Anglers check their flies for cleaner waters

Anglers are set to become a key part of protecting Britain's rivers from decline. Launching tomorrow at the Natural History Museum, the Anglers Monitoring Initiative will provide a three-minute health check for our waterways by training anglers to use riverflies as a barometer for water quality.

The angler-led scheme will simplify how fishing groups share their knowledge about rivers with the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency by providing regular, coordinated riverfly updates. Not only will this make it easier to detect and respond quickly to sudden severe water quality issues such as pesticide spills, the frequent sampling also acts as a neighbourhood 'river watch' scheme deterring would-be polluters. Good water quality means a river is better placed to support strong, healthy gamefish populations.

Key examples of how the scheme can work include angling groups on the River Rhymney in South Wales and on the River Wey in Surrey highlighting separate pollution incidents that had seriously affected the water quality. As a result, the Environment Agency was able to investigate further with a view to tracing the source of the pollution and reducing the threat to the river.

'All anglers have a responsibility to look after their rivers and this gives us a unique opportunity to make an impact,' said Dai Roberts, a member of Rhymney Riverfly Life Monitoring Group. 'On the Rhymney we've shown how anglers, working together with government agencies, can help ensure the better quality of our waters.'

While a river may appear to be healthy, its true health can only be gauged by thoroughly investigating its biological quality. The techniques for the Angler's Monitoring Initiative have been developed over more than a decade, involving over 500 anglers on rivers across the country as well as conservation, academic and fishing organisations and regulatory agencies. The methods are based on the biological monitoring conducted by the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which assesses long-term water quality by examining chosen sites in spring and autumn.  

The Anglers Monitoring Initiative offers one-day workshops to fishing clubs on their local river, helping them choose good sampling sites and explaining how to identify the eight groups of organisms that need to be tracked. The simple monitoring technique involves a three-minute kick sample of the riverbed which is then examined on the riverbank.  To support their training anglers receive a guide published in partnership with The Field Studies Council which includes notes on the monitoring technique and the insect species to look for. Once trained, fishing clubs can record data from their chosen sample sites. Anglers who want more about riverflies or to get involved in monitoring can sign up through www.riverflies.org

'Anglers know their local rivers better than anyone, and trials of this scheme have shown their expertise makes a real, noticeable difference to how we monitor river quality,' said Steve Brooks, freshwater insect specialist at the Natural History Museum. 'Healthy riverfly populations are a sure sign of healthy rivers, which means better water quality for everyone.'

Riverflies, including mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, are a vital part of rivers. As well as providing food for fish, birds and bats, their wellbeing is a sensitive indicator of the health of our watery environments. Severe declines could have serious implications for those who enjoy flyfishing. Riverfly populations may be damaged by a variety of factors, such as low river flows, poor land management, acidification, siltation, pesticides, climatic change and pollution.

The Anglers Monitoring Initiative is formally launched today at the Riverfly Partnership conference How Good is Your River? Many of the country's most experienced and knowledgeable aquatic entomologists and representatives of a wide range of environmental, angling and government bodies will discuss the conservation of riverfly populations and the associated impact of river management, farming and climate change. Keynote speeches will be given by Dafydd Evans, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency and Martin Salter MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Angling Group, followed by a panel discussion chaired by Jeremy Paxman.