Citizens’ army will monitor condition of our waterways
A BAND of river campaigners is being trained to monitor waterways for the Environment Agency after its funding was cut.
The volunteers are learning to find and count aquatic invertebrates – like snails, spiders and clams and dragonflies.
This allows them to spot the impact of pollution, nutrient enrichment, chemicals and flow stress that threaten wildlife.
SmartRivers, a nationwide citizen science scheme, is helping to fill the monitoring gap after its cash from the Government was halved.
John Barker, 70, is part of Friends of the River Ems which tracks the state of the rare chalk stream in Emsworth, Hants.
He said: “Luckily on the Ems, pollution is not a big problem. There’s no doubt about it, unsustainable abstraction is the issue.” He added: “For us, we’re not looking at these invertebrates for the sake of looking at them. We’re looking at them to see what they’re telling us.”
The group said Portsmouth Water has extracted water from the river’s underground sources in the South Downs for years.
This threatens the lives of fish, other wildlife and the health of the river system. John said: “In the winter, there’s water [in the river] but in periods from June onwards, you will start seeing the river levels going down dramatically.”
He said, as a result, there is a risk of losing sea trout, kingfishers and water voles.
SmartRivers instructors Matt Owen-Farmer and Richard Osmond demonstrated how to capture and count invertebrates to the volunteers.
Matt said: “This will supplement and help the statutory bodies make informed decisions.
“It’s very much a case of working with them and learning from each other.”
Analysis by public sector union Prospect found funding for environmental protection services provided by the Government’s Environment Agency has been cut by 50 per cent in 10 years.
James Overington, water policy officer at charity WildFish, said: “Groups of these river guardians are springing up across the country and with them comes a new wave of water quality data.
“With EA monitoring continuing to decline, a void has formed in our understanding.
“Without this valuable data, our rivers are becoming increasingly harder to protect.”
He added: “I’d urge all with an interest in rivers to explore citizen science – after all, you may become the only voice your river has.”
Portsmouth Water insisted: “We do not take any water directly from the River Ems.
“It’s a complex water source, and as chalk streams naturally do, dries in its upper reaches in the height of summer. Portsmouth Water are seeking to improve its environmental status.”