SmartRivers is delivering results

The hot dry summer has exposed the stress our rivers are under

Nick Measham, Deputy CEO, S&TC

To view the full interview click HERE

The hot dry summer has exposed the stress our rivers are under – particularly in Southern chalkstreams where algal growth and sediment is choking life to a seemingly unprecedented extent. Once clean gravels are covered in thick mats of algae and river weeds are festooned with tresses of filamentous algae. Elsewhere in England and Wales, lethal fish-killing slurry spills are occurring with distressing frequency.

S&TC’s Riverfly Census and our SmartRivers’ initiative, using volunteers to collect species-level data to Environment Agency (EA) standards, demonstrates the destructive impact agriculture is having on water quality through sediment, phosphate and chemicals leaching into rivers. Sewage works remain a problem – albeit possibly a reducing one if their own monitoring is to be believed which, as a result of the case of Southern Water, we need to remain sceptical about.

Great news then that SmartRivers is spreading rapidly across the country thanks to support from Esmée Fairbairn, Patagonia and others. This volunteer data collection is providing evidence of the good, the bad and the ugly in our rivers.

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer said: 

"Since launch in spring this year, the ‘SmartRivers’ effect has begun to spread across the UK. With five hubs established and a further six in the process of enrolment, in just a short period of time SmartRivers has already started to grow."

Autumn 2019 has seen the completion of Wiltshire Fisheries Association's training, the enrolment of Stour Fishery Association in Kent and the first round of volunteer species identification from Bowland Game Fishing Association . Meanwhile back at HQ we are hard at work preparing new species to be added to our app, filling gaps identified by our hubs.

Another focus is the development of our linked database. This will communicate with the Environment Agency’s data and other citizen science data platforms. By ensuring our data speaks to other data, we have the best chance of understanding and alleviating the subtle, often invisible pressures threatening nature’s nursery of wild salmon and trout

The power of this species-level invertebrate data is that it enables the local SmartRivers’ hubs, supported by S&TC, to produce robust and tangible results. The EA’s action to force Bakkavör to stop discharging deadly pesticides washed off imported salads into the headwaters of the Itchen is just one case in point.

Nick Measham, S&TC’s Deputy CEO (Project Manager for the Riverfly Census and SmartRivers) said,

"The work to get Bakkavor to remove pesticides from its discharge is setting national precedents and changing policy. The local EA has already asked another salad-washer, Vitacress, to take out pesticides from its discharge. We will keep up the pressure until all salad and vegetable processing clean up their act."

On that note, we are hopeful that Bakkavor will be able to employ sophisticated technology to clean its discharge to an acceptable level. We will be keeping up the pressure to ensure this happens as we told the EA in a meeting this week. Other potential actions on the back of SmartRivers’ data are well-advanced in the Hampshire Avon catchment, another SAC river in a poor condition in many places.

Our fundamental aim is to make sure agricultural regulations are observed and enforced if need be. This will not be easy. The resources currently available to the EA to inspect farms are insufficient. A farm is inspected on average once every 200 years. We need all the SmartRivers’ evidence we can muster.

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC is a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.