Fishing | The Haute Seat

An eminent angler on the importance of what lies beneath the surface

The tiny bugs that play a huge role in the health of our rivers

An eminent angler on the importance of what lies beneath the surface

Image: Getty Images

April 14 2011
Theo Pike

To the Natural History Museum in London last month for the third biennial conference of the Riverfly Partnership, the national organisation concerned with the importance of all those insects most people never see because they spend most of their lives underwater… where people generally don’t.

At a time when Big Society-type words such as “community”, “volunteering” and “responsibility” are on everyone’s lips, it’s interesting to note that the members of the Riverfly Partnership – ordinary anglers who get out into their rivers once a month to count a sample of bug-life – have been doing the citizen science thing for years. (On south London’s River Wandle, we’ve been supplementing the less frequent work of the statutory agencies since 2007, and it’s already taught us more than we could have imagined about the state of our urban river.)

So what’s the point of health-checking the bugs at the bottom of your local river? Simply put, these small swimming invertebrates form the foundations of the whole freshwater ecosystem: they’re food for sticklebacks, roach, charismatic predators such as trout, kingfishers and otters, the lot. If your river’s populations of caddis, mayflies, stoneflies and shrimp are healthy, diverse and abundant, so is everything else. But if they aren’t, which usually happens as a result of pollution or habitat degradation, you can slowly (or quickly) wave goodbye to all those other species too.

Even if you’re not an avid fly-fisher, that’s a compelling angle, and it’s one that conservation organisations such as the Riverfly Partnership, Buglife and The Angling Trust want to spread to the widest possible audience.

Many of the UK’s rivers are already covered by trained riverfly monitoring groups, and they’ll always welcome extra volunteers. To find out more, just click the link below or search the internet for more information. It’s a whole new world down there.