River Dart, riverside path, Longmarsh, Totnes: In attendance Stephanie Lavau, Sophie Harbour.
On a very wet day in Totnes, we met and interviewed a local river management professional. The first part of the interview was aimed at gaining a sense of his job in relation to the Dart. He described the main focus of his job as;
“encouraging the local community to understand, value and celebrate their estuaries, and in particular understand how they have an impact on the estuaries and how they very much have a vested interest in doing some form of care; at home, work, play and all of that because if they don’t the water quality that they end up with when they are playing or using the water is a consequence of what they have been doing back at home……”
Following Nigel’s introduction the interview continued with a more general look at ways in which to engage the public and the local community in protecting the estuaries and being aware of how their actions both directly and indirectly affect the local water conditions. This highlighted issues surrounding local and global connections and what the management priorities are in terms of the Dart; trying to get everybody understanding, engaged and involved and how the cumulative impacts of the oil from boats, litter, and nutrients are a threat not only to the wildlife community but also the water quality that we all expect to be good and want to enjoy.
The second part of the interview concentrated specifically on the environmental condition of the river. Discussions surrounding what we mean by water quality so; whether we can drink it, how much life it is supporting, and the levels of biodiversity. Interesting that actually estuaries are often very low diversity but have massively high biomass; abundance rather than diversity. Current threats to wildlife include litter and because of its linear geography; disturbance. Many of the other estuaries have creeks for wildlife to hide and shelter in but on the Dart this is not the case.
Also discussed the difficulties in providing a definitive answer to the conditions of the river. Measuring and monitoring these conditions is affected by the variability of the local environmental conditions and how/why these might change quite rapidly. The results from monitoring and measuring conditions are also very often it is historic, the result is immediate but what led to that result is historic. Another interesting issue in relation to monitoring is the choice of the location of the measurement stations and whether there is an intrinsic value in snapshot data as an overall indicator. Perhaps its not the snapshot view but the trend that is important, a trend indicator. The final part of the interview focused on biological indicators and questions surrounding what makes a good biological indicator and why.
Issues around the hidden, what wildlife actually exists in the estuary? Much of it is hidden from view and not large in scale making it difficult for the public to engage with. Problems around the charismatic nature of the organisms. People tend to value the bird life for example as it is easy to see but there are many, many other creatures under the surface of the water that are not visible, they are hidden. Colourful fish, spiral worms, nudibranchs etc are some of the most colourful creature that we have in the UK but most people have never seen them. Part of the strategy for making something visible would be to think carefully about the media and the outlet. Also, difficulties concerning the turbidity of the water and the fact that many of the organisms are microscopic.
Also, difficulties of getting an indicator that works for all estuaries, in all conditions. The freshwater system has this but estuaries are very volatile and consequently often difficult to live in. The ideal situation would be to have a range of indicators that can give you an index of how good or how bad. So, not just an on/off type indicator but a range of quality indicators, which is why the freshwater one is so good. Finally, the possibly that one of the more effective indicators might actually be the public themselves. By using their eyes and ears and locally based knowledge of the river and its landscapes and to report any problems and changes which could then be further investigated.