The Flow Partnership’s Water Summer School is being run at Dartington on the banks of the River Dart in South Devon in June 2018, drawing attention to the practical water work done by local communities and farmers to protect water in our rivers.

The Community Action in Water using Citizen Science session was run by Elina Bennetsen, a water policy officer and activist from Belgium, and Rafaela Scheiffer, a Holistic Sciences graduate originally from Brazil. In the session they demonstrated their accessible ‘bricolage’ approach, which gave the participants the opportunity to test for themselves the Dart’s water quality by assessing oxygen levels (through the presence of particular macroinvertebrates), acidity, biodiversity and microplastics. We used a wide range of equipment, from a netted bundle of broken bricks (submerged for weeks prior to colonize the tiny creatures) and a DIY drainpipe sieve to a smart phone microscope.

The results….? All good on this occasion – the Dart appears to be relatively healthy…for now.

Citizen Science is a way for people to be involved in useful scientific data collection, to democratize science. Information gathered through individuals’ observations, grassroots action or technology-mediated crowd-sourcing can be pooled to great effect. Citizen Science is considered a research approach like any other and the field is growing rapidly, with new tools, initiatives and sharing platforms to help address volunteer training and data accuracy.

In the natural world, Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab is a pioneer. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world contribute bird observations to the Cornell Lab each year, gathering data on a scale once unimaginable.

Citizen Science is also a key part of The Bioregional Learning Centre’s River Keepers Programme. But it’s not the whole story. At root, there is a cultural problem – of taking water for granted and treating rivers as bottomless waste-disposal units as this article in the Guardian describes.

Not an easy problem to solve. River Keepers are needed who will look out for our rivers in a million different ways–not just out on the water. Threats come from elsewhere; broken oil tank spigots, the next micro-bead sensation, back-garden weedkiller. And what happens when (unlike today’s experiment) the river is turbid, unhealthy, dying…? We need a movement of people giving voice to our rivers, now.



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