2023 River Champions

River Champions > 2023 River Champions

The success of projects aiming to improve rivers for wildlife and people is largely influenced by the involvement of volunteers. The River Restoration Centre understands the importance of this contribution and wishes to acknowledge those that may otherwise not get recognition. ‘River Champions’ seeks to recognise and celebrate the outstanding efforts of individuals contributing to improving rivers for wildlife and people outside of their day-to-day roles.

Congratulations to the 2023 'River Champions'!

View the Press Release








Chris Brooks

Chris was instrumental in setting up Scole Pocket Park alongside the River Waveney on the Norfolk/Suffolk border and is Chair of Scole Nature Trails Trust who manage this valuable community site. He is also Joint Co-ordinator for the Diss branch of the River Waveney Trust Volunteer Group who manage Frenze Beck County Wildlife Site owned by Norfolk Wildlife Trust and another small river site in the town centre. In addition to this Chris has been a willing volunteer helping with a number of Environment Agency riparian tree planting projects and regularly undertakes litter picking along the river corridor.

Chris is out on one of these sites practically every day of the year and loves nothing better than a bit of hard physical labour and getting a good job done. But more than this is his ability to get other people involved, potential funders and volunteers and inspire them to contribute to these nature-based community projects.

Chris obtained funding and installed, with the help of volunteers, 2 new fishing platforms and got further funding to create new paths and upgrade existing ones to enable wheelchair access to these. He obtained funding for a canoe access platform which he installed with volunteers. He has led groups of volunteers carrying out riparian tree planting and a small mixed fruit orchard, the installation of bat and bird boxes and in-channel vegetation management to keep open a backwater to provide fish refuge during high flows. With volunteers he has created a nature area for outdoor education next to the river for local primary schools. He has obtained funding for site fencing, interpretation boards and is at the pocket park every day keeping an eye on things and dealing with any problems.

He has been instrumental in setting up water quality monitoring undertaken by volunteers such as Riverfly, dissolved oxygen and visual assessment which provides an early indication of issues in this part of the catchment.

Barney (David) Lerner

Barney was the initiator, and is Chairman, of Friends of Bradford’s Becks and a founder trustee of The Aire Rivers Trust. In these roles he has guided and participated in improvement projects, not just in Bradford but throughout the Aire Catchment. Having led an early pilot for The Catchment Based Approach, his work in Bradford has covered a wide range of projects including:

  • River clean ups
  • Opening manholes so people can see the beck as it flows through a vast Victorian culvert below City Square and running a poetry competition to install engraved flagstones along the hidden course of the beck
  • A current multi-million pound deculverting project
  • Working with Yorkshire Water to identify, investigate and remediate pollution from misconnections and faulty CSOs.

He is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Engineering, University of Sheffield, and is Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. As the driving force behind Friends of Bradford’s Becks, Barney can legitimately claim to have at least catalysed almost every improvement in Bradford Beck over the last 15 years. He has brought together a willing and enthusiastic group that has marked becks, led walks, lobbied regulators and polluting companies and much more. Every group needs a dynamic and persistent leader, and Barney is just that. He has gained the explicit support of Bradford Council (who ask for an annual report on FoBB’s activity) and works directly with Councillors and Ward Officers to make practical improvements that benefit the community.

In the New Year 2023 Honours, Barney was awarded an OBE in recognition for his services to the Environment in Bradford. Thanks to him, the beck is now on many organisations’ agendas and this is down to Barney’s constant championing of the value of the beck, not just for nature but also for the communities through which it runs.


Emma Wren

Emma is a Technical Director in Nature Based Solutions, driving technical excellence within Mott MacDonald and continually looking for ways to deliver benefits for the environment, particularly rivers. Outside of her day job, her passion for improving her local watercourses is fundamental to her voluntary roles in the wider community. Emma secured £50,000 funding for the Collingham Beck Natural Flood Management (NFM) Study as part of a national competition in 2017, coordinating with the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and local partners, and implemented a range of measures throughout the catchment.

Emma is a trustee of the East Keswick Wildlife Trust, having been involved with the organisation for over 10 years. Through this role she has championed fundraising initiatives to protect green space, introduced the next generation to river stewardship through her role as a Brownie leader and guardian of a mile long length of the River Wharfe.

Emma is a driving force in challenging the conventional ways of working on ‘traditional’ engineering flood management projects, championing the implementation of nature-based solutions and sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm from grassroots initiatives within her wider professional network. This has enabled her to champion rivers through her role as lead author on the CIRIA NFM guide, empowering the communities across the country to implement NFM based on best practice approaches.

In addition, she has been instrumental in growing the Yorkshire NFM Community of Practice through securing sponsorship and leading a programme of events to upskill and inspire a range of individuals and organisations across the region to deliver NFM at scale, for the benefit of all rivers in Yorkshire. She has coordinated volunteering of her colleagues as part of the companies ‘Brilliant Neighbours’ initiative, including litter picking along the River Aire and tree planting activities in the catchment.


Hannah Pearson

Hannah is a champion of Westcountry Rivers Trust's Citizen Science Investigations programme, collecting vital and valuable data across a range of sites, recruiting and mobilising her community to join the programme and organising events and workshops to broaden the knowledge and understanding of her community and wider area. Hannah is instrumental in working with and involving landowners and farmers in bringing about real change and is one of very few riverine sites nationwide working towards designated bathing water status. Through this she is actively collaborating with a range of stakeholders and organisations.

Hannah is leading the charge on getting bathing water designation for the River Dart and is linking up and working with the wider community and a range of stakeholders including SAS, the Environment Agency, landowners and farmers to bring about real, tangible change.

'Devon Live' article on Hannah's volunteering


James Elliott

Jim started volunteering for the Lincolnshire Chalk Streams Project about 3 years ago and turned up to numerous different volunteer practical days to help keep our precious chalk streams in tip top condition. On top of that he has helped trial a water vole surveying technique with us and is involved with surveying Lincolnshire's very rare blow well sites.

Since starting to volunteer with the Lincolnshire Chalk Streams Project he has bought himself a canoe and independently clears up the River Freshney in Grimsby under the name of Canoe River Cleaner and now has his own army of dedicated volunteers keeping the river free of rubbish.

We would not have been able to deliver the variety of projects on the chalk streams in Lincolnshire without his help, particularly the trial project to monitor water voles and collecting data about our blow well spring sites. His work in Grimsby on the River Freshney is going from strength to strength and as an organisation we wouldn't have the time or resources to keep the River Freshney clear of rubbish and engage so successfully with the local community.


John Pring

John has been actively involved in championing the restoration of the rivers in Ullswater for over 20 years. This includes the Goldrill and Hartsop river restoration projects, recently part of the European River Prize winning partnership. John gives up his personal time to engage with farmers and other organisations to champion the need for change in the management of our rivers. John has had extremely broad shoulders in the light of a strong community will to manage rivers in the traditional way and has always stuck fast to the need to restore our rivers to a more natural form. Often John has been the only advocate for this, sometimes in quite hostile environments. John’s work with community groups, landowners, and local schools over such a long time is a true testament to how one man can change the narrative and pave the way for much needed and substantial change.

John’s continuous championing paved the way for the huge scale river restoration projects delivered at both Goldrill and Hartsop. Johns unwavering resilience to keep up conversations with the community, local farmers and Parish Councils, outside of his normal day job, kept the topic of river restoration live until such a time that hearts and minds started to change, and the projects became feasible. The projects would not have been possible without the ongoing efforts of John keeping the need to think about river management differently on the agenda for so many years. John worked tirelessly, often with significant opposition, to build relationships, earn trust and eventually to push through change so desperately needed in Ullswater. His resilience and perseverance are recognised as the foundations which have changed the narrative around rivers and their management within Ullswater, extending far beyond the projects already completed.


Mike Kent

Mike is a pillar of his local community and is setting himself up as a catchment coordinator, working with Westcountry Rivers Trust to identify potential sample points across the Axe catchment and beyond, recruit volunteers to sample at them, raise funds for training sessions and equip all relevant volunteers. His vision is even bigger creating catchment-based communities from source to sea on all local rivers sampling water quality but also working as a cohesive network of volunteers or community to ensure maximum coverage and understanding.

Mike is ahead of the field and working as a pilot for a new and improved CSI offering from Westcountry Rivers Trust. His vision and model for full community cohesion is where we want the programme to go and the fact he is already doing this and in a voluntary role speaks to the passion and enthusiasm Mike has for river protection and his community.

'Devon Live' article on Mike's volunteering


Mike Williams

Mike has worked within the Environment Agency and the NRA for over 30 years. As an ecologist with a passion for engineering his career has focussed on the restoration of estuaries and wetlands. He has led the Conservation and Recreation team in Devon and is currently the lead wetlands and estuaries expert for the Flood and Coastal Risk Management Team.

He has worked on projects to successfully eliminate floating pennywort from several wetland Special Protection Areas. He has also been the UK lead for river shingle beetles and was instrumental locally in developing Biodiversity Action Plans. He also helped set up the Devon Mammal Group and co-led educational field trips to Spain for many years as a volunteer.

He has managed wetland restoration projects in the South West, including water level management for grazing marshes and invented a new type of self-regulating tide gate, allowing controlled tidal inundation behind flood defences.

Since 2001 Mike has been instrumental in helping manage as a volunteer the Tidcombe Fen SSSI. His involvement has been critical in saving the Fen from further degradation and it is now a valued community resource. Mike has been instrumental in developing the Exe Estuary Strategy, which has led to him helping implement habitat creation projects on the Exe, Clyst, Avon, Axe and Torridge.

This work led to him developing, delivering and finding funding for this 50ha habitat creation project. He successfully developed an INTERREG funding bid, which has led to the Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts (PACCo) project, a €27m partnership project which is part funding the Lower Otter’s restoration alongside a sister project in Normandy France.

Mike’s passion for habitat creation is inspiring, he leads daily walking tours of the Lower Otter with community members and interested parties to enthuse people locally, nationally and internationally.


Mitch Perkins

The ability of Mitch to lead, motivate, inspire and engage others is second to none. Over the several years Dorset Wildlife Trust have known Mitch, she has proved herself to be an exceptionally dedicated volunteer member of the Riverfly Monitoring Scheme. Clearly possessing an extensive knowledge of riverine ecology and biology she very willingly assists in provision of local training workshops for interested potential monitors at several venues across the county.

Mitch radiates warmth, energy and enthusiasm. Her ever present sense of humour and engaging nature ensures that she is consistently approachable to all Riverfly Monitors, whatever their background and their experience. At a time when the nature conservation sector has recognised it needs to broaden its inclusivity, Mitch is a beacon of light, both with her naturally inclusive nature and through bringing experience gained as a long term volunteer with a mental health charity and voluntary training in aspects of equality, inclusion and diversity. Admirably, she will also firmly but politely provide her highly respected opinion when requested.

Mitch attends meetings and events to represent the local community, particularly in Wimborne. Mitch is an active member of ‘Wildling Wimborne’ and, for example, she recently led a bankside walk for local interested individuals to encourage a greater understanding of river wildlife: the event was very well received. In addition, Mitch has assisted in habitat management on various watercourses.

In her own time, Mitch carries out surveys to help monitor her local watercourse, the River Allen. She monitors aquatic invertebrates and submits data online once a month as part of the national Anglers Riverfly Monitoring Initiative. Mitch also takes part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, and regularly surveys for Daubenton’s bats and otters.

Mitch has also demonstrated a consistent will to go out of her way to help others to successfully deliver a project. She has for the last five years participated in developing a new project (Extended Riverfly Scheme) to identify and record a larger number (33) of different invertebrate groups and has given considerable assistance to its implementation by leading training workshops. The scheme has now been rolled out nationally.

It’s important to appreciate the extent of Mitch’s volunteering. As well as her extensive involvement to benefit rivers, Mitch remarkably still finds time for other volunteering with Dorset Wildlife Trust sharing her passion, knowledge and inspiring personality to further ignite interest and empower action. Mitch seeks opportunities to offer her support to various community projects, such as Dorset Wildlife Trust’s ‘Urban Green’ communities, Planet Wimborne and once a month with a local Gardens Foundation, assisting with a young children’s group and events for adults. She is an engagement volunteer on Brownsea Island and for many years she has played an instrumental part in Dorset Wildlife Trust’s wildlife gardening scheme, latterly volunteering a day a week to lead and promote the Trust’s wildlife gardening award, provide advice, deliver talks, help judge the annual competition and she also played a large part in the ‘Get Dorset Buzzing’ campaign as a key volunteer, all of which has inspired hundreds of people to help create a wilder Dorset.


Paul Powlesland

Paul is deeply inspirational in his dedication to the River Roding and his ability to bring people along and gather willing teams of helpers is second to none. Recently he rallied a team and gathered up an unfathomable amount of rubbish from just a few hundred metres of river at Ilford Bridge. He regularly plants trees, stabilising river banks and has recently undertaken to expanding the populations of the rare Black poplar found in Barking. He even took cuttings on the tube to get to the right spot.

Working in heavily polluted cities requires a certain extra level of commitment and resolve, and Paul champions the River Roding tirelessly and endlessly encourages connection to nature in places where you have to look that bit harder and where it doesn’t come so easily as a quiet spot in the countryside.

He does all of this in addition to his very stressful day job working in London as a barrister as well as dealing with long Covid. Paul incorporates old stories of the river and the history into his work and is seeking to restore a historic tributary culverted except for a discovered 200m stretch since WW2. He has been doing this work for the past 6 years.


Philip Robson

Phil has been Chairman of the Wyre Rivers Trust (WRT) since 2012, overseeing its development from a volunteer led organisation to one with 7 staff in 2023. As chairman, Phil has been involved in directing the development of the trust, through a team of trustees and its staff. He is also the Chairman of the Wyre Waters Catchment Partnership (WWCP), where he has brought together organisations from a variety of sectors to support the delivery of the Catchment Based Approach in the Wyre Catchment. Phil gifts his time on a day to day basis to the trust to ensure the smooth running of the organisation providing support on all manner of topics and at all manner of events. Having worked in "industry" for much of his life, Phil sees this as his chance to give something back to the environment and the river which he has fished in for the best part of 30 years.

Without Phil, the Wyre Rivers Trust would not be what it is today. Through his diligent chairmanship of both WRT and WWCP Phil has ensured that the trust moved from one that had delivered one project worth £9k, to one that delivered its first 6 figure project in 2015. This was a huge step change and would not have happened but for Phil's foresight and knowledge of business, contracts and management. Following this the trust has gone from strength to strength and is now at the forefront of delivering the UKs first Green Finance Natural Flood Management Project. All of this has been achieved thanks to Phil's dedication and untold hours sat in his home office ensuring that meetings are organised, invoices are paid, equipment is available for staff and that the river Wyre receives as much funding as possible.


Vicky Whitworth

Vicky is one of Westcountry Rivers Trust's leading Citizen Science Investigators, not only collecting monthly water quality samples across a number of sites but actively coordinating her community to do the same. Vicky recruits for other volunteers in her catchment, organises events bringing the entire sector together, puts on training workshops to ensure her community is up to speed, raises funds for equipment and is generally a force for the environment. Vicky's role doesn’t stop at just river protection and she is a champion for overall environmental protection with a hand in all the key work being done in her area.

The number of passionate, upskilled and equipped volunteers regularly carrying out water quality sampling in and around Chardstock and the cohesive community are all down to the amazing work Vicky has done and continues to do. Her passion and enthusiasm are infectious and the community she has built will no doubt bring about real, tangible change for our rivers.

'Devon Live' article on Vicky's volunteering

Previous winners: