Let it flow: new app assists river research

26th April, 2018

River barriers can harm river health. Swimmers are invited to download a new ‘Barrier Tracker’ app to help European research into river flow

Rivers across Europe are scattered with a number of man-made barriers, many of which are obsolete. These barriers can provide energy, water, fishing and leisure opportunities like swimming, and they may even prevent the spread of invasive river species. However, they also present considerable obstacles to sustainable river management. A European initiative of scientists, hydropower and non-profit organisation called AMBER (Adaptive Management of Barriers in European Rivers) is exploring new solutions for river connectivity and need river users to help with research.

Scientists working for the project collected all available data on river barriers from across Europe, and then validated the data by going out into the field to survey a total of 1,000 km of actual river. First findings reveal that the density of barriers in European rivers is much higher than indicated by available databases – up to one barrier in every kilometre of river, though it is highly variable among countries and regions.

Information about the location and density of smaller barriers is often unknown, but these smaller barriers present the biggest problem for the health of Europe’s streams and rivers. Scientists are now inviting people to help update information about these barriers with a newly-developed smartphone app.

From presenting a potential flood hazard and subsequent costs to both the economy and the lives of local residents, barriers substantially change river ecosystems and block the natural swim-ways of migrating fish. Eel, salmon and many other species all rely on complete connectivity between the sea and their upstream river habitats in order to complete their life cycle.

Clearly, the picture of river fragmentation in Europe is incomplete, but by using the smartphone app called, Barrier Tracker, freely available from Google Play or Apple App Store you can document or update the status of barriers that you come across along your local rivers. Information can also be uploaded to the website.

One of the major reasons for the discrepancy between existing data and the data that AMBER collected from real rivers is that current databases mainly document barriers that are higher than 10m. In the field, the researchers found that many river barriers were much smaller than this. Importantly, research suggests that these smaller barriers present a far greater problem for river connectivity – especially since they occur at such high density. Recruiting river users to help document small river barriers is a crucial step in maintaining healthy river systems across the continent.

  • AMBER Barrier Tracker: for more information, see the barrier tracker so far and to learn how to identify a barrier visit AMBER Citizen Science Project

April 2018