ecological role in rivers both as scavengers and as food for others,” he said.

“Results from the study show that the Rye Water crayfish population is healthy with both adults and juveniles occurring in reasonable numbers.​ Given the importance of crayfish for animals such as salmon in the Rye Water, the continued health of this population is vital.”

Bolger added that Intel is committed to continuing to support the biodiversity of the Rye in the years ahead through further enhancement works, annual studies and its partnership with the Friends of the Rye group.

“The Rye Water and its valley will continue to be a treasured feature of our campus,” he said.

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic