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Wensum Water Quality: A Citizen Science Project

A group of citizen scientists are providing valuable information for the Wensum Catchment Partnership in efforts to improve the health of the River Wensum catchment.

The River Wensum is treasured by local communities and users alike. The river, and parts of its floodplain, are of national and international importance for wildlife, being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). However, despite this recognition, all is not well for the Wensum. The river faces a number of challenges including phosphate and nitrate pollution, sediment run-off, sewage pollution, and in some stretches, invasive species and physical modification.

Restoring the health of the river and its wider catchment is the main priority of the Wensum Catchment Partnership (WCP), which brings together organisations including the Environment Agency, Norfolk Rivers Trust, Anglian Water, Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group, Natural England, BASG, Water Management Alliance and Hawk and Owl Trust.

Frequent monitoring of the freshwater environment is essential to better understand the decline of our rivers and their catchments. Citizen Science is becoming an increasingly important and powerful tool for providing this vital information, which can inform restoration efforts and add to existing institutional monitoring of the Catchment.

This summer, Norfolk Rivers Trust – supported by the Wensum Catchment Partnership and funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation – established a 6-month pilot citizen science programme in the Wensum headwaters to sample and analyse its water. The initiative has been developed on the back of an in-depth feasibility assessment, funded by Water for Tomorrow and completed by Steve Lane Environmental Consultancy Services. Importantly, this rigorous assessment established a consistent strategy, methodology and approach for water quality testing – to be trialled through the pilot programme – that meets Environment Agency standards.

Sarah Gelpke, Project Officer at Norfolk Rivers Trust, said: “Working with local communities is a crucial step to monitoring and understanding where and how our river health is declining. We received a lot of interest in volunteering for this project, and so far, our fantastic team of citizen scientists have collected over 130 samples. They’ve been measuring water flow, pH, turbidity, nitrate, temperature, dissolved oxygen, phosphate and ammonia and recording the data on an app. It’s been an interesting start to the project due to low water flows at some of the sampling sites, but we’re already starting to see some interesting trends.”

Sarah Taigel, Wensum Citizen Scientist and Data Visualisation Volunteer, said: “It’s been a pleasure to take part in this project. The Wensum means a lot to me and it’s been empowering to contribute in such a meaningful way to its restoration. Citizens can provide valuable knowledge and become guardians of their local stretches of river.”

Introducing the project

Testing the equipment

The next ambition of the WCP is to scale up and replicate this robust citizen science framework across the Wensum Catchment. Furthermore, as well as providing important insight for catchment-scale restoration strategies (that can be prioritised and targeted by WCP partners and other stakeholders), the additional data and evidence will also be useful for securing funding and driving change. Watch this space!

With thanks to The Coca-Cola Foundation and Water for Tomorrow for funding this 6-month pilot project.

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