Name: Calum Ramage
Institution: University of Nottingham
Placement host: Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC)
In May 2021 I began a 3-month placement at Salmon & Trout Conservation, a charity and environmental lobbying organisation who run a series of campaigns across the UK aimed at the protection of British freshwater systems, particularly those supporting salmon and trout fisheries. Many of their core monitoring projects utilize the same methods that I am using in my PhD, including invertebrate community sampling and monitoring and chemical and agricultural pollution monitoring. Thus, the data that they collect is broadly similar to what mine will be. The evidence they gather is then used to influence policy changes aimed at safeguarding the water environment. This approach has led to real change, such as the closure of a salad washing plant that was discharging lethal concentrations of pesticides into the River Itchen. Turning scientific evidence into environmental action is where my professional aims lie, so this placement seemed like the perfect fit!
During my time at S&TC, my main task was to explore the Total Reactive Phosphorus Index (TRPI). The TRPI was developed as a biomonitoring tool for quantifying the degree to which phosphorus impacts the macroinvertebrate community in the UK, but it has several issues that mean it’s suspected to work less well in some rivers than in others. My task was to understand more about where it works well and where it doesn’t work as well. To even begin exploring these problems, I had to download all water quality, river flow, and invertebrate community data collected in England between 2005 and the present day. Getting this data into order required some serious data manipulation and endless R tutorials. The end result was the creation of a large database containing a subset of sites with complete environmental records that can be used to explore the TPRI in more depth. I was then able to make a few basic assessments of how well the TRPI seems to be working at different sites, highlighting apparent issues with its efficacy and use, and offering explanations for these.
I was also given the opportunity to sit in on several project meetings that S&TC chaired or were a part of, such as SAMARCH, an international scientific coalition set up to monitor salmonid populations in rivers across the south of England and northern France. I was also introduced to their SmartRivers programme, a citizen science project that trains volunteers to monitor water quality in rivers across the country to a near-professional standard using invertebrate monitoring. Throughout these meetings, I was able to build a contact base of water quality and river ecology researchers and professionals that could serve me throughout my studies, and beyond.
My placement with S&TC was a fantastic experience that provided me with valuable insights into the inner-workings of an environmental NGO pushing for science-based policy change. I began this placement with very limited data and R skills, but through working with the TRPI data, I was able to improve these enormously. There’s no doubt that working with this data over these three months will help me undertake my own PhD project, and I am very grateful to S&TC for that. I would also like to thank ENVISION for providing me and other students with the opportunity to carry out a placement during our PhDs; it’s an experience that I would highly recommend to anyone who has this option.