Who are you?
We are the Westcountry Rivers Trust Citizen Science Investigations monitoring team in the Sid Valley. We are part of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group which is run by volunteers and relies on donations and grants for funding. We work with individuals, many community groups, authorities and organisations to enhance and enrich aquatic and terrestrial environments. Working partners include the Town and District Councils, The Sid Vale Association, which has riparian rights on a stretch of river, The Friends of the Byes, South West Water, the Wild Trout Trust, East Devon AONB, the National Trust and other land owners. We are fortunate to have numerous landowners inthe valley who are committed to improving biodiversity.
The SVBG staged the first Sidmouth Biodiversity Festival in June 2023, which included a rivers day led by Ed Eley of the Wild Trout Trust. School children river watch and dip as part of Sidmouth Science Festival. There’s lots to celebrate in Sidmouth, which is perhaps why we have so many festivals.
Sidmouth Balsam Bashers and the Plastic Warriors also contribute to the health of our river and our aquatic group includes people who have an interest in the river although not involved in the citizen science work. Water monitoring is just one activity of many that, together, are the impetus for change and improvement.
What makes your water body special?
Our flashy little watercourse is laced with superlatives. The Sid is one of the shortest rivers in the UK, only 10 KM long with a very steep gradient falling by 20m for each kilometre in length, over three times that of the River Otter. The major rock in the catchment is a red mudstone, visible in Sidmouth’s crumbly cliffs. Our energetic fun sized river and its tributaries have carved out mini canyons, these steep sided channels are known locally as goyles. The rapidity with which water tumbles into the streams and river after torrentialrain can mean that a flood warning could be less than 30mins. Conversely, because the green sand, above the valley mudstone, and the sandstone, below it, can hold huge volumes of water, even after periods of extreme drought the river just keeps flowing.
In the stone strewn flood plain above Sidmouth, the river has been left to its own devices and is fancy free, unpredictably changing its course on a whim and creating deep meanders and ox bow lakes.
As Sidmouth is approached the river has been straightened, a bad mistake, speeding up erosion and divorcing the river from its flood plain.
Water piles up behind the numerous weirs forming long, still pools where sediment settles smothering the stony riverbed. There are few hiding places for fish a bonanza for king fishers and otters.
Sadly, we boast the highest fish stopper in the West Country at School Weir. At a mighty 3m high it prevents sea trout and salmon from reaching spawning gravels upstream. This “pretty waterfall” was installed in 1974 but it is still possible to witness the heart–breaking spectacle of magnificent sea trout desperately trying to jump the weir. For some years, the Sid Vale Association, in partnership with the Environment Agency transported the fish up river in wheelie bins. Eels can slither across grassy banks and some are seen up stream.
Another special feature is that there are two river systems in what is loosely called the Sid Valley. Bickwell Brook is even shorter than the Sid and was no doubt a tributary before sea levels rose after the last glacial episode and it now discharges directly into the sea. We also monitor and cherish this tiny river.
What motivates you/why do you do what you do?
Firstly, knowledge is the basis to justify change. One of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group’s aims is to make measurable and positive difference and in order to do this we need to understand and build data bases reflecting the existing circumstances. Our team, of ten have reliably collected data for 3 years and we look forward to adding invertebrate surveys to our current data set and hopefully extending the testing regime. The local bat group, which is affiliated to the biodiversity group, regularly surveys the river corridor. We have numerous species including the wonderful Daubentons bat, known as the water bat because it scoops insects from the river’s surface.
Secondly, synergy creates impetus for improvement. We have an amazing team of people committed to enhancing the richness of our wildlife. East Devon Catchment Partnership under pins and supports our river initiatives. There is a ground swell of East Devon and West Dorset groups sharing ideas and working co-operatively to lift our rivers.
How has the Citizen Science Investigations project helped with your goals?
The CSI project was the tiny seed, which has grown into a large plant sending runners in all directions and reaching out to those beyond the Sid Valley. We have broader understanding of our river system alongside greater ambitions for improvements. We must slow run off in a variety of ways to ensure greater climate resilience which in turn will afford some protection for life in the valley against extreme weather events. We need better habitat for river fish at all stages of their life cycles and should restore marine fish into the mix.
What have you found to be the biggest challenges on your journey so far?
Multitasking. Challenges facing us all include engendering the political will to properly regulate slurry containment and use and reinstate Environment Agency monitoring on a scale necessary to protect our rivers.
What’s next for your team?
Continuing the direction of travel as described. Catchment advice to slow run off, working with landowners, Anglers Riverfly Monitoring Initiative training, Wild Trout Trust led Community days for improving river habitat, MoRPh training to record and understand the physical habitat and hydro morphological functioning of our river.
We need aspirations and long-term plans in place for a Fish Pass. It may take many years to raise the money but the benefits would be considerable and accord with the improvements made on other rivers across the West Country.
We will carry on celebrating and improving the river and is environs, which will have positive effects on the entire interconnected web of life.
Images by water monitor, Barry Curwen
SVBG is a not for profit organisation dependant on volunteers, grants and donations. Without funding we cannot operate and many of our biodiversity projects will cease.
Even the smallest donation can make a difference to wildlife such as the kingfisher on our logo.
The easiest way to donate a small sum is to click here to Donate
lf you want to give a larger donation, or for a specific project please get in touch via our Contacts page