How do you know how healthy your local river is, and whether it is improving? Academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of London think they have come up with the answer – a simple report card, like the one a schoolchild brings home at the end of the school year.
The project team will be demonstrating the effectiveness of the report card at the Rural Economy and Land Use ‘The Future of Rural Land Use’ Conference at Congress House, London on June 4.
Water companies and environmental regulators are gathering a mass of data from monitoring the physical, chemical and biological quality of the surface water and groundwater in catchments. But it is difficult for the non-expert to make sense of all this information, and how it relates to water consumer and citizen concerns about water quality, fishing, wildlife and the recreational use of rivers. The report card draws this information together with simple graphics to indicate the overall ecological health of the river system.
The researchers have developed the report card using the River Thurne in Norfolk and the River Tamar in the south west as their case study areas. The original idea was sparked by a scheme that has been used to protect Moreton Bay in Queensland, Australia. But this new version is tailored to the issues faced by river managers in the UK and the team is confident that it could be applied across other catchments.
Kevin Hiscock, of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “The report card, with its colour coding, is an effective way to communicate the health and cleanliness of our waterways and makes it easy to understand the issues and priorities at a glance.
“Also, the annual compilation and publication of the report card enables the success or otherwise of decisions determining the allocation of resources to improve the ecosystem health of a river to be evaluated.”
The card is just one element in a project designed to develop guidance on improving water quality and to identify the governance arrangements that would be necessary to achieve this. The research is part of the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.
Laurence Smith, SOAS, University of London, who is leading the research, said: “The project aims to provide guidance for policy and practice and the ecosystem health report card is just one tool that authorities could use. By communicating water quality, and changes in water quality effectively, we will raise awareness among landowners, residents and visitors about the state of catchments, how this improves or deteriorates over time, and the factors that influence such changes. In turn improved awareness can support action for improvement.”
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