Using data and evidence to direct our conservation work | Leanne Tough

With so many opportunities to improve our rivers for nature and people, Ribble Rivers Trust often uses mapped data to choose what to do next.

The ‘Geographic Information System’ allows Ribble Rivers Trust to map all aspects of the River Ribble catchment.
The ‘Geographic Information System’ allows Ribble Rivers Trust to map all aspects of the River Ribble catchment.

I joined Ribble Rivers Trust as a trainee in November 2020 through the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership.

The PHLP have helped fund traineeships within their own team and within other partner organisations.

My year long posting has so far seen me create interactive maps of projects that RRT have completed, to organising woodland creation in Colne. This variety of work and training has been the perfect start to my career.

Being a river conservation charity, RRT are very aware of the multitude of threats our watercourses face. Many have been channelised and modified so heavily that they fail national tests of river health.

Other threats include, but are not limited to, pollution, in-river manmade obstacles (e.g. weirs) and invasive non-native species (e.g. Himalayan balsam). This presents lots of opportunities for improvement.

But which issues, and at which locations, should we work on first? Which ones would have the greatest benefits for the environment, wildlife and people?

There is computer software (called a ‘Geographic Information System’) that allows us to map all aspects of the River Ribble catchment. Using a wide variety of map-based data sets, from landscape features to the distribution of species and issues that are impacting them, we have generated computer-based models to map priority locations that need our help.

What this means is, we have combined lots of data to find locations where tackling these issues could provide the greatest benefits for the environment, wildlife and people.

Three data sets we have are: locations where watercourses have failed their health tests due to agricultural pollution, locations at risk of soil erosion, and levels of obesity, inactivity and associated illnesses within local populations.

What could help to reduce pollution inputs into watercourses, reduce soil erosion, and increase the health and wellbeing of local communities?

Planting trees and creating leaky dams are two examples. They help to slow the flow of water and filter out sediment and pollutants before they reach the river. They are also great physical, outdoor activities for volunteers from local communities to get involved in.

Three more data sets we hold are: distribution of fish species, locations of in-river obstacles preventing fish movement along rivers, and lengths of watercourses isolated from each other. We use these datasets to decide which priority obstacle to remove to reconnect the greatest amount of river habitat for fish.

Used correctly and in conjunction with local knowledge and expertise, mapped data is incredibly valuable to us. With it, we can help make the Ribble catchment healthier for all.

Many woodlands, wetlands and fish passes were created through a project called Ribble Life Together.

You can see them all mapped, here: https://ribblelifetogether.org/ribble-life-together-capital-works/.

You can also check out our website for more information on the work RRT does: https://ribbletrust.org.uk/.