The River Eden is one of the most beautiful rivers in the UK, if not all of Europe. It is host to a wide variety of different plant and animal species and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Many communities live on or near the River Eden or one of its tributaries. Human impact on the landscape often has unintended or unforeseen consequences on ecosystems, including rivers. Agriculture, primarily through the use of fertilisers, changes the ecology of river systems which affects all plant and wildlife as well as humans.
Over time, pollutants accumulate in the River Eden through farming practices, something that has been of concern to local communities and scientists alike. In order to monitor and develop ways for decreasing diffuse pollution from agriculture, researchers from Durham, Lancaster, Newcastle, the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, Askham Bryan College (Newton Rigg) and the Eden Rivers Trust, have come together with communities, including farmers, to develop new ways to monitor and improve river water quality. The project known as the Eden Demonstration Test Catchment, or EdenDTC for short, has installed 10 river monitoring stations to monitor the water quality of the River Eden. The EdenDTC has made live, real-time data about the River Eden freely available online.
If farmers can receive accurate, scientific information about how much diffuse pollution is being added to the River Eden through agriculture it can assist them in making the best choices in fertiliser usage. According to Professor Bob Harris, co-ordinator of the three national Demonstration Test Catchments Projects: ‘We will be able to use the scientific evidence gathered in the Eden catchment and elsewhere to show how small changes in farming activities adopted throughout the country can lead to quite an improvement in our water quality without negatively affecting food productivity.
We want to develop win/win situations whereby farmers manage their land to produce food profitably, but become better at preserving topsoil and reducing their nutrient losses. This will benefit the water environment because not as much pollution is entering rivers and groundwater, but also saves the farmer money’.
There are of course some challenges in finding ways for farmers to make best use of the information available, but there is great potential for allowing new methods for managing diffuse pollution and farming simultaneously to thrive in order to develop strategies that are both economically and ecologically beneficial – two terms that are often rarely used together. Prior to projects of this kind there was no live monitoring of diffuse river pollution in the UK and little monitoring done overall in the past.
Dr Sim Reaney said: `The key thing about the EdenDTC is the openness and transparency of the science, the fact that the data is up there on the web, freely open to anyone who wants it. That’s a big change from the past, where the data was locked up and not fully utilised’.
When it comes to dealing with environmental issues, many have voiced their concern that science should be transparent for making decisions about increasing the quality of the land we live on, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Citizen action is clearly important to these kinds of scientific endeavours as well as for assisting government in developing ways to improve environmental conditions. Science does not exist behind closed doors cut off from the rest of society, as it is often thought to be. In many cases science travels outside of laboratories and into communities where it has the opportunity to help create a more democratic society.
Eden Demonstration Test Catchment – http://www.edendtc.org.uk/