Smarter Water Catchment Update

Monday 1 August 2022

River Chess Citizen Science highlights

Back in April, the Chess Smarter Water Catchment initiative put a call out for citizen scientist volunteers to enable us to monitor water quality. Fantastically over 40 keen and enthusiastic members of the public emailed us at chesscs@chilternsaonb.org to sign up for our first round of training. Training in survey techniques such as MoRPh, (Modular River Survey) which is an excellent tool used to monitor changes in the Chess’s channel and riparian buffers, is a vital step towards understanding what impacts restoration projects have on these features. 64 hours of surveys have taken place this month at two locations in Restore Hope Latimer, focussing on surveying two different stretches of the river.  

The first site is a reach on the main River Chess which will be the site of a restoration project this summer. Adrian Porter, our River Officer, has explained that the restoration scheme aims to reduce shading to encourage in-stream and bankside vegetation, increase the variation in flows within the channel and increase the suitability of habitat for water voles. We’ve surveyed selected sites before the restoration starts, so that we can assess the changes that arise from the restoration – we hope to assess whether the restoration project is successful in achieving its aims. Very few restoration schemes are monitored in this way, so this surveying effort will provide valuable data to help guide future restoration efforts. 

Credit: Paul Jennings
Credit: Paul Jennings


Credit: Ian Smith
Credit: Ian Smith


Our second site has been on the Little Chess where the River Chess Association have gradually been introducing in-channel deflectors to increase flow variability over a number of years. Previous water vole surveying has shown that there is a healthy water vole population in this stretch of the River Chess, and they could benefit from an expanded area of river habitat suitable for them to inhabit. We are surveying here to record the habitat that is developing around the deflectors, and to record how the new fencing (see below) alters the riverbank vegetation over the coming years.

Another exciting aspect also being conducted by our citizen scientists is assisting in the assessment of emergent contaminants, which involves taking a sample of the river water from different locations along the Chess and sending them to Imperial College, London, to be analysed. This information will be vital in understanding the concentration of certain chemicals and therefore any potential risk they pose to wildlife.

Finally, in some positive news, highlighting the health of the River Chess, our Smart Rivers citizen scientists first benchmarking results are in. They show that May was a good month for Riverfly communities with only a few areas of the Chess seeming to be suffering from critical pressures. Lets hope this result is maintained when reassessed in the Autumn.

Fencing update

The Chess Smarter Water Catchment project has funded new fencing work occurring along the Chess. Now fully installed, we are already seeing the improvements to the buffer section around the channel. By reducing grazing to the very edge of the river bank, vegetation is allowed to grow. We will be closely monitoring this area using the Citizen Scientists MoRPh surveys and Water Vole surveyors to ensure the initial positive outcomes are having the desired effect of increasing the range for suitable habitats for Water Voles and other small mammals and invertebrates in this are.

CSWC Fencing 1

“The new fencing along the river Chess has already made a massive difference. Not only has it created a fabulous green corridor for the movement of wildlife, but it has also created a deeper flow of water, allowing fish to move to places never seen before. The livestock are also much easier to check and move, so bonuses all round.” – Scott Horton (Farmer with riparian grazing rights)                             




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