River Detectives

The Project

In an effort to increase and improve water quality monitoring throughout the Bristol Avon catchment, BART are leading a citizen science 'BART River Detectives' project. BART River Detectives involves volunteers from local communities conducting long-term water quality monitoring of key sections of the River Chew, Bristol Frome and the Cam, Wellow and Midford Brooks. This project was funded by Wessex Water, Bath & Northeast Somerset Council, Bristol Water, and the Bristol Avon Catchment Partnership.

Volunteers have an important role to play in filling the gaps in water quality monitoring, crucial at a time when Environment Agency monitoring is being reduced. The project also aims to reconnect people with their local watercourse by empowering local communities with a sense of ownership, which we hope will create a legacy. BART River Detectives will supplement BART's annual RiverBlitz citizen science project by collecting water quality data (temperature, turbidity, total dissolved solids and phosphate) to help build an evidence base which builds a picture of the overall health of the river catchment.

As BART works most effectively in partnership with stakeholders, this project will enable us to begin conversations with partners in these areas in order to leverage interest and funding in the catchments and to enable delivery of multi-benefit projects on the ground.

Why is monitoring contaminants in our rivers important?

During the project, BART River Detectives will take monthly water samples to measure phosphate concentrations in their chosen watercourse, as well as other important water quality indicators. The data collected demonstrates where levels of phosphates are low, medium, or high, giving an indication of water quality in the immediate vicinity at that time.

In healthy rivers and streams nutrients naturally occur in small amounts and are crucial for the growth of aquatic plants and animals. However, too many nutrients entering our watercourses can be a problem for aquatic ecosystems and for us too.

Phosphates, along with nitrates, are nutrients that enter watercourses through fertilisers, manure, sewage, waste, urban surface run-off and the use of household products such as washing detergents. They can speed up plant growth and eutrophication and, in extreme cases, cause harmful algal blooms in water bodies.

Eutrophication can have severe impacts on watercourses. Thick mats of algae can form on the surface; limit the light and oxygen levels in water bodies, reducing availability to aquatic organisms and ultimately can lead to death and disease of aquatic life such as fish and invertebrates.

Other vital observations are carried out which help us to identify where other ecological issues are in the catchment. These observations that are made include identifying the types of vegetation, the flow conditions, riverbed composition and presence of invasive species. We can use these observations to help restore our freshwater habitats to natural, diverse, and clean environments for the benefit of people and wildlife.

How can I help with the problem?

Figures released by the Environment Agency in September 2020 showed that under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), no English river has achieved good chemical status (Defra, 2020), suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality.

In the United Kingdom around 90% of lowland surface freshwaters like rivers, streams and ponds have ecologically damaging levels of either nitrogen, phosphorus, or both. Stopping this pollution is not easy, because nutrients enter rivers from several different sources, including naturally occurring sources, from agricultural land and via wastewater treatment works. Households can reduce the amount of nutrients that they contribute to their wastewater and help improve conditions for our river wildlife. Good water quality, healthy populations of aquatic insects, and thriving fish communities are what we would like to see for the streams and rivers of the Bristol Avon catchment.

Take a look at the BART website outlining everyday actions you can take to benefit our local rivers and the wildlife that depends on them.