Volunteers to monitor health of streams following pollution incident

Volunteer river monitors receive their training.

Residents have teamed up with local anglers to help monitor the health of streams following a pollution incident.

The volunteers are working with the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust to implement a new river fly monitoring network

The monitoring aims to track the recovery of the river flies or macro-invertebrates, which are a vital part of the watercourse ecosystem.

The network covers 11 locations in the watercourse which originates from moorland springs to the west of Newsham, is joined by a number of tributaries and converges with the River Swale near Brompton‑on‑Swale.

In April, pollution from a farm in Hutton Magna ran into a Holmedale beck for about 15 hours, turning the beck black and resulting in what experts have described as a “catastrophic fish and lamprey kill”.

The pollution was observed by early morning dog walkers in Ravensworth and Whashton, who reported it to the Environment Agency, local rivers trusts and the Holmedale Community Nature group.

Volunteers say the release harmed ten miles of the beck and flowed into the Swale.

Following the incident, local residents and organisations were keen to take action.

The result was a collaboration between local residents, the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency, Gilling West Fly Fishers and the Richmond & District Angling Society to set up the new river fly monitoring network.

Experts say river flies are invertebrates which are an important part of the aquatic ecosystem and food chain.

Not only are they a food source for fish, birds, and other invertebrates, but they also provide vital ecosystem functions.

Martha McBarron, a member of the Holmedale Community Nature Group, had previously trained as a river fly monitor with the Wear Rivers Trust.

After the pollution incident, she contacted the local rivers trusts to see if she could monitor a few sites to track the recovery of the beck.  The catchment falls under the remit of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust (YDRT) but there were no active monitoring sites in Holmedale.

In the meantime, Ron Wood, chairmen of Gilling West Fly Fishers, was also taking action, opening a crowdfunding appeal and mobilising the local angling community to provide support.

The angling groups had already been collaborating with Jonathan Grey, Research & Conservation Officer from the Wild Trout Trust, and he agreed that river fly monitoring would be useful.  Marie Taylor, the CEO of the YDRT put everyone in contact with each other and also with the Environment Agency, to provide ecology support.

Subsequently, a number of new volunteers were trained in river fly monitoring, including 9 local residents and 9 anglers.

The monitoring involves disturbing the watercourse sediment, collecting a sample in a net and doing population counts of eight target species, including four types of mayfly, cased and uncased caddis, stoneflies and native shrimp.

Funding for the training courses and monitoring equipment was provided by YDRT, the two angling groups and Gilling West Parish Council.

Monitoring will now be undertaken on a monthly basis at the 11 sites by a pair of volunteers.

Martha accompanied most of the pairs for their first session in August to make sure they were confident of the sampling technique and the invertebrate identification.

She said: “It’s been a great group to work with, as all are very enthusiastic and committed!  The good news is that all of the target species were found at most of the sites, albeit in relatively low numbers.”

There are also plans to establish another river fly monitoring network of sites on the River Ure in Wensleydale, if additional volunteers come forward for training.

The river fly monitoring complements water quality testing being undertaken in Gilling Beck at Gilling West and in the River Ure at Kilgram Bridge as part of a national Angling Trust Water Quality Monitoring scheme.

Anglers Will Smith and Mike Grace collect monthly samples for on-site analysis for nitrates, phosphates and other water quality indicators.

A report of pollution was made to the Environment Agency following a recent round which found extremely high nitrates.

For further information and to get involved, contact Jennifer Lee at the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust at Jennifer.lee@ydrt.co.uk or visit the trust website www.ydrt.org.uk