The Riverfly Partnership

Ian has had a deep love of river fly fishing and fly-tying (fishing for wild Trout & Grayling) that goes back over 40-years. Linked to his passion, since 2016, he has also volunteered as part of a nationwide ‘citizen science’ programme called The Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (RMI) run by The Riverfly Partnership. Although living in Cheshire, this has involved him carrying out (lockdown apart) monthly kick-sampling tests over 8 years for river invertebrates along his beloved middle-to-upper River Wharfe in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Details of the sampling done on his first-ever allocated stretch of river at Buckden can be seen on one of Ian’s many blogs here.

Anglers and local community groups are often seen as natural guardians of our river environment, because they are in an ideal position to monitor the health of the watercourses they fish in and live near. The RMI (also known as the Anglers’ Riverfly Monitoring Initiative, or ARMI) has been pioneered by the Riverfly Partnership to provide a simple, standardised monitoring technique which groups can use to detect any severe perturbations in river water quality, and put them in direct communication with their local ecological contact at the Environment Agency (or their equivalents at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency / National Resources Wales / Northern Ireland Environment Agency).

Used alongside routine monitoring by the national environment agencies, the RMI scheme ensures that water quality is checked far more widely, and remedial action is taken at the earliest opportunity if any severe perturbations are detected. This active monitoring also acts as a deterrent to incidental polluters. Successful schemes are underway in catchments across the UK, with data stored on our database, Cartographer. Verified data is freely available to view and download under the terms of the Open Government Licence. 

The Riverfly Partnership is a dynamic network of organisations, representing anglers, conservationists, entomologists, scientists, water course managers and relevant authorities, working together to: protect the water quality of our rivers; further the understanding of riverfly populations; and actively conserve riverfly habitats. The Riverfly Partnership is hosted by the Freshwater Biological Association.

Riverflies are invertebrates that spend most of their life cycle in a river, stream, pond or lake. The three key groups are stoneflies, caddisflies and mayflies. Along with other freshwater invertebrates, they are at the heart of the freshwater ecosystem and are a vital link in the aquatic food chain. Their common characteristics of limited mobility, relatively long life cycle, presence throughout the year, and specific tolerances to changes in environmental conditions make them good indicators of water quality. More than 270 species of mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies have been recorded in the UK, eight of which were given Biodiversity Action Plan status and therefore are recognised as of priority for conservation by the government.

Go to the Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (RMI) page for information on how volunteers like Ian help to assess and protect the health of their local rivers by monitoring riverfly populations.

Ian’s love of the River Wharfe began with his secondary schooling in Otley, West Yorkshire between 1972-1979, but his discovery of river fly fishing came later in 1984 after a discovery of the fishing writings of Ernest Hemingway. After 40 years he would now consider himself an intermediate fly fisher. Over that time he has fished the upper and middle Wharfe far more than any other river. His appreciation of it has further grown on his discovery of the alter stone of the Celtic and Roman goddess Verbeia (and reported actual goddess and deification of the River Wharfe) now in All Saints parish church in Ilkley. The recent granting to the Ilkley Clean River Group of the first ever UK bathing water designation status awarded to the River Wharfe has compounded this.

There are growing environmental and community movements in the UK calling for the recognition of our rivers as sentient beings – and so, looking to grant them (and other key natural environments) ‘legal personhood’. This is not a new cultural phenomenon though, as many indigenous cultures around the world have subconsciously known this for millennia. Our own ‘Rights of Rivers’ movement has a long way to go still in the UK, but at least public and political awareness around flood mitigation, sewerage outfalls, agricultural and chemical pollution, and sustainable urban drainage is growing nationally.

In 2017, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was granted legal personhood status. The river has two officially-appointed guardians: one representing the Maori Indigenous people and one representing the government.

In 2019, all rivers in Bangladesh were given legal personhood status. Nine years earlier, three large rivers in the country had been declared ‘biologically dead’ – meaning they no longer contained any aquatic life at all. The ruling gives the rivers – and people – of Bangladesh, essential protection.

In 2021, Canada’s Magpie River, known as the Muteshekau-shipu to the Indigenous Innu people of Ekuanitshit, was granted legal personhood. It now has nine specific rights, including the right to flow, the right for its natural evolution to be protected and preserved and the right to be safe from pollution.

Earth Law Center runs an initiative to define the basic rights to which every river is entitled: the Universal Declaration of River Rights. You can read about it here and read and sign the declaration here

In the closing stanza of his short poem ‘The River’ taken from in his 1983 poetry collection ‘River’, Poet Laureate and fly fisherman Ted Hughes recognised our rivers as a god:

“It is a god, and inviolable. Immortal. And will wash itself of all deaths”.

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