Article - The River Blog

Mapping the River

Author: Ryan Lloyd
Categories: Projects, Volunteers
Tags: , , ,

A daunting responsibility awaited me in April, where I was tasked with surveying and recording important features of the River Holme. These varied from wildlife sightings, litter hot spots, illegal dumping of waste and engineered structures.

A 25 km course ran between me and the August deadline and time flowed steadily on.

This blog is going to be a look back on the work that the volunteers and I undertook, and a forecast on the impact the river map will have for River Holme Connections. Here are just some of the highlights that have made the job so memorable.


These successes are what we’ve achieved whilst I’ve been here at River Holme Connections. There are many more successes to be shared by the team.

A quick look at the statistics

Table 1: Bird Numbers 2019

SpeciesNumber of Pairs
King Fisher5
Grey Wagtail21
Swift40 ± 5

*All of the sightings can be found on our web map with the exception of sensitive information such as raptors, foxes, badger sets and nests.

River Surveyors

A total of 12 individual volunteers have donated over 100 hours of their time in helping to survey the river. An incredible amount considering each survey takes approximately 2-3 hours per 1 km stretch of river!


Inevitably, we encountered people as we surveyed the river. Dog walkers, home owners and runners were all interested in what we were doing wading waist deep with concentration fixed firmly across our faces. This gave us a unique opportunity to talk about what River Holme Connections are doing and what we were hoping to achieve by mapping out these features of the river. Some of which were kind to make donations to the charity and provide information on where to find invasive species locations.

River Health

Despite the concerning amount of litter in the river, the River Holme is able to sustain a significant amount of river birds indicating relatively good river health. With ongoing monitoring and practical conservation actions, it will only improve over the coming years. Using a combination of electric fishing, river fly sampling along with river bird surveys, a thorough baseline for the health of the River Holme can be established.

Invasive Species Control

A reduction in Japanese knotweed has been discovered since the 2018 treatment last year. This gives us hope that we can eradicate a significant amount of it across the catchment.

One of the more alarming issues we have come across is the scale of Himalayan Balsam. Luckily, it is a very easy plant to treat and our volunteer work parties have made a dent in it. We’ve a long way to go before it is at an acceptable level, however we now have a way of tracking the scale of the problem.

Litter Picking

It is really hard to say how many bags of litter we’ve accumulated, averaging around 3 – 4 full bags each survey, making it an approximate 27 – 36 full bags during surveys. The take away message however, is that upon returning to these litter hot spots after a clean up they remained relatively litter-free.

Comprehensive picture of the Catchment

With the addition of a complete GIS system, the staff at River Holme Connections will now be able to specifically target problem areas of the catchment. This will save time and resources from a management perspective allowing them to prioritize where to place their efforts. As the data is visual, it will have a greater impact on public and partner perspectives.

The river web map allows people who are visiting and who live in the catchment to view landmarks.



Lone working isn’t really an option due to health and safety reasons. This meant that if no one was available to accompany me, I couldn’t do river surveys. Luckily I had a hardy and dedicated work force at my disposal so this wasn’t a particular issue and was able to survey at least once a week.

I knew that litter was a huge problem, yet I hadn’t appreciated or visualized the scale until I began wading the river. The realization was disheartening however did instill a sense of urgency and motivation to tackle the issue. The presence of litter is confined to the lower end of the catchment where there is a higher concentration of industry and residential buildings.

Large woody material, from the last flood event has created litter hot spots as woody debris begins to accumulate and fill in gaps flow. They also posed as a physical barrier for surveys


Goodbye and thank you!

A huge thank you to the volunteers!

The River Holme Connections volunteers are a special bunch. Hurdling weirs, splashing through silt and picking up the weird and weirder from the river. No obstacle was too big nor weather too dismal. We couldn’t have done it without you!

This assignment has been one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of my career, learning more about the catchment and what makes the Holme Valley community spirit. I have become enraptured by the River Holme – attached to its wildlife, features and people who aspire to make it a better habitat.

I leave River Holme Connections for pastures bogs a new. Returning to RSPB Dove Stone with an Assistant Warden hat on restoring blanket bog habitat, one of the sources to tributaries and rivers.

It’s been wonderful getting to know everyone and going to be hard to leave however I won’t be far away and will definitely be back volunteering in some form or another! There may even be some crossover between River Holme Connections and RSPB Dove Stone.

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