Riverflies – Life in the Teign River Catchment

Back in the Spring, a group of anglers and conservation volunteers went back to school; Chagford Primary School, in fact. They had all taken the opportunity to learn how a river water quality monitoring project was being rolled out by the Riverfly Partnership, a network of organisations working together to protect the water quality of our rivers and actively conserve riverfly habitats. This ‘citizen science’ training day was being led by local charity, the Westcountry Rivers Trust, to pass on biological survey skills required for the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative.

River Bovey upstream
Beautiful Dartmoor rivers flow through wooded valleys

The project website explains that, “Riverflies, along with other freshwater invertebrates, are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain … making them powerful biological indicators to monitor water quality, and are commonly referred to as the canary of our rivers.” The group that attended the training day all had a connection with the River Teign and its tributaries, either through fishing or an interest in wildlife conservation.

teign map WRT
The catchment of the River Teign includes the River Bovey as a tributary [image: WRT]
During the morning classroom session, the volunteers heard about the basic ecology of riverflies and other ‘indicator’ invertebrates. They learned how to identify them and classify them into eight invertebrate target groups but, the question was, how to take the samples? The survey technique of ‘kick sampling’ was then covered in theory, in preparation for a practical session later in the day.

Where better on a beautiful sunny Spring afternoon, than a site visit to the upper reaches of the Teign near Chagford? The sparkling water, weaving its way from the moor over the gravelly granite river bed provided a perfect training opportunity. The practical monitoring included three minutes of kick sampling, a further minute of checking under boulders, carefully transferring the contents of the net into a sampling tray and examining samples before recording the species groups. When the real numbers of invertebrates are recorded, the data will go into a national monitoring scheme incorporating rivers right across the country.

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So, what does this have to do with woodland conservation? You may ask. The monitoring of the whole woodland ecosystem requires a good understanding of what is going on beneath the surface of the rivers so, sites have been set up, and monitoring will begin in the Bovey Valley (the Bovey is a tributary of the Teign). There are four sampling locations which will be monitored in the Spring, Summer and Autumn each year. When combined with all the other results from around the catchment, they will provide an accurate picture of where the water quality issues are, and where life in Devon’s rivers is good.

 

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The Riverfly training was funded through the Parishscapes project, by the Moor than Meets the Eye landscape partnership and some of the Natural England conservation assistants based at Yarner Woods will get the chance to join the scientific study of Dartmoor’s rivers.

Emma Stockley, the Moor than meets the eye Community Heritage Officer said, “This is a fantastic project that is all about understanding Dartmoor’s natural heritage, in particular, our river environments. Through Parishscapes, members of the local community have been trained in survey skills and will help to monitor the biological diversity – and health – of the Teign. Huge thanks to all the dedicated volunteers and thanks also to Westcountry Rivers Trust who have been our partners in this project”.

Olivia Cresswell of the Westcountry Rivers Trust is managing the Riverfly project in this area and each of the sampling sites is registered with her so that a coordinated approach covers the whole Teign catchment. If you would like to know more about the Riverfly project, please email Olivia at olivia@wrt.org.uk

by Matt Parkins

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