Riverflying the flag for healthy waterways

Riverflying the flag for healthy waterways

Lou Sykes, our Catchment Officer for the River Loddon, has recently recruited volunteers to undergo training for riverfly monitoring on this catchment for the first time. In this blog, she emphasises the importance of this monitoring, details what volunteers should be looking for and puts out a call for more volunteers across our wider river networks.

This year, the Loddon Catchment Partnership is focusing on investigating poor sources of water quality. We at the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) have conducted riverfly volunteer training to educate the public about freshwater invertebrates, as these creatures can serve as indicators of pollution.

Twelve volunteers have completed the riverfly monitoring training and are now regularly conducting surveys on the upper Loddon near Basingstoke to initiate the riverfly regime in this area. They are now part of a nationwide initiative to assess water quality in rivers. By consistently monitoring the river, they can identify reductions in water quality and report potential pollution issues to the Environment Agency.

So, what are Riverflies?

Volunteers checking a river sample
Volunteers checking a river sample for an RMI survey

They are tiny creatures that live in our rivers (hopefully!). Creatures such as mayfly have an evolutionary history going back hundreds of millions of years. They will spend most of their life in the water as nymphs or larvae feeding on plant life or algae.

They do important work, such as keeping things clean or stopping the build up of too much detritus.

Others are predatory and feed on other aquatic invertebrates. Some make cases from leaves, twigs, tiny pebbles and sand, acting as little underwater architects.

Others cling to rocks in faster moving waters. Some create little shelters in rocks and build little nets out of silk which they produce to catch food as it passes by.

Why are riverflies important?

Riverflies are often referred to as the canaries of our rivers as they are excellent biological indicators for monitoring water quality. The canaries reference comes from an era when mining for coal was a prevalent industry in Britain: canaries would be sent down mines before humans to test how toxic the air was. If the birds died, it was not safe for minors to enter.

Similarly, riverflies are sensitive to pollution, so finding them in the water gives us an indication of the state of the river. With Rivers Trust statistics showing that only 15% of rivers in England are rated in good overall health, riverfly monitoring is a valuable way to test the continued health of a stretch of river.

A polluted section of the River Loddon
A polluted section of the River Loddon

Riverflies live comparatively long lives as nymphs or larvae on the riverbed and are relatively localised within the waterway. The types of riverfly you can find vary based on habitat diversity, flow rate, water level and water quality, so you can tell how your river is functioning based on the groups that you find.

Monitoring for riverflies is a nationally important citizen science initiative (known as RMI), developed to monitor the health of rivers and to detect potential pollution events.

The Riverfly Partnership is a network of organisations, representing a wider range of stakeholders from anglers and water course managers to conservationists and relevant authorities that are looking to protect the water quality of our rivers and conserve riverfly habitats.

How  do we survey for riverflies and what are we looking for?

We survey for riverflies using a kick-sweep sample. Essentially, this involves kitting up in a pair of waders, grabbing a net and getting into the stream to ‘kick’ the riverbed and disturb the gravels to knock invertebrates living on them into your net. Your net is also swept through submerged vegetation to capture any invertebrates living in those, too. These, plus a hand search of large rocks or any other items that can’t make it into your net (yes that does occasionally mean the odd shopping trolley) make up the sample you look at.

This goes in a tray on the bank to be analysed, looking to estimate numbers of three key groups of riverflies: the up-wing flies or mayflys (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera), and stoneflies (Plecoptera). We also assign freshwater shrimp (Gammarus) to this category too.

What’s next? Sign up to help!

A riverfly monitoring tray
A riverfly monitoring tray helps volunteers count numbers and types of samples

Having empowered our new volunteers on the Loddon, we are looking to expand and recruit more people to help monitor the health of rivers.

We have already lined up more training later this summer, for another group of volunteers on the Loddon catchment, giving more people the thrill of knowing they are contributing to vital data.

But we would like to know if you would like to get involved, across our 12 catchments (click through to a map to find your local river), which covers an area from Reading to Dover and down to Hastings.

Would you like to know more about the creepy crawlies living in your local river and what they show with regards to water quality? Could you spend a few hours each month monitoring a stretch of river?

We are interested in building a picture of potential volunteers, for whom we can design opportunities. Please get in touch on the below form to register your interest, so that we can understand how many people might want to be trained as riverfly monitors and where they are from.

Riverfly volunteer training – River Loddon

Are you interested in surveying and protecting the river Loddon and its tributaries?

Do you have an interest in what creepy crawlies live in a river?

 

Join us for a riverfly training session to become a certified riverfly monitor to learn how to survey river invertebrates as an indicator for water quality on your local river.

Please note that this opportunity requires a regular monthly commitment to conduct a riverfly survey at a specific site on the Loddon. The monthly survey dates are a pre-determined date window and can be conducted on a weekday or a weekday.

 

Where? Frank Goddard Room, Old Basing Village Hall, The St, Old Basing, Basingstoke, RG24 7DA

If you sign up for training we will share further details for the day by email.

 

What do I bring? Please bring your own lunch, steel-toe waders or wellies (if you have them) and clothing suitable for spending a few hours outside. All training resources, nets, trays and buckets will be provided.

Booking is essential for this training, please RSVP using the button below and complete the form to secure your spot. If the event is already fully booked, then please sign yourself up to the waiting list and we’ll be in touch if a space becomes available.

Please email lou@southeastriverstrust.org to:

  • Find out more information
  • Cancel your space if you can no longer make it

Booking for this event will close at 5pm on the 17th April.

Photos and video footage will be taken at this event and used by the Trust for promotional purposes (including but not limited to printed materials, social media, newsletters and the website) and potentially shared with our external partners and funders. From time to time, external media agencies could also take photos, film or record our events.

The Trust’s lawful basis for processing this is “Legitimate Interests” under the General Data Protection Regulations. As an individual you have rights. If you wish for SERT to stop processing this data for you, please talk to a member of staff or email info@southeastriverstrust.org.

To read our Privacy Policy and see how we use and look after the information you provide when booking your spot at our events please click HERE.

Ploughing a joint course for the Medway’s rivers

Sharing a stand with the Kent Wildlife Trust at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match in September gave us a fantastic platform to tell the public all about rivers – and in particular our work nearby, writes Cleo Alper, our River Medway Catchment Officer.

SERT and Kent Wildlife Trust at the Ploughing Match. Picture by Anne Tipples
SERT and Kent Wildlife Trust at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match. Picture by Anne Tipples

The popular annual ploughing match, run since 1947, was held near Tonbridge alongside the River Beult, where we have carried out a great deal of work, including nature-based solutions to improve water sources on land.

Demonstrating what's in rivers with a riverfly spot check
Demonstrating what’s in the River Beult with a Riverfly spot check

Through a Riverfly sample we sourced on the day, we demonstrated some of the life below the surface in the River Medway – of which the Beult is a tributary.

We were able to discuss with the public the importance of monitoring our waters for riverflies – mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies – which are at the heart of freshwater ecosystems and a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Visitors to our stall were delighted to learn about these species and also see we had found shrimp and pea mussel, among other creatures.

It was inspiring to talk to more than 100 people who had a wide range of interests, knowledge and experiences of the river and local wildlife.

We had encouraging conversations around observations of what is happening with our rivers and about what the community would like to see in the future.

Listing what we found in our river sample taken from the Medway
Listing what we found in our river sample taken from the Medway

The event demonstrated both how much local people are aware of the importance of their local river and the range of concerns they have. These include diminishing wildlife and nature, water quality issues, and low water flow.

Collaborating with Kent Wildlife Trust on the stall was a real pleasure. A shared stand allowed us to talk about the work we are doing in partnership to restore rivers and our landscape and to showcase the wide range of partnership work and restoration occurring in the River Beult, one of four catchments on the Medway, and beyond.

Among the work we spoke about were the benefits of natural flood management and how these manage flood risk, increase water storage and create habitat. We also spoke about the benefits of nature-based solutions and our work on the River Teise. Here we are working on restoring wetlands to create more habitat and increase resilience to low water flows, plus putting in leaky woody structures to improve the river flow and the range of habitat. We are currently working on installing a backwater to increase biodiversity and prevent flooding.

We also told the public about our PROWATER work, managing landscapes to retain water for longer, the results of which include restoring key habitats and healthy soils and grasslands.

Co-Ceo Hester Liakos with staff at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match
Our Co-CEO Hester Liakos with staff at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match