The power of bugs – Designing measures to properly capture the health of our rivers

Wednesday 8th November was a very exciting day, as entomology experts from around the UK came to our workshop to discuss the potential for biometric measures (environmental 'scores' calculated from water insect samples) to extend evaluation of our watery places beyond the broader, less specific brush of the Water Framework Directive.

Following on from our fantastic breakthrough on the Itchen (read more here), as part of our Riverfly Census campaign we are working to achieve localised, bespoke targets for more rivers across the UK.

The census, now in its final year, has already shown the tremendous value of analysing water insects to gauge a river's health - different species have different tolerances to pollution, so their presence or absence gives a very accurate environmental picture.

Dr Nick Everall of Aquascience, our lead consultant throughout the Riverfly Census project, and Shirley Medgett of Hampshire Environment Agency kicked off the day by presenting how we arrived at the bespoke targets for the Itchen. This set the scene for discussions on how to instigate a similar process for other rivers.

A room full of scientists - and no blood was spilt!
A room full of scientists - and no blood was spilt!

Currently the UK uses a tool called the 'Water Framework Directive' (WFD) to rank our rivers from High to Poor. This Directive is good for spotting dramatic degradation in our waters but is not so good at picking up the more subtle, but still significant stressors threatening our water life.

This lack of detail was motivation for us to go beyond WFD and use a combination of data from our census and, where possible, historical data to set bespoke targets.

We organised the workshop with the goal to use some of the UK's top experts in the field to help us decide which of the insect biometric measures, or which combinations of them, had potential to be made bespoke. In the afternoon session we also discussed overlap of measures across river types and what the potential thresholds of these measures could look like.

Much complicated ground was covered, but thanks to the expertise and enthusiasm of those who attended, S&TC is now armed with better knowledge to start the local conversations around the science that will ensure measuring health on our rivers is as effective and intuitive as possible. Proper measuring means proper management and, as a result, our rivers, fish and water life will have the bright future they deserve.

Massive thanks to everyone who made the day possible!


For more information on the Riverfly Census email or click the button below:

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