SmartRivers: volunteer-led river data

3 minute read / Lauren Harley
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
  • Wildfish
SmartRivers volunteers collect and identify freshwater invertebrates from rivers across the UK. The data is used to evidence declining water quality on a national scale.

SmartRivers volunteers are our lifeblood. With nearly 300 volunteers trained so far, it’s their passion and commitment that keeps the precious river data coming in. Data that we cannot rely on regulatory agencies to collect.

In 2020 Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust launched the Watercress & Winterbournes scheme, bringing together local communities to restore and celebrate the headwaters of the Rivers Test & Itchen. As part of the scheme, they established an ambitious double SmartRivers hub, collecting data across 10 river sites.

Sarah Cooney is a member of the hub and monitors two sites on the Bourne Rivulet. Sarah has a true flair for identification, with a glowing review from the latest professional quality control. We spoke to Sarah recently about her experience as a SmartRivers volunteer. Here’s what she said…

What was your motivation for signing up to be part of a SmartRivers hub?

I had been a volunteer with the Angler’s Riverfly Monitoring Initiative for a few years and was keen to increase my knowledge of the riverfly I was monitoring. I wanted to be able to identify them at the species level. Having a background as a pharmacist meant I was familiar with lab-based practices and microscopes, and it was relatively easy for me to learn the names of the species.

What’s your favourite part about volunteering for SmartRivers?

Looking at the morphological features down the microscope (they are very cute!) and developing the expertise to identify them with confidence.

What parts do you find the most challenging?

Identifying some of the cased caddisfly and Baetidae (particularly when tails and gills have come away).

Do you have a favourite invertebrate?

Sericostoma personatum – I love the eye shape and the fine sand grain case, particularly when they are very small. Utter perfection!

Any advice/tips for other SmartRivers volunteers?

It sometimes feels like you are taking two steps forward and then one back but you are never on your own. We’re very well supported. On one occasion, I recall thinking that I had finally cracked Limnephilidae only to suddenly feel that I didn’t know where to start! Make good use of the tutor support and identification resources on offer, and other volunteers who might have more experience than yourself.

How do you hope to use the river data generated by SmartRivers to safeguard/protect the future of your river and its wild fish?

The Bourne Rivulet isn’t faring too badly when compared to other rivers across the country, although we don’t get many stonefly or Heptageniidae at Harroway these days. We are hoping that the recent re-meandering works along the rivers course will start to improve the diversity of species present. SmartRivers data will be an important tool to measure the impact of these river improvement projects and others like it. The data will also help us to keep an eye on the impact of elevated nitrate levels down the valley (recently picked up through the Angling Trust’s Water Quality Monitoring Network chemical testing).

By: Lauren Harley
SmartRivers Project Manager
SmartRivers: volunteer-led river data - Wildfish
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