Canal & River Trust volunteer, Sian Steel, assesses how communities can help deliver – and benefit from – science based projects on and along inland waterways.

‘Citizen science’ gets members of the public involved in carrying out scientific research. Public involvement can speed up data collection and processing, allow data to be collected from all over the world and analyses of images more accurately than current technology. Getting local people involved is hugely beneficial for large-scale projects, and by involving those who use and benefit from nearby habitats in learning more about it, gives a sense of stewardship over these special areas. Volunteers have also expressed that citizen science projects have improved their mental health and wellbeing.

“Volunteers have also expressed that citizen science projects have improved their mental health and wellbeing.”

From personal experience, participating in voluntary projects has been hugely beneficial for my learning, social life and career. It has provided me with knowledge and skills to an extent I couldn’t have learned through reading and was not at a level to receive via paid employment. It has helped me to gain other voluntary and paid roles, as well as introducing me to some incredible like-minded people that I still keep in touch with.

One such citizen science project is Sullied Sediments a European collaborative project aiming to reduce the impacts of drugs that collect in our waterways. Some Watch List chemicals not currently regulated under the European Water Framework Directive can enter waterways through our everyday activities, as well as from industry. These chemicals, which include everything from pharmaceuticals to the contraceptive pill, then accumulate in sediments within rivers, causing harm to wildlife. To tackle this challenge the project enlisted the help of citizen scientists to both raise awareness of the issue and collect water samples.

Last year Sullied Sediments gained international attention when Aimilia Meichanetzoglou presented her research on using pollen to remove aquatic contaminants at the ACS (American Chemical Society) conference. None of this would have been possible without the dedicated team of volunteers who learned to use Paper Analytic Devices to take water samples and the bespoke app “RiverDip” to share their findings with the research team.

The success of projects like Sullied Sediments would not be achievable without public involvement. Engagement with communities not only improves awareness of local issues, but provides access to a vast array of knowledge from those who know their patch the best. Which is why the Canal & River Trust is committed to making sure volunteering opportunities are accessible to all.

Despite the recent lockdown measures caused by covid-19, there are still projects you can get involved with online and even in your garden. Although many projects are now on hold, they still need your support. You can sign up at the Canal & River Trust website for opportunities that interest you, and you’ll be the first to know when they start up again.