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As every angler and ecologist knows, a river without the bugs that form its lower food web is really no river at all.

Which might have something to do with why a full-scale hatch of 10 Wands (plus 4 local ecologists who haven’t even found fishing… yet… Gill, Richard, Hendryk and David, we salute you!) chose mind-expanding knowledge over that extra hour in bed, and dragged themselves down to Morden Hall’s historic Snuff Mill for the Wandle’s inaugural Riverfly workshop just as the clocks went forward on Sunday 30 March.

Fully funded by Thames Water as part of the 5-year Wandle restoration project, the Wandle Piscators’ cell of the national Riverfly Anglers’ Monitoring Initiative is set to play a key role in our favourite urban chalkstream’s recovery.

So we all slugged back second cups of coffee and listened hard to what Dr Cyril Bennett and Peter Francis had to tell us about serious, professional bug-spotting:

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After the morning spent studying the different families of invertebrates, what they like, and what they don’t, we all went out to the river to learn how kick-sampling should really be done:

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Despite the comprehensive Health and Safety briefing, I still managed to find something that slashed straight through the toe of my armour-plated waders whilst shuffling in the Wandle’s clean, pure, unsullied gravel.

That’s going to need a serious plug of epoxy resin, but at least I found a stone loach amongst the shrimp and olive nymphs to make up for it:

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After lunch, it was back to the classroom for a couple of hours with the microscopes examining Cyril’s special bug collection – some of them scary enough to make even a Wandle chub consider its options.

Eventually we re-emerged, blinking, into the light of day as fully-certified Riverfly Monitors… with profuse thanks to Cyril and Peter for taking their Sundays out to train us.

Going forward, the Wands’ sampling teams will visit at least 7 sites on a regular monthly basis, supporting the Environment Agency’s own BMWP programme – tracking improvements, identifying problems, and feeding results into the national Riverfly and Greenspace for Greater London biodiversity databases.

We’ll also be working proactively with the EA to restore and improve the river’s fly life.  Fly boards and slabs are planned for different locations, with Cyril’s ongoing advice on reintroducing species no longer present, drawing on his experience with mayflies on the Wey and elsewhere.

Stay tuned for blanket hatches of BWO’s, and mayfly events so big they’ll be visible from space…

Newly-certified Wandle Riverfly Monitors are: Adrian Grose-Hodge, Alex Titov, Andy Perks, Anthony McLelland, David Warburton, Duncan Soar, Gill Turner, Hendryk Jurk, Jed Edge, John Bishop, Richard Harris, Theo Pike and Zigi Sinnette, plus William Tall, Co-ordinator

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