Smart citizen science

3 minute read
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
SmartRivers volunteers take part in training that equips them to a near professional standard.

A new report published today by WildFish evidences the increasing value of high-resolution citizen science in driving better protection for the freshwater environment: our rivers, lakes and streams. 

SmartRivers is the highest tier of invertebrate monitoring in the UK conducted by volunteers, for which sample collection methods follow the guidelines set by regulatory agencies. The project’s 2023 Progress Report highlights the project’s increasing scale with coverage of 95 rivers across the United Kingdom. Without SmartRivers, the understanding of these rivers and their water quality would be significantly less.

Set against significant declines in regulatory monitoring (almost one-third less water quality samples were taken by the Environment Agency in 2022 compared to 2019), SmartRivers is a community-led solution to understanding the crisis facing our rivers, lakes and streams. The initiative, which samples aquatic invertebrates as indicators of water health, has recorded 4,528 hours of volunteer training since the project’s inception in 2019.

The power of smart citizen science

SmartRivers data documents the overall biodiversity of the freshwater environment and pinpoints sources of pollution for local restoration and management which drive on-the-ground improvements.

The data output from SmartRivers informs work on the ground and unlocks campaigning opportunities for healthier rivers. With support from WildFish, many of the volunteer hubs now have powerful data sets and are using this evidence to drive local change. In addition to being a launchpad for campaigning, the data can also be used to measure the impact of restoration projects and provide a benchmark of biodiversity to measure future change.

The data collected by SmartRivers volunteers also feeds into a central database that is used nationally to challenge water policy and champion the enforcement of the regulations in place to protect freshwater environments from pollution and exploitation.

SmartRivers Spotlight

In Wiltshire, the Salisbury and District Angling Club introduced a SmartRivers hub on the river Avon in 2019. At the end of last year, data gathered by the volunteers was used to challenge a statement from the Environment Agency that, according to their data, “the river Avon had not deteriorated over the last five years”.

SmartRivers data collected at 11 sites on the river, at a higher spatial and temporal resolution than the Environment Agency showed:

  • Increasing chemical stress exhibited by the invertebrate communities in autumn.
  • Declining invertebrate numbers.

It is inspiring to be empowering so many local groups with scientifically robust river health information that they are currently missing. We’re creating of a new generation of local river ‘experts’ that would not have existed otherwise.

Lauren Harley

SmartRivers Project Manager
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