Skip to page content

Press release

Anglers check their flies for cleaner waters

Anglers are set to become a key part of protecting Britain's rivers from decline. Launching tomorrow at the Natural History Museum, the Anglers Monitoring Initiative will provide a three-minute health check for our waterways, by training anglers to use riverflies as a barometer for water quality.

The new scheme will provide regular, coordinated riverfly updates to the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency from anglers around the country. Not only will this make it easier to detect and respond quickly to sudden, severe water quality issues such as pesticide spills, the frequent sampling also acts as a neighbourhood 'river watch' scheme deterring would-be polluters.

Riverflies, including mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies, are a vital part of rivers. As well as providing food for fish, birds and bats, their wellbeing is a sensitive indicator of the health of our watery environments. Severe declines could have serious implications for those who enjoy flyfishing. Riverfly populations may be damaged by a variety of factors, such as low river flows, poor land management, acidification, siltation, pesticides, climatic change and pollution.

This angler-led initiative will make it easier for angling groups to share knowledge about rivers with government scientists and agencies. For example, angling groups on the River Rhymney in South Wales and on the River Wey in Surrey have highlighted separate pollution incidents that had seriously affected the water quality. As a result, the Environment Agency has been able to investigate further with a view to tracing the source of the pollution and reducing the threat to the river.

While a river may appear to be healthy, its true health can only be gauged by thoroughly investigating its biological quality. The techniques for the Angler's Monitoring Initiative have been developed over more than a decade, involving over 500 anglers on rivers across the country as well as conservation, academic and fishing organisations and regulatory agencies. The methods are based on the biological monitoring conducted by the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which assesses long-term water quality by examining chosen sites in spring and autumn. 

'Anglers have a unique knowledge of their local rivers, and trials of this scheme have shown their expertise makes a real, noticeable difference to how we monitor river quality,' said Steve Brooks, freshwater insect specialist at the Natural History Museum. 'Healthy riverfly populations are a sure sign of healthy rivers, which means better water quality for everyone.'

The Anglers Monitoring Initiative offers one-day workshops to fishing clubs on their local river, helping them choose good sampling sites and explaining how to identify the eight groups of organisms that need to be tracked. The simple monitoring technique involves a three-minute kick sample of the riverbed which is then examined on the riverbank.  To support their training anglers receive a guide published in partnership with The Field Studies Council . This includes notes on the monitoring technique and the insect species to look for. Once trained, fishing clubs can record data from their chosen sample sites. Anglers who want more about riverflies or to get involved in monitoring can sign up through

The Anglers Monitoring Initiative is formally launched today at the Riverfly Partnership conference How Good is Your River? Many of the country's most experienced and knowledgeable aquatic entomologists and representatives of a wide range of environmental, angling and government bodies will discuss the conservation of riverfly populations and the associated impact of river management, farming and climate change. Keynote speeches will be given by Dafydd Evans, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency and Martin Salter MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Angling Group, followed by a panel discussion chaired by Jeremy Paxman.


Notes for editors

  • Riverflies include mayflies or up-winged flies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies or sedges (Trichoptera) and stoneflies (Plecoptera) with 279 species in total. These groups represent the natural flies flyfishermen imitate with their artificial lures.
  • The Riverfly Partnership aims to encourage anglers to work with scientists and environmental organisations to increase our knowledge, understanding and conservation efforts for riverfly populations in the UK. Its members include:
    APEM Ltd, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Birdsgrove Fly Fishing Club, Biological Records Centre, Bradan Aquasurveys Ltd, British Waterways, Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, CAMSTARS, Cardiff University Catchment Research Group, Clyde River Foundation, Environment Agency, Ephemeroptera Recording Scheme, Field Studies Council, Freshwater Biological Association and FreshwaterLife, John Spedan Lewis Trust for the Advancement of Natural Sciences, Lancaster University Institute of the Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy, National Trust, Natural England, Natural History Museum, Plecoptera Recording Scheme, Rhymney River Federation of Angling Clubs, Ryedale Anglers Association, Salmon and Trout Association, Test and Itchen Association Ltd, Trichoptera Recording Scheme, Wild Trout Trust, Wiltshire Fishery Association
  • The How Good is Your River' 2007 conference is sponsored by the Natural History Museum, Salmon and Trout Association, Environment Agency, Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, Natural England, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Wild Trout Trust, Freshwater Biological Association, Fishmonger's Hall and National Biodiversity Network Trust.

For more information or images, please contact:
Tel: 020 7942 5654 or email us.