Scientists Recruit U.K. Anglers as River Fly Detectives

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Even when compared to other insects, river flies are overlooked. National conservation plans are now in place for 11 British butterfly species. Caddisflies and mayflies are yet to get one.

Caddisfly expert Peter Barnard, one of the river fly workshop tutors, highlights the plight of a species anglers call the grannom. It once hatched out in huge numbers on England's best known trout river, the Test in Hampshire, providing spectacular sport for anglers.

Caddisflies In Decline

"Fishing records from the 19th century show the grannom was once the most abundant fly on the Test in spring, but today we hardly see it at all," Barnard said. "Nobody knows why they've disappeared."

Barnard hopes regular monitoring of caddisfly numbers by anglers will help solve such mysteries. And the signs are they're keen to assist the professionals.

"I've always been driven by a love of nature and a need to understand my local environment," said Anthony Bridgett, a member of the Leek and District Fly Fishing Association in northern England. "Over the last 30 years I've seen a definite decline in river insects. As fly fishers spend so much time in the water, I think we're in the ideal position to investigate this trend."

Already this year six workshops have been held in England and Scotland. Free of charge, they're open to anyone interested in monitoring aquatic insects.

The Natural History Museum is also recruiting amateur naturalists to gather data on a range of other threatened wildlife.

This fall, for example, the museum is teaming up with walkers throughout Britain to map the country's last surviving mature elm trees. A disease spread by wood-boring beetles has wiped out 20 million elms since the 1970s. The trees are particularly important to conservationists as they support a unique community of species including a rare butterfly, the white-letter hairstreak (Satyrium w-album).

Bridget Peacock, an entomologist working on the museum's Amateurs as Experts project, said: "It's about bringing people together with a common interest who perhaps haven't had the opportunity to collaborate before."

The message is clear: conservation is for everyone, not just the experts.

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