Four BEES PhD students (Fergus Mc Auliffe, Ruth Enright, Lucas Jagodzinski and Maria Kirrane) took part in the Erasmus Life Long Learning intensive research program â€œRiver Management and Restoration in the Atlantic Arcâ€.
This project took place in Cangas del Narcea in the Asturias Region of Northern Spain and was coordinated by the University of Oviedo. It is a program jointly run between UCC, the University of Oviedo, the University of Porto and the University of Rennes. Research students from all of these universities took part in the program.
The program started off with lectures from invited academics and local stakeholders. Life in this mountainous region in Spain is closely linked to the river Narcea as it is used for recreational purposes by fishermen and the public as well as for hydroelectric power generation, coolant source and for the discharge of mine drainage. One of the projects â€œEscuadras Fluvialesâ€, founded by local fishermens organisation and aiming to raise awareness for the rivers problems in the public took us to an artificial lake they have created for trout fishing (Figure 1).
After a few days of scoping, we decided to carry out a baseline assessment of river quality and macroinvertebrate occurrence in the upper river Narcea basin. This was coupled with a social study on the public perception of the river and its problems.On the social side, surveys and interviews were carried out with locals, government officials, academics and other stakeholders.
Many of these agencies do not communicate sufficiently and conflicts have arisen as not all relevant stakeholders are consulted regarding river use and regulation. Issues identified as problematic were pollution and water treatment, regulations and funding, the decrease of fish populations and stocking of the river. In general though, there seemed to be a conflict of information between the locals (who deemed the river to be polluted) and a previous environmental report (which identified good water quality in the region). Furthermore there was a conflict between scientific research (which has proven stocking to be inefficient and possibly detrimental to wild fish populations) and regional regulations (which require local fishermens associations to engage in stocking to be heard at local council level).We focussed our ecological assessment on water quality and benthic fauna.
We extended the reach of the last official environmental health study performed in the region by considering additional tributaries and upstream sites. Twenty field sites upstream and downstream of Cangas del Narcea were surveyed. Water quality was analysed using a set of rapid physico-chemical tests such as for dissolved oxygen and nitrogen compound concentrations. Site and flow characteristics were recorded and benthic macroinvertebrate occurrence was catalogued; the land use and potential threats were recorded.
At the end of the program all of the information was compiled in to a report which was presented to academics and stakeholders in the University of Oviedo (Figure 2).
In general the report found that there is, with a few exceptions like a huge water reservoir, good water quality in the upper river Narcea catchment. Nevertheless additional survey sites need to be added to include point sources like mine drainage and cooling water discharges. The interviews revealed lack of communication between relevant stakeholders as the single most pressing issue affecting coordination of river use and rehabilitation.
Outside of the research activities, we were involved in a lot of activities in the local area. A trip to the Integral Ecosphere Reserve of Muniellos was organised. This is a highly protected reserve (only 20 people are allowed in each day) and it was a great and privileged experience to be walking around the reserve and trying to spot the brown bears and wolves that frequent the reserve. About halfway up one of the mountains there was a fantastic upland lake (one of the Muniellos glacial lagoons, Figure 3).
We also went on a long hike up a mountain in to the snowline (Figure 4). The views from the mountain shoulder were amazing which helped warm us up from the freezing temperatures and the wild boar and wolves (track identification) that seemingly lurked in the forests nearby.
The local stakeholders looked after us very well. We had meetings with the mayor and the local social councils and the town council paid for our upkeep in the accommodation. We were even invited to take part in the local game of Celtic boules (Bolos Celtas). It involves hurling large objects at smaller objects to make them fly in to the air and hit a fence (Figure 5).
The research program received a lot of local media attention and it seemed that everyone in the town knew of us and wanted to make us feel as welcome as possible (Figure 6).
It was a great experience to integrate with students from other countries and hopefully we will get to meet them again. Taking part in such a program offered a glimpse in to the environmental issues that affect people in other countries and how we as scientists can do our bit to help with the problems they face.
Fergus, Ruth, Lucas and Maria