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FreshWater Watch: River Rother Community Group

Hear from Veronica Carter who set up the River Rother FreshWater Watch Community Group. This group is associated with Eco River Action (ERA), an independent climate change response group based in South East England. FreshWater Watch is the citizen science programme from Earthwatch Europe that engages citizen scientists to monitor the water quality of rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wetlands around the world.

Please tell us more about your group  

Our FreshWater Watch is a sub-group of ERA – Eco Rother Action, an independent climate change response group based in the villages between Petersfield and Midhurst, in the South East of England. We have a number of ongoing projects all linked to climate change or the biodiversity crisis, and are keen to monitor the health of our river, within whose valley all our villages are to be found.

The FreshWater Watch group will be around ten people, but ERA has 60 members. We began just before Covid hit, but have been steadily growing this last year as we all emerge from that difficult time. Our backgrounds are incredibly varied but include teachers, journalist, landscape architects, financiers and many more.

What kind of water quality issues are you facing in your catchment area? 

We are very aware of Southern Water discharging untreated sewage into waterways, introducing both human waste and plastic microfibres from our washing machines into our rivers. They are now committing to reducing these discharges by 80% by 2030, so hopefully our monitoring of our particular river will be able to map this change over time and if it is not reflected in our results, then we have solid data to form the basis of any discussions with the water authority. We are also aware of some very different styles of agriculture in our area, including some regenerative farming techniques alongside other, far more intensive styles of farming. After heavy rains, the river can turn quite brown as the light sandy soil is washed into it and away.

This area is classified as being a water-stressed area, with the potential to fail to meet water needs. The more that is known about the state of the river, the more likely it is that informed and appropriate decisions will be made in the future. The Arun and Rother River Trust is currently undertaking a study of the catchment  area for the River Rother and the Adur, and in time we hope that our FreshWater Watch work will also feed into this study.

Why did you choose to get involved in the FreshWater Watch project? 

It isn’t enough to throw one’s hands up in the air and say ‘isn’t it dreadful that...’. It is far better to find ways to make yourself part of the solution.

What does your community group hope to achieve for your catchment area? What activities are you planning, and how will FreshWater Watch help with them?

We hope to gather a bank of data over time and over a considerable distance of our river, which we can then share with Parish Councils, District Councils and beyond. Both District and County Councils liaise with Southern Water, and we would hope to be able to contribute towards these discussions with our data and our ever-increasing understanding of the river and its health.

The project also has the potential to contribute towards group members’ mental health (at a time when multiple global crises can pull us all down), as we will be out in the countryside actually doing something worthwhile for nature.

If you are interested in joining an existing FreshWater Watch group in your local area or setting up your own, there is more information on our website.




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