Citizen science project will contribute to improvement of river eco-systems

A CITIZEN science project has been launched by researchers at the University of the Highlands and Islands to help identify unreported rivers barriers and understand river perception and use across Scotland.

The work of the Rivers and Lochs Institute at Inverness College UHI is part of the pan-European AMBER Project (Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers), which seeks to improve the management of man-made barriers, many of which are now obsolete, to achieve better river connectivity, aid fish migration and restore natural patterns of biodiversity.

Over time, the development of hydropower and a growth in infrastructure and water abstraction across Europe has led to the creation of many dams, weirs and culverts. Scotland’s records show around 1500, while across Europe there are more than 225,000 barriers reported. These barriers can provide energy, water, fishing and leisure opportunities, but can create obstacles to sustainable river management, presenting potential flood hazards and causing ecosystem changes by blocking the natural migration of fish upstream.

The AMBER Barrier Tracker Smartphone App has been launched by the Rivers and Lochs Institute at Inverness College UHI and members of the public are being encouraged to download it and report any barriers they see. Current data is comprehensive for barriers higher than 10 metres and researchers are particularly interested in ensuring that smaller barriers, which can often cause greater problems for river connectivity, are equally well covered. The information collected will help improve understanding of river fragmentation in Scotland. The data will be shared with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and used at European level within the AMBER project to look at broader patterns across the continent.

Introduction of the AMBER Barrier Tracker App coincides with the launch of an online survey by the Rivers and Lochs Institute, which aims to generate a greater understanding of key issues impacting on rivers in Scotland and how they are currently valued and used across society. This information will inform research and subsequent management recommendations both in Scotland and across Europe, by highlighting the views of stakeholders.

Dr Lucio Marcello, researcher with the Rivers and Lochs Institute at Inverness College UHI, said: “Launch of the new AMBER Barrier Tracker App will allow us to engage people who can help improve this knowledge-base and create a complete account of barriers in Scotland and across Europe. There are lots of examples of where citizen science has been used to mitigate against barrier impacts and where people have made a real difference to local river stretches and their eco-systems, so even though the state of barriers in Scottish rivers is generally good, there are many cases where changes to or removal of barriers can make it even better.”