Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI).
ARMI was nationally launched as the Anglers’ Monitoring Initiative (AMI) in 2007. At that time the initiative was a scheme in which anglers were trained to carry out a simple invertebrate monitoring protocol to assess water quality, but over time ARMI has widened its citizen science base to include many non-angling conservation volunteers throughout the UK. ARMI receives national funding support from the Environment Agency and is coordinated on behalf of the Riverfly Partnership by Ben Fitch. The initiative mobilises regular ‘eyes and ears’ on hundreds of river sites throughout the UK and, by recording macroinvertebrates, provides a means for trained citizen scientists to make a direct contribution to the protection of their rivers and fisheries, while enhancing their own understanding of the river ecosystem.
ARMI volunteers also contribute to the improvement of their local environment by helping to deter illegal polluting and fishing, and by recording information related to positive fisheries management, such as: invasive non-native species i.e., signal crayfish, killer shrimp, Himalayan balsam and others; livestock poaching; and natural and/or unnatural impoundments.
The ARMI protocol was agreed in close consultation with the Environment Agency so the sampling equipment, sampling methodology and biosecurity protocols used by ARMI volunteers maintains the exact standards used by all of the UK’s statutory agencies, i.e. Environment Agency (EA), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). The result of this agreed protocol is that UK statutory agencies respond with confidence to pollution incidents detected and reported by ARMI volunteers. The importance of this relationship for UK water quality only continues to increase as UK statutory agencies preside over our rivers with ever decreasing resources. Indeed on many UK Rivers a higher number of sites are being regularly monitored by ARMI volunteers than by statutory agencies.
Currently ARMI volunteers are regularly monitoring close to 1.350 sites across the UK and upload monthly data into the online ARMI data repository (www.riverflies.org/riverflies-gis-home). The volunteer network is organised into over 100 monitoring groups which, in turn are supported by a growing network of catchment or regional hubs. The hubs, hosted by organisations including Rivers Trusts, Wildlife Trusts and National Park Authorities, comprise of coordinators and Riverfly Partnership accredited tutors and provide support to ARMI groups and volunteers through training, fundraising and identification expertise. There are currently 30 hubs operating throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
During 2015 more than 600 new volunteers attended 62 one-day ARMI training workshops across the UK and 2016 is following a similar pattern. It is the norm for at least one staff member from the local statutory agency to be present at training workshops and, once trained, volunteers are assigned to a monitoring group aligned to a particular river. Statutory agency ecology contacts agree sampling sites and designate trigger levels before volunteers begin monitoring, typically on a monthly basis, throughout the year.
When trigger levels are breached ARMI volunteers immediately inform their local statutory agency contacts, via their monitoring group coordinator, because a serious pollution incident is likely to be the cause. ARMI has a track record of successfully detecting pollution incidents and instigating a statutory agency response, as well as monitoring subsequent ecosystem recovery. For example, in 2013 the River Kennet, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), was exposed to a serious pollution after Chlorpyrifos entered the river, resulting in extensive invertebrate kills over 15km between Marlborough in Wiltshire and Hungerford in West Berkshire. The incident was first detected, on a Sunday, by Action for the River Kennet (ARK) volunteers as part of their regular riverfly monitoring programme. The Environment Agency was alerted and responded immediately and the ARK riverfly data helped determine the entry point of the pesticide and the spatial extent of the pollution incident.
Pollution incidents detected by ARMI volunteers have frequently resulted in successful prosecutions and fines of polluters, while active local ARMI groups have a deterrent effect on would-be polluters. The River Rhymney in southeast Wales and the River Wandle in southeast England, both heavily impacted by industrial pollution historically, provide excellent case studies to highlight both the catastrophic damage caused by serious pollution incidents, and, the positive outcomes which well established and active ARMI groups can achieve.
Online data repository
The ARMI data repository, built and hosted by the Freshwater Biological Association on behalf of the Riverfly Partnership, represents a significant evolution for the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) by providing a freely and publicly accessible single store for the entire ARMI dataset. Volunteers input monthly ARMI data into the repository and group coordinators verify the records before they go live into the system to ensure data quality and continuity. Mapped data can be viewed using the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) tool, with the ability to see information including where active sites exist, where the most recent alerts have been triggered, and abundance across the eight target Riverfly groups. In addition, charted ARMI data can be viewed at site or target group specific resolutions.
Although the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative is proven to be both essential to and effective in detecting severe river pollutions it was never developed to be able to pick up low-level pollutions, or for evidencing the reasons behind long term species declines linked to water quality issues. Many existing volunteer monitors, particularly those anglers which have witnessed riverfly declines over decades, recognise this fact and want to contribute further towards increasing the understanding of water quality issues and river ecosystem conservation in the UK.
The Riverfly Partnership also recognises the need to expand the monitoring remit through the ARMI volunteer network and is currently working in partnership with others, such as the Natural History Museum, the Freshwater Biological Association, the Wild Trout Trust, Earthwatch, angling clubs, Rivers Trusts, environmental consultancies and universities to develop optional add-ons under the banner ‘Riverfly Plus’. Some examples of these recording add-ons include invasive non-native species, water chemistry, ecosystem function, effects of flow variability and siltation on invertebrate communities, and invertebrate fingerprinting.