II. Citizen Science ‘Community River Monitoring Volunteer Project’ – Monitoring Sediment Movement and Blockages on Hillfoots Burns, Scotland

Interaction type Public→ Government->Public
Trigger event TCV Scotland and Clackmannanshire Council wanted to improve volunteer understanding of the interactions between sediment movement, chokes and blockages over time in the context of flood risk management and investigate how sediments in these highly dynamic burns may move over time.
Domain Flood Preparedness
Organisation ‘Community River Monitoring Volunteer Project’.
Actors The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) Scotland, Clackmannanshire Council and the Scottish Government and Citizen Scientists.
Data sets Citizen contribution to Clackmannanshire Council’s database. The sediment monitoring is augmenting Clackmannanshire Council’s existing datasets.
Process Citizens use the ‘Monitoring Sediment Movement and Blockages’ recording sheet, Smartphone’s and cameras to report their observations and (TCV) team and local authority comes back to them via email/phone call to inform them about the outcomes.
Feedback Update of governmental datasets with crowdsourced observations.
Goal Raise awareness of flood risk in the Council area and to get local communities involved in recording useful information about some of the Hillfoots Burns.
Side effects The data source has fed into Clackmannanshire Council’s forthcoming Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) options appraisal report for Tillicoultry produced by an external contractor JBA Consulting.
Impact of the project Impact in a local and national level
Temporal pattern Ongoing process
Funding of the project The Scotland Counts Partnership: Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH),  Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) and Clackmannanshire Council.
Contact point Amanda Malcolm (TCV)  & Stuart Cullen (Clackmannanshire Council)

With support and funding from the Scottish Government TCV Scotland and Clackmannanshire are working in partnership to deliver a Citizen Science Community River Monitoring volunteer project. The project’s aim is to help raise awareness of flood risk in the Council area and to get local communities involved in recording useful information about some of the Hillfoots Burns. Through the project local communities and volunteers are actively recording data and taking photographs to monitor how sediments can move within burns and how this can influence flood management techniques.

In this project Clackmannanshire Council assisted (TCV) team to identify specific information and/or data lacking linked to flooding and ways that can help fill these data gaps through delivering a Citizen Science pilot project with volunteers. The main target of the project is to create new datasets for the local authority. The wider goal is also to create local flood groups and promote FRM awareness raising within the Hillfoots Villages.

The study period covered by this project is from the 9th August to 7th December 2016 and the three Hillfoots Burns selected to monitor sediment chokes and blockages from key vantage points on: Tillicoultry Burn Confluence with River Devon, Alva Burn at A91 Road Bridge and Dollar Burn water race and beneath Mixed Leisure Route Bridge to the South.

The aim of the project was to take a photograph(s) at vantage points chosen by the Environmental Monitoring volunteer to monitor:

  • Sediment movement, chokes and blockages on the above burns.
  • Record river levels via photographs and relate this to information from the local Menstrie Weather website to record rainfall levels.

The process of the project is simple and straightforward; Citizens use the ‘Monitoring Sediment Movement and Blockages’ recording sheet, Smartphone’s and cameras to produce:

  • A series of time stamped photos and an idea of weather conditions relevant to each photo, prior to and on the day itself, for the study period, so any movement of sediment can be related to weather / rainfall to a degree.
  • A summation of the thoughts of volunteers themselves re about what they saw in the burns throughout the period. Points of interest on possible erosion at, or near, crossings points and the movement of other (e.g.) woody debris as well as sediments and any other opinions re flood risk potential emanating from the burn/s.

Volunteers map their observations by taking the same photograph from the exact same vantage point each time they are out recording river information. The locations picked by the volunteers and TCV team makes a note on their maps as a reference to photo locations. So, it is ensured that all volunteers stick to their vantage point chosen by them as the photos need to be consistent and taken from the exact spot.

The contributor of information is provided with feedback and thanks to state that the contribution has been successfully received by TCV Scotland and submitted to Clackmannanshire Council. In the instance a blockage was reported by the contributor and removed by the local authority the contributor received a follow up email/phone call to confirm that the debris has been cleared from the watercourse.

Thus (TCV) team’s Citizen Science activities were meaningful, useful and guided by the Community Resilience/Natural Flood Management (NFM) theme. TCV provide training and support for the volunteers and all the survey materials (laminated maps of monitoring sites, recording sheets, weatherproof clipboards, and pencil), training, support and guidance for the project.

The project has been very positive, inclusive and well received from the local community and Clackmannanshire Council has embraced the opportunity to jointly work together. (TCV) team has 10 dedicated volunteers from the local community photographing burns and completing recording sheets to monitor sediment chokes and blockages from their chosen vantage points on a regular fortnightly/monthly basis. From volunteer efforts data sets and photographs of the above burns have been recorded. The volunteers have generated useful data for the Council and at the same time fulfilled the needs, interests and abilities of volunteers.

The only arisen limitation for some users was to access the internet to submit data. This may be in lack of access to smartphones and internet connection or IT skills. In this project this did occur and we (TCV) provided basic IT training on how to download photographs and submit recording sheets via email. We also made aware to volunteers who did not have access to the internet, to visit local community centre to use their IT facilities.

Overall the project is proving successful, hugely valuable and enjoyable. Feedback from the volunteers states that they have enjoyed taking part in this project and feel that they have made an active contribution to flood management in the local area where flooding is prone to occur and feel as a result of taking part the flood risk benefits of the survey is early intervention to help prevent localised flooding. The project has increased volunteer knowledge of Flood Risk Management (FRM) issues but also to encourage establishments of links between volunteer groups and the Clackmannanshire Council’s FRM staff.

Furthermore, as a result of joint efforts with Clackmannanshire Council and (TCV) team, the final report has been passed on to their flooding Consultants so they are aware of the report’s contents and findings. Most importantly for (TCV) team and for the volunteers is to know that JBA Consulting Ltd has included the reports contents in the “Flood Risk Options Appraisal in Tillicoultry” report for Clackmannanshire Council.

This illustrates how citizen scientists can collect and generate useful data for the Council and feed directly into Council plans / reports and can influence future FRM approaches for the Council and at the same time fulfilled the needs, interests and abilities of volunteers involved – a real collaborative approach.

Due to the great success the project will continue this year, and the (TCV) team commencing the second phase of the project – ‘Become a Flood Warden Volunteer’ and through this project they are seeking to set up Local Flood Groups in the Hillfoots Villages. The phase two effort is to get locals inspecting / clearing watercourse choke points demonstrates practical local benefits as opposed to just awareness raising. (TCV) team also has the opportunity, if phase two effort goes well, to expand the local groups to have a wider community resilience role.

On the whole the project has had many successes, lots of enthusiasm and saw the value of Citizen Science especially in the context of raising awareness of flood risk. Volunteers from the villages of Alva, Tillicoultry and Dollar have benefitted from being involved and developed confidence and skills of FRM issues.

Main lessons:

  • Be very clear and very upfront with the simplicity of the project  and what is being asked for. Overall selling the wider benefits that you don’t need to be an expert we will provide all training, supports and guidance to the project.
  • Short introductory meetings / demonstrate the project were very useful in order to break down barriers and build confidence in new users from outside of traditional recording communities.
  • Make sure the “Why?” of the regular monitoring and recording is thoroughly conveyed to all involved.
  • Long term contact is most effective with volunteers – it builds confidence and encourages users to continue recording and monitoring. However this can be time consuming with limited staff capacity at times of the year.
  • Main lesson (from Clackmannanshire Council) is a lot can happen from humble beginnings by adopting a positive attitude to / during engagement (for example TCV and local authority being a prime example) as well as volunteer engagement.