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Citizen Science: The power of the people for the protection of our planet

The recent emergence of the citizen science movement has impressed and inspired us all. Communities across the country have united to help fight for what matters most. Moreover, fight for what needs protecting most. Most relevant for the work of  River Action, volunteers have been dedicating their time to fighting the crisis of  river pollution. And this is why we wanted to help support them which led to our recent crowdfunder. In February 2022, we raised over £34k to support a number of volunteer groups working specifically in the Wye Valley. In this blog, we will bring some light to citizen scientists and highlight the important work they are doing. 

Who are these environmental superheroes? 

This is a good question. The reality is that citizen scientists could be you, me, from kids at school to their grandparents. In other words, hundreds of ordinary people from all walks of life can become an environmental hero. Further, citizen scientists participate on a voluntary basis – dedicating their spare time to this vital work. All for the love of collaboration, nature, and making a difference in the world.

Why the recent emergence?

Recent years have seen the near collapse of effective government-backed environmental law enforcement. This has been due to statutory environmental protection agencies budget cuts by government, both in Westminster and in the Devolved Nations. For example, England’s Environment Agency’s (EA) funding has been reduced in the last decade by 75% – leading to meaningful water quality monitoring almost ceasing. Consequently, and as part of this huge national scandal, citizen scientists have stepped in to do the job of the statutory environmental protection agencies. And becoming the eyes and ears for campaigning organisations such as River Action.  

And what do they do…?

Citizen scientists are the front-line fighters in the battle to reverse the environmental collapse of our rivers. Specifically the work they have been able to do in testing the levels of damaging nutrients in rivers. For example, nitrates and phosphates originating from sewage discharges and bad agricultural practices. As a result, providing concrete evidence to enable campaigners to identify polluters and seek the remedies needed to save our rivers.

What have citizen scientists been able to discover?

The research of citizen scientists is fundamental for providing organisations, such as River Action, with critical data to support  our campaigning to save the River Wye. The River Wye is one of the most ‘protected’ rivers in Europe. Special Areas of Conservation, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks line its banks from source to mouth. However, the EA’s and Natural Resources Wales’ record of identifying and remedying the river’s chronic pollution hasn’t been sufficient. 

Largely through the work of the citizen scientists have been able to better understand the full and horrific extent of phosphate pollution in the River Wye. In recent  years, the run off from manure from tens of millions of chickens from the region’s booming intensive poultry industry has wreaked untold damage to the ecology of this iconic British river.

How  will the funds raised by River Action be used?

Thanks to our supporters, we were delighted to have raised over £34k for the Wye valley’s  citizen scientists. These funds will secure the procurement of river pollution testing equipment for hundreds of volunteers. And, this should last for the rest of this year. Furthermore, we have also been able to fund Radnorshire Wildlife Trust to hire an analyst to administer the initiative. They will also collate and analyse the data compiled by various citizen scientist groups across the Wye catchment.

In brief, we owe a lot to the amazing citizen scientists of the world. Their tireless work has been a huge asset to  our ability to campaign against river pollution. 


Are you inspired? Why not join their ranks and become a Citizen Scientist yourself? 

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