The Riverfly Census: Full Report

“The Riverfly Census Report has been central to S&TC’s work for the past three years and coincides with the United Nations’ recent statement on the catastrophic state of the global environment. The results should worry everyone. Our message is simple; unless there is radical change our rivers will soon become lifeless.  With ever increasing mainstream public interest in environmental health and a desire for real change, government must use this opportunity to incentivise businesses to place the protection of our rivers, wild fish and all other water-dependent life at the very centre of what they do.”

Paul Knight, Chief Executive, Salmon & Trout Conservation

Milestone Salmon & Trout Conservation study reveals that sediment, sewage and commercial salad washing, are causing dramatic declines of keystone aquatic invertebrate life throughout England’s lifeblood rivers.

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) initiated The Riverfly Census to collect high-resolution, scientifically robust data about the state of our rivers and the pressures facing them.

To download the full report: CLICK HERE 

The Riverfly Census highlights worrying declines of aquatic insects in English rivers as a direct consequence of industrial, agricultural and domestic pollution.  Aquatic insects are the equivalent of “the canary in the coal mine” when ascertaining the health of individual rivers. Declines of up to 58% in some species have been observed in the last thirty years, with no sign of the trend reversing.

 Three-year high-resolution study, The Riverfly Census, employed standardised monitoring of aquatic invertebrate life in key English rivers to reveal dramatic changes in water quality and ecosystems.

The Riverfly Census data provides an overview of how pollution affects a particular river. The aquatic insect community is shaped by the quality of the water at each sample point and scientists are then able to decode this bug-based information. Armed with these biological snapshots, we are able to zoom in on particular problems and if necessary, carry out further invertebrate or chemical sampling.

Lauren Mattingley, S&TC Science Officer, added:

“It is an often-overlooked fact that invertebrates essentially run our planet. They make up the majority of species on earth and sustain all life. Aquatic insects are invaluable in unlocking the true story of water quality in our rivers. Much of the pollution threatening our waters is subtle and invisible to the naked eye. By looking at what species were there, and which are missing, for the first time we have been able to truly quantify the invisible stressors deteriorating water quality throughout England.”

 Urgent action from Government and the Environment Agency is required to provide more protection for keystone aquatic invertebrate life in English river ecosystems to prevent further declines.

S&TC attribute the root cause for the majority of aquatic insect declines to increased levels of Phosphorus (emanating predominantly from sewerage systems), deposition of fine sediment (the result of poor management of agricultural soils) and an overwhelming array of chemicals entering rivers (including flushing of pesticides from imported salad leaves)

Nick Measham, S&TC Deputy Chief Executive, commented:

Much of the scientific work done by or on behalf of S&TC is complex, detailed and unspectacular.  The results can take years to collect and interpret – but this is the heart of what we do, as, without the evidence, those who damage our waters cannot be challenged.”

Exacerbating the crisis facing the health of our rivers is a framework of weak environmental regulations, which too often fail to address real world issues such as the concurrent release of chemicals and their cumulative effects. When combined with a long-standing culture of apparent light touch enforcement, the existing regulatory framework is wholly failing to offer adequate protection.

Diminished regulatory resources and outdated monitoring approaches are also likely to be hiding the true extent of harmful emissions in river ecosystems. Only with robust long-term monitoring in the mode of The Riverfly Census can we truly understand the changes occurring in our freshwater habitats. The Riverfly Census has started to address the lack of widespread, high resolution benchmarking but considerably more work now needs to be undertaken.

 Dr. Janina Gray, S&TC Head of Science & Environmental Policy:

“The evidence is clear; our rivers urgently need our help. Current regulation and management are not managing to halt the frightening decline of aquatic insects, let alone reverse it. Our freshwater fish and invertebrates are being choked by fine sediments which should be on fields, not in rivers, and are subjected to chemical cocktails we don’t understand or try to monitor. If we want our children to be able to watch wild trout rising, a mayfly hatch emerging or a kingfisher feeding, the time to act is now.  This degradation is happening now, under our noses and on our watch. It is time for all of us to take action.”

Salmon & Trout Conservation is calling for action at the national level and is making a series of policy recommendations:

- Further investigations into the biological impact of phosphorus spikes. Without this work, the validation that discharge permits, based on an annual average of monthly samples, are providing for the protection of our rivers is highly questionable.

- Chalkstreams should have their own classification targets within the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

- Establish a standardised approach to monitoring fine sediment in our rivers and set appropriate river specific standards.

- Develop a national programme of species-level monitoring to provide the resolution required to detect pressures such as excess phosphates, sediment and damaging chemicals, and the benchmarking on which to make informed decisions.

- Include SPEAR analysis in River Basin Management Planning within WFD, to allow the biological impacts of chemicals to be assessed alongside other pressures, and requirements for additional supplementary chemical monitoring prioritised where necessary.

- Ensure the environmental protection offered by European legislation is transposed into and implemented through UK law, including the creation of Water Protection Zones where existing measures fail to protect water quality and river ecology.

- A review of discharge permit guidance to include measures to assess the cumulative and legacy impacts of multiple chemicals within the discharge.

- All chalkstreams to have bespoke invertebrate targets to drive forward improvements, whilst WFD classification targets are being developed.

Issued by Corin Smith comms@salmon-trout.org (07463 576892) on behalf of Salmon and Trout Conservation. For more information please contact janina@salmon-trout.organd nick@salmon-trout.org on 01425 652461

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC are 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.

Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2019

In its fifth year, the Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2019 is now open to students.

See below for details on this exciting award, and please share with any suitable students you may know.

What is the Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award?

Set up by Salmon & Trout Conservation in collaboration with the Arundel Arms and Fario Club, the Anne Voss-Bark Memorial Award 2019 offers students:

  • One week work experience with the West Country Rivers Trust; learning catchment management and water science from the Trusts eminent scientists
  • Two day fly fishing course
  • Complimentary stay at the Arundell Arms hotel during the work experience
  • £250

The work experience for the winning student will be organised for this autumn.

Who is the Anne Voss-Bark Award open to?

The award is open to young fisheries or aquatic students and offers an unbeatable opportunity to study the practical elements of river restoration and management.

What does a previous winner say?

William Davison, winner of the 2018 award, and who is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Exeter researching ‘using physiology to improve the sustainability of fish production in aquaculture’, said:

“Winning the Anne Voss Bark award was such a great and rewarding experience. Having grown up around the UK’s waterways I’ve always loved them but the opportunity to work with the West Country Rivers Trust for a week really gave me a deeper understanding of what a healthy river actually means and the work involved in protecting them.

This award has also taught me a whole range of hugely valuable skills relating to the importance of outreach, stakeholder engagement and using a more holistic approach to conservation. Going forward I’m going to be able to carry these skills with me in my future PhD work related to promotion of sustainable aquaculture practices.”

Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science & Environmental Policy at S&TC, says,

“William is a perfect example of why this Award is such amazing opportunity for young fisheries and aquatic scientists to gain unbeatable insight into the world of water conservation, and putting theory into action”.

Who was Ann Voss-Bark?

Anne Voss-Bark was a dedicated conservationist and prominent hotelier. Her love of fly fishing made her aware of changes in the countryside detrimental to our rivers and fish. She worked tirelessly to see this demise reversed.

Anne was a strong supporter of the S&TC (then S&TA), the only UK fisheries campaigning charity. She was a Council Member, Vice Chairman and finally Vice President of the charity.

Anne, with others, also founded the West Country Rivers Trust, embracing the concept of total river management.

Anne will also always be well-remembered as the perfect hostess at the Arundell Arms in Lifton, Devon, which was rather run down on acquisition but developed by her over nearly 50 years into today’s eminent fishing and country sports hotel.

How can students apply for the Anne Voss-Bark Award 2019?

Wild fish and their habitats were of great importance to Anne, and we look for the same level of  passion in our applicants.

To apply, in no more than 500 words explain what this work experience opportunity means to you, why you should get this opportunity, and how it would benefit you.

Applicants will need to be available to undertake the placement between the 4th-11thOctober 2019.

The Closing date for applications is 31st July 2019.

To submit an entry or for further information on the Award, please contact Dr Janina Gray, Head of Science at S&TC by email on: janina@salmon-trout.org