On Wednesday 17th March an interactive audience joined us for the Culm Citizen Science Investigations (CSI) event, to celebrate the work of the fantastic volunteers throughout the Culm catchment who collect and analyse water samples and to provide an update on water quality in the Lower Culm. The Lower Culm CSI ‘scorecard’ gives the latest water quality overview for 2020, which Lydia Deacon (Westcountry Rivers Trust) explained during the event.

Using various gadgets, dip strips and colour charts (which are all provided to volunteers), the water samples are collected and analysed on site. As well as pollution, wildlife and vegetation observations, measurements include temperature, total dissolved solids (dissolved particles in the water), phosphates (high levels can lead to eutrophication) and turbidity (transparency of the water). The data recorded on the survey sheet is then fed back to the CSI coordinating team via entry into an online platform. During the event, two volunteers – Alan and Ted –  told everyone about their experiences and adventures in undertaking CSI activities and what motivates them to keep doing it.

The Lower Culm is roughly the area around Cullompton and down towards Exeter. Lots of activities in the area can create issues for water quality along this stretch of the river and therefore the Culm CSI volunteers’ sampling and analysis helps us keep track of different water quality impacts. The data is analysed by the CSI coordinating team (though they are looking into how citizen scientists could become more involved in that if they’d like to be) and then the Scorecard produced. In 2020 the pollution and dissolved solids scores were ‘Good’ and the phosphate, suspended solids and ecology (wildlife & plants) scores were ‘Fair’, resulting in an overall ‘C+’ for the area. Two main issues spotted were foam (learn more via the event recording) and the non-native, invasive plant Himalayan Balsam (read more about plants and wildlife spotted in the Culm catchment here). Through the crucial work of the volunteers we’re better able to understand and identify what the issues are, where they are and what we or other relevant organisations can do. Another major plus is that volunteers become more knowledgable about their river and can spread the word about why it’s so important to keep them healthy!

As well as the data for the Lower Culm, some sampling and data collection has also been done in the Mid and Upper Culm, which is fantastic. However, there’s not yet enough data (12 samples minimum per year needed) to enable a Scorecard to be produced. So if you’d like to know more or get involved to help contribute towards getting Mid/Upper scorecards in place (or keeping the Lower Culm one in place) – get in touch, either through csi@wrt.org.uk or hello@connectingtheculm.com – more info here.

A massive! thank you to everyone who’s volunteered so far – please keep doing the amazing work you do and encourage others to get involved too!