A12. Citizen River Habitat Survey

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1. Introduction[edit]

The citizen River Habitat Survey (cRHS) is a method that enables river enthusiasts and citizen scientists to get involved with recording and assessing the physical structure and characteristics of rivers and streams. Most rivers in the UK are failing ecological standards set by law and only 14% are considered in ‘Good Ecological Status’.

The reason is a combination of water and habitat quality issues. Although water quality has improved in the past 40 years, the physical structure of our rivers and the habitats they provide (e.g. gravel bars, deep pools, tree shading) has not.

To improve the ecological and visual quality of our rivers, we need to start restoring the physical habitat and remove some of the engineering structures we introduced (e.g. weirs, artificial banks, concrete river beds etc). To do so, we need first to assess the habitat quality of rivers and identify the pressures impacting them. We can then develop strategies for improving and restoring our waterbodies.

2. Development[edit]

The citizen River Habitat Survey was developed by the River Restoration Centre (RRC) in 2021 with support from Natural Resources Wales. It is based on River Habitat Survey (RHS) method. RHS is an established standard methodology for characterising and assessing the physical character of freshwater streams and small rivers. The methodology has been used across the UK since 1994. The data are used to calculate a series of quality scores relating to the hydromorphological condition of rivers that can support Water Framework Directive assessment including: Habitat Modification Score, Habitat Quality Assessment scores, Riparian Quality Index and River Habitat Quality index.

3. Method summary[edit]

The citizen River Habitat Survey (cRHS) is based on a survey methodology developed in the 1990s that has been used to assess the quality of river habitats in the UK and in parts of Europe, River Habitat Survey (RHS). RHS is a method designed to characterise and assess, in broad terms, the physical structure of freshwater streams and rivers. The field survey element does not require specialist morphological or botanical expertise, but recognition of vegetation types and an understanding of basic river morphology and processes are needed.

The Citizen River Habitat Survey (cRHS) is designed to be used on its own by Citizen Scientists or as part of a collaboration and knowledge exchange with more expert RHS surveyors. The information collected using cRHS can be inputted into a database and completed by certified RHS surveyors using the provided photographic and video evidence. This way, 95% of a standard RHS information can be collected and analysed.

Using cRHS, it will be possible to collect a wide range of site data and analyse them within the context of data collected as part of previous national surveys since 1994.

3. Advantages[edit]

  • Encourages community engagement
  • The use of RHS surveyors to complete the citizen scientist data improves the data quality

4. Limitations[edit]

  • Not every part of a standard RHS is recorded, so the data is not wholly comparable.

5. More information[edit]

6. References[edit]

  1. Fox, P.J.A., Naura, M. & Scarlett, P. (1998) An account of the derivation and testing of a standard field method, River Habitat Survey. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 8, 455-475
  2. Jeffers, J.N.R. (1998) Characterization of river habitats and prediction of habitat features using ordination techniques. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems., 8, 529-540.
  3. Naura, M., Clark, M.J., Sear, Atkinson, P.M. Hornby, Kemp, P., England, G., Peirson, G., Bromley, C., Carter, M.G. (2016) Mapping habitat indices across river networks using spatial statistical modelling of River Habitat Survey data. Ecological Indicators. 66, 20-29. Doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.03.055
  4. Raven, P.J., Fox, P., Everard, M., Holmes, N.T.H. & Dawson, F.H. (1997) River habitat survey: A new system for classifying rivers according to their habitat quality. Freshwater Quality: Defining the Indefinable?, 215-234
  5. Raven, P J, Holmes, N T H, Dawson, F H, Fox, P J A, Everard, M, Fozzard, I, Rouen, K J (1998). River Habitat Quality: the Physical Character of Rivers and Streams in the UK and the Isle of Man. Environment Agency, Bristol
  6. Walker, J. (2005) River Habitat Objectives. Environment Agency, England and Wales.