On Tuesday two RRC staff members attended a Walkover Survey training event hosted by the Bedford Rural Communities Charity. A speaker from the Essex Wildlife Trust gave a presentation about River Wardens and encouraging volunteers to monitor and record changes in river environments. Currently, Essex Wildlife Trust has 150 volunteer River Wardens across 14 catchments covering 30% of Essex rivers. The commitment of these local residents and other interested volunteers has led to increased awareness in environmental health across the county. For example, using River Wardens has increased the amount of evidence for the presence of otters and water voles.
Volunteers can be allocated river reaches of varying lengths, and have the flexibility to survey as frequently as they would like – from weekly to bi-annually. The training session provided key information on what a Warden should take with them on a survey, as well as what signs to look out for. A camera, binoculars, maps and ideally a GPS device were recommended in order to help the volunteers record what they observe, and pinpoint the location. It is important to record any changes observed in order to determine whether these pose a problem or risk to the environment. Moreover, issues can be highlighted such as leaking pipes polluting the river. The session also gave an overview of working safely near water. A risk assessment check list is provided to River Wardens to ensure they avoid working in dangerous situations. For example, surveys should not be carried out along eroding paths or in adverse weather conditions such as strong winds.
River Wardens are encouraged to log onto the Essex Wildlife Trust Biological Records Centre to input information into the species database to maintain an up-to-date record of what has been observed. Essex Wildlife Trust decided not to use a standardised River Habitat Survey, as they wished to add further information such as species which are present and wider surrounding land use.
Walkover surveys can also include Wet Weather Surveys, encouraging volunteers to record features along a stretch following a rainfall event. This helps identify certain features and their impact, such as pipes which become more visible when they are draining into the river.
This training event pointed out why it is important to survey, including recording habitats and wildlife corridors, and understanding that rivers are not just a way to drain water.
RRC is working towards creating a video on walkover surveys, thanks to funding from The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, to be released next year. This training event related to our research towards this video, and gave us some new ideas to think about.