For us at The Rivers Trust, and indeed, for many other environmental or conservation organisations, citizen science is a key part of what we do. Citizen science itself can take myriad forms – from water monitoring to invasive species removal – during which members of the public generously donate their time and effort to the pursuit of bettering our environment. Without the information gathered by helpful citizen scientists, the data sets from which we can draw conclusions, plan projects, and influence change, would be far less detailed and compelling.
Science, data, and evidence sit at the heart of our work. We rely on it for mapping the health of our rivers, observing trends, and planning campaigns that demand better for our waterways. Therefore, the citizen scientists and volunteers across the 65 member Trusts in our movement play a huge role in our work to better understand and actively improve our rivers in the UK and Ireland.
Of course, there are benefits to those who choose to get involved too; strengthened connections with nature and their local blue and green spaces, being part of a friendly and engaging community, and feeling part of the movement working to restore our precious natural environment.
This weekend, (the 22nd-24th September), we are launching our new and exciting citizen science campaign, the Big River Watch!
The Big River Watch is an invitation for everyone to love their local river and be part of the movement demanding better for our rivers. Consisting of a free app contains a simple survey, anyone and everyone in the UK and Ireland who can access a river can get involved. All you need to do is spend around 15 minutes watching your local waterway and completing the survey — telling us what you see, from wildlife and plants to pollution and water colour.
In the wake of increased negative news surrounding pollution and the state of our rivers, we have seen a strong and passionate outcry demanding better for our rivers, but also for ways communities can get involved.
We’ve made the Big River Watch app and survey design simple and accessible, to make it available for everyone. It works equally well for individuals and groups, as part of a nature walk, outdoor classroom, or volunteering days. Requiring no equipment beyond a smartphone, previous experience, or prior knowledge. Whether your first or hundredth citizen science experience, we hope that Big River Watch will become part of people’s journey to connect with and advocate for their local river.
The launch coincides with World Rivers Day on 24th September, but in future the Big River Watch Weekend events will run biannually during the spring and autumn. The app and the survey will remain open year-round, so even between our Big River Watch Weekends, river health data can still be gathered and allow us to build an increasingly valuable, large-scale data set of observations in the short, medium and long term.
Our plan is not for the Big River Watch to replace or supplement monitoring by official agencies, but to complement it. The Big River Watch monitoring data will be freely accessible, and we won’t be presenting it in layers of complex spreadsheets that only trained experts can understand. As much of the data will be collected by the public, our priority is for the results also to be in the hands of communities. They will have an evidence base to demand change for rivers where it is needed and, we hope, to advocate for solutions where they have been effective. It will be a powerful tool for influencing policy, but that influence will be driven by local communities.
So, between the 22-24th of September, we encourage you to get involved with #BigRiverWatch on a. Whether that’s by taking a riverside stroll with your family at the weekend or designating a Friday wellbeing hour to spend some time by the river with your colleagues – or, ideally, both!
Find out more about Big River Watch: The Big River Watch | The Rivers Trust
Download the app: