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Anglers Against Pollution Water Quality Monitoring Network

Orvis pioneered corporate conservation support in the 1980s when Leigh Perkins began giving 5% of pre-tax profits to conservation non-profit organisations, believing in the importance of preserving natural spaces critical to health and happiness. Since then, our 5% for Nature program has evolved to include customer match programs and has raised and donated millions, to hundreds of conservation organisations and programs that help ensure a sustainable future for fly fishing and the natural world.

Monitoring the quality of the waters around the UK allows us as anglers and custodians of these precious resources to understand the challenges that our rivers face. In turn, this will allow us as a community to take action to protect and improve the long-term health of our waterways. At Orvis UK we firmly believe that to protect what we love, it is vital for us to support these ongoing efforts led by The Angling Trust through their Water Quality Monitoring Network.

The Early Days

The inspiration for what has now become the Angling Trust Water Quality Monitoring Network was a report by Charlotte Cross on ITV Meridian News about water quality issues on the Midlands' rivers. The report piqued the interest of Glyn Marshall of the Worcester Angling Society, so he bought some testing equipment and with the help of other local anglers started monitoring the Severn below Worcester where they fish regularly for Salmon. Glyn was shocked by the results.

Alongside the very visual presence of sewage litter from the nearby combined sewer overflow they discovered very high levels of phosphate and nitrate which are associated with eutrophication, nutrient enrichment, and in 2021 Glyn brought his concerns to the Angling Trust with the idea of setting up a wider network to monitor river health.

Did you know?

In 1948, the same year the NHS was founded, anglers formed the Anglers Cooperative Association, the forebear of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, to fight for clean rivers.

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal continue that cause to this day, through the Anglers Against Pollution campaign.

How did the Angling Trust get involved?

It made complete sense to the Angling Trust to set up a river monitoring network to harness the passion and commitment of anglers, and to better understand the challenge facing our rivers.

Over the last decade statutory monitoring undertaken by the regulators in England and Wales, the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW), has reduced such that it had become difficult for anglers to really understand the state of their waters.

In recent years, citizen-led initiatives have become a popular way to gather data to fill in the gaps in statutory monitoring, and anglers have a history of success in such schemes. The Anglers Riverfly Monitoring Initiative (ARMI) is one such scheme. Formed in 2007, anglers started using invertebrate sampling as a way of assessing river health and identify potential pollution.

In January 2022, the Angling Trust recruited a new Campaigns & Advocacy Manager and the Water Quality Monitoring Network (WQMN) was born.

So, how does it work?

Unlike the ARMI, now the Riverfly Partnership, who uses biological indicators to evaluate river health, the WQMN focuses on chemical testing to identify nutrients that in excessive quantities can contribute to eutrophication, nutrient enrichment, and algal blooms, that can be hazardous to invertebrates, fish, birds, mammals, and humans.

The WQMN methodology builds on the approach used on the river Wye which has helped to identify the causes of the decline in this iconic river.

The WQMN was launched as a pilot on the Severn catchment in May 2022 with 24 volunteers from 8 angling clubs monitoring 30 sites across the catchment. It quickly became clear that the water quality on the Severn was not as it should be, with nearly half of samples exceeding the standard for phosphate, and more than half showing excessive levels of nitrate.

As soon as the WQMN launched, demand to join the network exceeded all expectations, and in July 2022 the WQMN was rolled out across the whole of England and Wales. By the end of the first year over 450 volunteers from nearly 200 clubs had enrolled.

To Date...

  • 473 monitoring kits distributed
  • 785 volunteers
  • 278 angling clubs
  • 213 rivers tested
  • Over 5,700 results recorded


At the beginning of 2024 the first WQMN Annual Report was published. The analysis provided in this report highlights that “44% of site averages for phosphates exceeded the England-wide upper standard for good ecological status”, and as the Angling Trust use the conservative overall upper standard it is likely that more samples would exceed site-specific limits if they were available.

The WQMN has not only been well received by the angling community, but also by the media with many news items in both regional and national print and broadcast media.

What has been amazing is how, from the outset, many anglers and angling clubs have used the understanding taken from their monitoring activities to start campaigning to improve their waters, often with the help of their wider communities.

Local Results

River Nidd, North Yorkshire

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In North Yorkshire, Harrogate Fly Fishers’ Club (HFFC) experienced sewage discharge events in 2021 associated with the Darley Sewage Treatment Works (STW) on their stretch of the river Nidd.

The club did a water sampling survey on its waters and established that there were high concentrations of E. coli, especially below the STW. Their interest in the ecological health of the river led to a group of Nidd fly fishing clubs getting together and deciding to take monthly samples as part of the WQMN. The results were discussed with club members, knowledgeable individual experts and with the EA raising concerns about nutrient chemistry levels and their likely sources. The group of local fly-fishing clubs started a broader community group, the Nidd Action Group (NAG), concerned with the Nidd’s Water Quality, and is sharing results with local citizens, the EA, and others.

“I have learnt a lot about water quality over the last couple of years and believe that unnecessary pollution should be avoided like the plague that it is. I now know just how many excellent knowledgeable citizens there are locally – not just fly fishers! - who intend to get the water quality of our river into the state that it, and we, deserve.” ~ David Clayden, Secretary of Harrogate Flyfishers Club and Chair of Nidd Action Group

The NAG organised a community collaborative project - working with the Yorkshire Dales River Trust, the University of Leeds, the Bilton Conservation group and the EA - to undertake a ‘tip to toe’ survey of the river Nidd and some major tributaries in August 2023.

45 locations were tested for E. coli, nutrient chemistry, and heavy metal concentrations in accredited laboratories. HFFC anticipate that the results of this, and other activities will raise community awareness and involvement in the water quality of our local river, will influence local regulators and Yorkshire Water to address pollution causes; contribute to an acceleration of involvement with the Nidd community and local investment; and inform the development of a Nidd Catchment plan, led by the Dales to Vale River Network.

Upper Medway, Royal Tunbridge Wells

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In Kent, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Angling Society felt it the WQMN was the ideal opportunity to really understand the quality of their waters and joined immediately.

"We at Royal Tunbridge Wells Angling Society have long suspected problems with water quality on our stretches of the Upper Medway but, aside from testing dissolved oxygen and water temperature on an ad hoc basis, we were never going to pinpoint any issues to the satisfaction of scientific analysis. WQMN, along with the database being built, has allowed our excellent band of dedicated volunteers to do just that through their diligence and hard work.” ~ Derek Reader, RTWAS Secretary

Clive Meers Rainger, RTWAS chairman, added “RTWAS has been trying to improve the nine miles of the upper Medway which is under the club’s control. We have been working with the EA who have given us advice and funding. Our remit was to improve our river by putting in 180 tons of gravel to enhance the spawning gravels, and to reintroducing plants, both sub aquatic and marginal, to help invertebrates and provide refugees for fry and younger year groups of fish. Unfortunately, the plants have slowly died off. So, when the Angling Trust launched the WQMN and started supplying water quality monitoring kits we immediately purchased five, as we felt it was water quality that was the problem.

As a result of the WQMN data and additional E. coli testing, the club has …

• Produced a detailed plan to ensure volunteers sample and test regularly at two locations each over the 9 miles of catchment RTWAS control. As and when issues are noted RTWAS then try to pinpoint the source and take appropriate action.
• Raised to date a total of 19 EA emergency incident reports for the following issues-
o Extremely high Phosphate levels >2.5ppm (maximum calculated at 4.3ppm)
o Extremely high Nitrate levels of >20ppm
o High Ammonia levels of >1.5ppm
o Off the scale E. coli counts of >300cfu/1ml
o Herbicide misuse
• Cultivated good working relationships with the EA, South East Rivers Trust, Angling Trust, Medway Catchment Partnership, Local MP Greg Clark, local ecology groups, riparian owners and of late with Southern Water

All the above has resulted in:

• Early successes including repairing old sewage culverts, surveying, and cleaning of a once private sewage networks by Southern Water.
• Southern Water admitting that they had a serious process issue (Ferric Dosing failure) lasting for many days at the South Tunbridge Wells WWTW.
• EA funding a project to improve habitat and water quality for the upper Medway catchment.
• Heightened awareness of issues with residents and businesses including presentations to local community groups in meeting places.
• EA and Hadlow College Fisheries Dept performing physical fish surveys at various points along the upper Medway.
• South East Rivers Trust is looking to perform eDNA surveys within the upper Medway.

Joining the Angling Trust WQMN it has given our small band of dedicated volunteers the confidence, understanding, equipment, training, focus and support needed to try, with some success, to make a real difference.” ~ WQMN Coordinator and ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Award winner, Ian Tucker

River Avon, Warwickshire

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In Warwickshire, in November 2021 the Girling Angling Society were alerted to a water quality issue when several matches on the Warwickshire Avon blanked. When the WQMN was launched in May 2022, the club joined at the outset.

Frank Bagley, Girling Angling Society Secretary, said “When we began reporting poor water quality at Fladbury we feared that it would affect membership however the opposite has occurred, and membership is at record levels. We believe this is due to the high level of awareness that has been generated, anglers now accept the issue is nationwide and totally out of control. I understand that household wastewater, and run off from roads and motorways etc, has increased enormously in the last 30 or 40 years and the infrastructure cannot cope, yes, the issue is huge and complex.

Nevertheless, regulators have failed to hold the water companies and farmers to account, citing lack of investment while water companies make huge profits. Clearly The government’s plan to improve water quality by 2035 will result in rivers reaching the point of no return, becoming open sewers.

Fladbury weir pool is a breeding area for barbel and currently there are shoals of big roach throughout the stretch, but dace have been seen spewing slime. The fish are obviously struggling being regularly forced downstream to find clean water. The Warwickshire Avon is currently becoming choked with weed caused by water clarity and high levels of nutrients entering the river unchecked. The weed itself has become choked with filthy black slime and the Avon has never looked so unhealthy; we believe the ecology of the river is on the edge.

Andy Hammerton, Girling Angling Society Head Bailiff, added “As a member, and former bailiff, of the Birmingham Anglers’ Association (who control several miles of the Warwickshire Avon in this area), I have learned the many moods of the river and the favoured pegs along its length. When I first moved to the area in 1990 the ecology of the river was excellent, the fishing was brilliant and early season fry would be visible in all areas. Unfortunately, there has been a noticeable decline over the years with the most significant being in the last decade. During the last few year’s fish have disappeared from known hot spots. Fry are only visible in limited locations. Excessive weed growth and algal blooms have been visible in some areas and when wading putrid smelling black sediment is evident when the riverbed is disturbed.

The Angling Trust appeared to be the only voice highlighting this growing problem. They were instrumental in maintaining participation in our sport during the COVID pandemic and genuinely have the anglers’ interest at heart, however this issue goes much further than angling.

In early 2022 swimmers became ill and local resident Louise Bugg, inspired by the results shown on the club website, started the Avonvale River Action Group supported by Girling Angling Society. The group began measuring water quality above and below Fladbury reporting results to the WQMN Epicollect project and published on the group’s website.

Special thanks must go to Louise Bugg for her tireless work on raising wider awareness through the recently formed Avonvale River Action Group. Louise chairs the group and has secured local newspaper and television exposure taking awareness to new levels.” ~ Andy Hammerton, Girling Angling Society Head Bailiff

Louise Bugg, Avonvale River Action Group Chair and local resident, tells us of how she got involved: “As a local resident of Fladbury and regular swimmer in the river Avon I am passionate about ensuring that our river is healthy and a safe environment for us all to enjoy.

I was contacted by a friend in the summer of 2022 as they were concerned that some children had become ill after swimming in the river. I made some contacts with local councillors, and they helped me to get in touch with the EA and Severn Trent Water to discuss the issue. I was also made aware of Girling Angling and their work with the Angling Trust WQMN. I offered to join and purchased a kit to start sampling further up the river in Fladbury and Evesham.

Since then, I have set up Avonvale River Action Group to extend the monthly sampling of the river water quality along the river Avon from Evesham to Pershore working closely with Girling Angling Society. The group will gather local data to use to raise awareness in the area but will also contribute to the Angling Trust’s WQMN national database. We are also working to raise awareness in the local community of the health of the river Avon and its importance to our environment.

We recently arranged a paddle from Evesham to Pershore to celebrate World Rivers Day gaining local and regional media coverage highlighting the issue of poor water quality of the river Avon.

In the future, we want to work together with individuals and organisations who have a responsibility for the health of the river or who have a direct impact on river water quality. We want to see positive change in the water quality of the river Avon.

What's Next for the wqmn

Going forward there is still much to do for the Anglers Against Pollution campaign. We will shortly be publishing the second annual WQMN report from the pilot river Severn catchment with a fuller analysis of the findings of the WQMN, across all the rivers and catchments monitored, to be published later in 2024.

The Angling Trust will continue to support and grow the Anglers Against Pollution campaign and will look at additional opportunities to support volunteers and angling clubs to leverage their WQMN results to improve their waters, particularly through practical habitat projects.

In an effort to better understand water quality on our rivers from source to sea the Angling Trust is looking at piloting a monitoring scheme on river estuaries. Whilst some clubs are using the existing WQMN methodology to monitor still waters, the Angling Trust is also looking at a bespoke approach for these often-overlooked waterbodies.

In Memoriam - Kris Kent

Kris worked as Fishing Manager at Orvis Stockbridge for many years and was not only a valued member of the Orvis Family, but also was a key part of the local fishing community. After joining the Angling Trust in January 2022, Kris was integral in setting up the Water Quality Monitoring Network. He supported clubs, fisheries and organisations across the UK, empowering them to advocate for their local waterways.

Passionate and kind, Kris leaves a legacy through his dedication to protecting the natural environment and the many fond memories of times he shared with others on the water.

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