Essex River Wardens win national award!

River Wardens Mary Tayler (L) and Laura Millar with the Lynne Farrell NBN Group Award. Photo:EWT

The Essex Wildlife Trust River Wardens have been announced as the winners of the inaugural Lynne Farrell Group Award at the National Biodiversity Network Awards for Biological Recording and Information Sharing.

The NBN national award scheme was established in partnership with the Biological Records Centre and the National Forum for Biological Recording. The awards are presented annually to individuals or organisations that are making outstanding contributions to biological recording and improving our understanding of the natural world. This year for the first time an additional category to recognise groups of people that have contributed to biological recording was added.

Two volunteer wardens from the Essex Wildlife Trust River Warden Scheme collected the award on behalf of the group and its coordinators at a reception held at the National Museums Scotland. Thanks to all of our River Wardens for for making the scheme such a success.

In 2007 Essex Wildlife Trust established the Riversearch otter and water vole survey. Riversearch surveys involve training volunteer surveyors to recognise field signs and monitor a set stretch of river annually for otter, water vole and mink signs. Riversearch volunteers have tracked the spread of otters and water voles as they have re-established themselves in Essex catchments; and monitored the presence of American Mink, resulting in a comprehensive dataset of riverine protected species for Essex,

In February 2014 the Riversearch volunteer network was expanded to include Riverfly monitoring and river condition surveys, as part of a wider Essex Wildlife Trust River Warden scheme. In addition to the initial 200 trained volunteers, a network of over 170 volunteer wardens has been established, monitoring 16 river catchments in Essex. River Wardens monitor river quality via freshwater invertebrate sampling; and take part in targeted invasive and protected species surveys to fill in gaps in our existing knowledge of the distribution of these species in Essex. In addition to this they patrol their stretch of river regularly and report problems or any unusual activity, acting as an early warning system for potential pollution incidents and highlighting areas of improvement.

As well as contributing to the national Riverfly monitoring scheme, Wardens are also alerting us to pollution events, and to the presence of species such as Brook Lamprey, resulting in the first new records of this species on the NBN Gateway for Essex in 10 years! Volunteer effort is coordinated via the Essex Rivers Hub, a partnership website developed as a source of information on all river and coastal related information in Essex (see Volunteers have gone above and beyond what EWT have asked them, by getting together to organise litter picks and invasive species removal (Himalayan Balsam) and even organising social events such as canoe trips along their local river.

The benefits of the scheme have been recognised by the Environment Agency and water companies, as the Wardens have reported incidents such as broken pipes before they became a major problem. The River Wardens also work with Rivercare and other local organisations including canoe and angling clubs to promote data sharing and participation in the scheme to a wide audience that was not previously engaged with biological recording. This approach has been so successful it is now used as an exemplar in other areas, and has even featured on the BBC’s Countryfile!

Find out more about how to get involved in the River Wardens Scheme here.