Skip to content

European public want more environmental protections according to new survey

August 4, 2017
Symbolique 2006

Water is a key element of EU environmental policy. Image: Symbolique 2006

Over half of the European public are in favour of more environmental protections across the continent, according to a new European Parliament survey.

53% of the 27,901 EU citizens interviewed by Kantar Public for the survey thought that existing environmental protections across Europe were ‘insufficient’. 75% of citizens thought that more policy and management interventions were necessary to protect European environments.

There is a broad geographical distribution to these findings. Three of the top five ‘insufficient’ ratings in the survey were made by people from southern European countries – Spain, Portugal and Greece – where climate change and development pressures are increasingly strong. The strongest ‘insufficient’ rating came from the Swedish public.

On the other hand, the four lowest ‘insufficient’ ratings – i.e. those who mostly saw current protections as ‘sufficient’ – came from people in the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and in the Czech Republic. All four of these countries gained membership of the EU in 2004. Citizens from the UK and Ireland were only slightly more positive about the sufficiency of existing environmental protections.

Overall, 36% of EU citizens surveyed thought that existing environmental protections were sufficient, whilst 4% thought they were excessive.

Of the three-quarters of EU citizens who called for increased environmental protection interventions from policy makers, the three most positive respondents were again from Southern European countries – Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. All three countries have experienced water shortages in recent years (and in Spain’s case, unusual winter floods and snow) – driven by climatic trends which are projected to worsen in coming decades.

The Baltic States, Czech Republic, Poland and the UK reported the lowest enthusiasm for increased environmental protections. However, in Latvia and Estonia, the two least-positive results, over half of surveyed citizens (52% in both cases) were still in favour of increased environmental protections.

Of course, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions on the influence of national geopolitics or environmental issues on the results of this survey – particularly when respondents were encouraged to think about the EU as a whole throughout their interviews. However, there are geographical trends in the reported results, which deserve subsequent in-depth research and analysis to properly understand.

More broadly, the survey yields a number of insights for environmental policy makers seeking to address the public appetite for environmental protections across the EU. When citizens were asked about the policy topics they would like more information on, environmental protection was the fifth most popular, after issues surrounding terrorism, unemployment, health and social security and migration.

The greatest enthusiasm for more environmental information came from citizens in Northern European countries with relatively high GDP: The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. The lowest was from the Estonian and Latvian public. Overall, these results suggest that there is scope for broader and more effective environmental science and policy communication and engagement in the EU.

There is a long-held idea in conservation practice that a person or community’s attachment to a place (what geographer Yi Fu Tuan calls ‘topophilia‘), means they are likely to support its conservation and protection. The survey reveals that EU citizens feel far more attached to their city/town/village, region and country (between 87-92% do) than they do to the EU as a whole (between 51-56% do).

This result points to a challenge for environmental policy makers and managers in designing large-scale, cross-national initiatives. One question might be in how continental-scale conservation and protection initiatives (for example, this recent Natura 2000 waterbird project) can best be justified and popularised at each of their local and regional ‘nodes’.

Finally, the survey suggests that over half (53%) of EU citizens don’t believe that their voice counts in EU decision-making processes, whilst 43% believe that theirs does. The most negative opinions came from citizens in Greece (perhaps predictably, given recent economic and migration issues), Estonia and the Czech Republic. The most positive came from citizens in The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – the same citizens who were receptive to more environmental protections information.

According to citizens across the continent, voting in European elections is the main way (57-59% of respondents) of making your voice heard in EU decision-making. In the context of an overall public desire for more EU environmental protection initiatives, the results suggest that there is the opportunity for environmental NGOs, charities and community groups to communicate how public participation in environmental debate and action can influence EU decision making.

You can read the full survey report here, and see the data here.

OSCAR: the ecological benefits of woody riparian buffers

July 28, 2017
6033343977_d6e47b1c2b_b

A riparian woodland strip along a Swedish stream. Image: Mikko Muinonen | Flickr Creative Commons

Strips of vegetation and trees growing alongside rivers can have significant ecological benefits for the health and status of a river ecosystems. So-called ‘riparian buffers’ can reduce the inputs of nutrients and sediment into a river from the surrounding landscape, particularly in areas of intensive agriculture. However, whilst such ‘woody’ riparian zones are a natural feature of many river catchments, many have been cleared across Europe, often for agriculture, flood defences and urban expansions.

A major new European project has recently been established to synthesise both existing and emerging knowledge on woody riparian buffer strips. Co-ordinated by Prof. Daniel Hering and Dr. Jochem Kail from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, the Oscar project will investigate both the aquatic biodiversity benefits of woody buffer strips, and the ecosystem services they can provide.

In recent years, the ecosystem service framework has helped scientists identify the many benefits generated by woody buffer strips, to humans and non-humans alike. These include biodiversity habitat, stream shading and temperature regulation which may help mitigate the impacts of rising air temperatures, inputs of leaves and wood to river bed habitats, and reduced bank erosion and flood protection. However, a comprehensive survey of the ecosystem health and services benefits of woody buffer strips is still missing – a gap in scientific and management knowledge which the Oscar project aims to address.

Woody buffer strips are often cited as an effective and cost-effective option for river restoration schemes seeking to reach ambitious environmental quality standards such as those set by the EU Water Framework Directive. However, riparian zones are often highly contested spaces, providing fertile and flat areas for agriculture and urban growth. As a result, the restoration of woody buffer zones can often be fragmented and small-scale in extent.

There is increasing awareness amongst aquatic scientists that the beneficial effects of woody buffer strips depend heavily on their spatial arrangement. In order to gain maximum benefits, woody buffer strips should be highly connected, not only along river channels, but also out into the wider landscape.

Woodland strips along rivers can act as migration corridors and refuges for a range of mammals, birds and insects, and provide habitat conditions for plant species. A central underpinning of the Oscar project is that woody buffer strips can form important links in landscape-scale ‘green-blue’ infrastructures, which connect aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Connectivity is a key aspect of contemporary conservation practice, and the Oscar project has the potential to significantly contribute to current debates.

In the Oscar project, an integrated assessment of effects of woody riparian buffers on ecosystem function and service provision will provide the basis for environmental policy and management recommendations. In particular, the effectiveness of different spatial configurations of woody buffer strips will be assessed under different management and climate change scenarios. Oscar will produce a GIS-based multi-criteria decision analysis tool which will help guide management and policy decision-making.

The aim of the Oscar project is to provide water managers and policy makers with recommendations about how woody buffer strip conservation and restoration might be optimised. Communication of project findings will take place through local stakeholder engagement in the case-study catchments, and with working groups at the national (e.g. German LAWA, French ONEMA) and EU level (e.g. ECOSTAT). At the European scale, the project will highlight the relevance of woody buffer strips to the European Biodiversity Strategy, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, and the ongoing ‘greening’ of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The project is funded by Biodiversa and will run until 2019. We will keep you updated on project progress and outputs.

Hydropower and fish: reporting on a Brussels workshop

July 21, 2017
hydropower

Combining hydropower production and fish migration in four Archimedes screws at the Ham hydropower plant on the Albert Canal in Belgium. Image: Hans-Petter Fjeldstad.

A guest post by Hans-Petter Fjeldstad, a research scientist at SINTEF Energy in Norway.

Increased awareness of ecological issues in rivers with regulated water flows calls for better international understanding about how the hydropower industry might be made more ‘environmentally friendly’ through policy and practice.

Earlier this year, at the end of May, a workshop was held in Brussels to discuss these issues, organised by the International Energy Agency Hydropower Technology Collaboration Programme and the European Commission Directorate General for Research and Innovation.

Entitled ‘Hydropower and Fish – Research and Innovation in the context of the European Policy Framework‘, the workshop was organised to address the European research and legislation relevant for hydropower production and to highlight its impacts on fish populations in regulated rivers. In addition to presentations and discussions, delegates undertook a field visit to the Ham hydropower plant on the Albert Canal.

Workshop themes

Where do we go from here?” This was the question posed by Piotr Tulej, the head of the DG RTD Unit at the European Commission, in his opening speech at the workshop. Speaking to 80 representatives from 21 European countries, with expertise in water management, research, policy, manufacturing and industry, his speech outlined some of the key issues in contemporary water management and hydropower. On one hand, there is strong – and growing – demand for renewable energy across the world; on the other, fish ecology and riverine habitats are often strongly – and negatively – impacted by hydropower development.

The workshop brought together representatives from many large European research programmes, including as AMBER, FITHydro, Hyperbole, Sed-Net, LIFE and BioFresh. New innovations were presented, demonstrating the wide and important range of new technologies for ecosystem monitoring. Some of the more unusual and innovative techniques included data sampling using unmanned aircrafts and robotic fishes.

Another presentation highlighted that the role of storable hydropower in Europe may change as a result of the speed at which wind and solar energy has been adopted in the continent’s power network. More dynamic production schemes lead to rapid changes in river flow, which can have negative ecological impacts, such as habitat loss, particularly for fish. The consequences of such so-called hydropeaking was highlighted as a main future research area.

Other important research topics presented included strategies for ensuring the safe downstream migration of fishes past hydropower structures and turbines, and monitoring approaches to assess fish pass efficiency. Overall, there was a focus on river connectivity along entire catchments and river basins, instead of single, isolated projects.

Standardised monitoring and mitigation approaches

Discussions at the workshop highlighted the need for Europe-wide standardisation of monitoring programs and mitigation measures for hydropower impacts, in order to understand and assess the impacts of management actions. One key aspect of this is to develop standardised approaches to assess residual flows and environmental flows in rivers affected by hydropower developments. The expression “environmental requirements” must be emphasised, underlining that not only fish, but overall biodiversity, is important to fulfill the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD).

In recent decades, a variety of modelling tools have been developed to describe the different impacts from hydropower on fish. One important message from the workshop was that modelling tools should be included in the management models in order to achieve realistic goals. Such approaches need to be scalable from single topic models to holistic analyses of large river catchments. This is crucial because many fishes migrate over long distances across political and management borders. Discussions also emphasised the importance of implementing existing research and available knowledge on hydropower impacts.

Balancing perspectives on water management for hydropower and fish

Overall, discussions at the workshop highlighted that future research, policy and management on hydropower and fish must seek to find a balance between renewable energy production, and the ecological health and status of impacted rivers in Europe.

Panel discussions suggested that reductions in hydropower production are often expensive to governments – as hydropower is one of the most efficient ways to generate electricity – and may cause shifts to fossil fuel methods of energy production. While negative ecological impacts from hydropower on fish are highly pronounced across Europe, the closing panel debate emphasised that scientific researchers, water managers and the hydropower industry must establish better long-term relationships together in order to mitigate ecological impacts.

One outcome of such collaboration could be common criteria and rating or indexes for viable fish populations in regulated rivers, and handbooks for assessing and implementing mitigating measures in order to obtain “good ecological status or potential” according to the WFD. Future workshops are proposed to continue discussions on these important topics.

The politics of biodiversity and hydropower on ‘Europe’s last wild river’

July 11, 2017
Vjosa

The Vjosa River in Albania, Europe’s ‘last wild river’. Image: Gernot Kunz

After 20 years of postponement, an unfinished hydropower construction on the Vjosa River in Albania was cancelled earlier this year. The Vjosa is Europe’s last ‘wild’ large river, flowing entirely unobstructed through inaccessible gorges and enormous gravel banks and islands on a course of almost 270 kilometers from the Pindus Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. However, the river system is currently the subject of a number of hydropower constructions, which potentially threaten its rich – but little researched – biodiversity.

The cancellation of the Kalivaç project in May was seen as positive news by environmental NGOs such as the Austrian-based RiverWatch who have long campaigned against hydropower developments on the Vjosa. However, shortly afterwards, the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry opened procedures for construction companies to tender for renewed hydropower construction at the site before 18th July.

“The cancellation of the existing contract – which makes the Vjosa legally free from any hydropower plans – offers a real chance to declare the Vjosa to the first Wild River National Park in Europe. Nonetheless, the government has decided to re-open the concession procedure, against the will of local authorities and communities, national and international stakeholders. We will vigorously fight against this project and for a dam-free Vjosa”, says Olsi Nika from EcoAlbania, coordinator of the Vjosa campaign in Albania.

Kalivaç

The unfinished Kalivaç hydropower construction on the Vjosa River. Image: Roland Dorozhani

The Kalivaç hydropower project was accepted in 1997. Construction of the 45 metre high dam began in 2007, but was only a third completed before the project was cancelled, leaving the river flows largely unimpaired. Environmental scientists and campaigners fear that renewed hydropower construction will threaten poorly documented aquatic biodiversity in the Vjosa.

Proposals for another major hydropower construction on the Vjosa, downstream of the Kalivaç site at Poçem were overturned by judges at the Albanian Administrative Court in Tirana in late May. One of the key reasons that the Poçem construction was overruled was due to an insufficient Environmental Impact Assessment on the effects of the hydropower plant on the river ecosystem.

Vjosa No Dams Protest

Local residents and environmental NGOs protest against hydropower development on the Vjosa. Image: Oblak Aljaz

The overruling of the Poçem construction – which is likely to be challenged – was the result of a lawsuit filed in December 2016 by environmental NGOs and local residents, who claimed there had been insufficient public consultation on the impacts of hydropower.

“This decision shows the importance of fighting disputed hydropower projects on a legal level – not only in Albania but in the entire Balkan region. Many – if not most – of the 2700 projected hydropower plans in the Balkans contradict national and European legislation. We will prepare further legal actions against projects that we perceive as unlawful”, outlines EuroNatur CEO Gabriel Schwaderer, one of the key proponents of the lawsuit.

Vjosa press conference

Scientists hold a press conference on a gravel island in the Vjosa. Image: Jens Steingässer

A month before the cancellations (or at least, postponement) of the Kalivaç and Poçem projects, a group of 25 aquatic scientists held a press conference in an unusual setting on the river –  a large gravel island near the village of Kutë, which would be flooded if the Poçem scheme went ahead.

The scientists reported on a week of intensive research on the Vjosa’s biodiversity and hydromorphology, about which there is currently very little information. They found that animal and plant species which have long disappeared in European rivers are still abundant at the Vjosa. In addition, they confirmed that the river transports huge quantities of sediment, which is likely to mean that any hydropower reservoirs would be clogged with deposited sediments within decades.

As a result, significant research is necessary to project – and potentially prevent – future impacts on the Vjosa’s biodiversity, water flows and flood and erosion dynamics from hydropower. Prof. Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana explains, “The Poçem project not only puts the river section at Kutë at risk, but negatively affects the entire downstream river course all the way to the mouth, including the Narta Lagoon. This has not yet been assessed at all. This week’s initiative should be seen as merely a start. In order to properly assess the actual impacts of the projected hydropower plant, a three-year research program is indispensable.”

Cicindela sp. (Sandlaufkäfer) (c) Gernot Kunz

A rare species of tiger beetle, discovered by scientists on a Vjosa beach. Image:

There is currently a ‘hydropower boom’ taking place across the Balkans. A 2015 RiverWatch study (pdf link) suggested that there are 2,683 hydropower projects proposed across the region, with 8 projects proposed for the Albanian stretch of the Vjosa River and 23 more on its tributaries. Some of these projects are proposed in existing national park protected areas across the Balkans (pdf link).

The Vjosa is clearly a valuable river, but the type of value it offers – and how it might be used – is hotly debated. The Vjosa is a rare – if not unique – example of a largely unmodified European river system, which supports both rich biodiversity (its watershed includes populations of the rare Balkan lynx) and low-impact agriculture, livestock farming and fishing.

However, it also provides huge hydropower potential for the Albanian government to exploit. At present, hydropower is the country’s only domestic source of electricity, providing 80% of its total energy, and generating as much as 10% of its annual GDP (pdf link).

“Domestic electricity demand is constantly rising, which means we need to increase our power-generating capacity,” suggested Dardan Malaj, a communications advisor at the Albanian Ministry of Energy and Industry, in a Revolve Water interview in 2016. “Moreover, foreign investors are mainly interested in the country’s energy sector and Albania really needs those investments.”

Vjosa Braided Channels

Braided channels on the Vjosa River. Image: Gregor Subic

Across the Balkans, hydropower projects are being promoted under the logic of ‘green energy’ production, underpinned by large investments from European banks. A 2015  report by industry watchdog BankWatch (pdf link), found that outside investments of hundreds of millions of euro were supporting hydropower constructions across the region. For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided €240m to 51 Balkan hydropower projects named in the Bankwatch report, nearly half of which were in protected areas.

“What we have here in the Balkans at the moment is a gold rush on the rivers,” says Ulrich Eichelmann, the director of RiverWatch, told The Guardian in 2015. “I sometimes think the western countries that are financially supporting this degradation process have no idea what they are destroying. There is nothing in Europe remotely like this [the Vjosa] river system.”

There have been a number of prominent political objections hydropower development on the Vjosa. In April 2016, the European Parliament called for stricter controls on the  development of hydropower plants on the Vjosa, recommending that Environmental Impact Assessments should meet EU standards. In May 2016, the vice-president of the European Parliament, Ulrike Lunacek, joined a group of around 100 environmentalists, kayakers and journalists from across Europe to protest against the hydropower constructrions on the Vjosa. In February 2017, the mayors of five areas along the Vjosa valley wrote an open letter (pdf link) to the Albanian Prime Minister, Edi Rama, calling for hydropower developments on the river to be stopped.

Vjosa floodplain

The wide floodplain and braided channels of the – as yet unaltered – Vjosa River. Image: Gregor Subic

However, the issue of hydropower construction on the Vjosa is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Ironically, perhaps, the Vjosa is a prime example of a river system in ‘good ecological status’, as defined by the EU Water Framework Directive. Given that Albania is currently a candidate for accession to European Union membership, should hydropower construction go ahead, then any future EU membership may require the Vjosa’s ecosystem to be subsequently restored, most likely at great expense.

What is clear is that the form and future of the Vjosa river system is inextricably tied to wider political, energy and environmental interests and currents. We’ll keep you updated with what happens next.

Bloomin’ Algae: a citizen science app to track algal blooms

July 7, 2017
ipadm resized

The Bloomin’ Algae app’s algae ID guide. Image: CEH

Blooms of blue-green algae can occur through the summer and early autumn in UK lakes and slow flowing rivers, particularly when nutrient concentrations are high, and there has been sunny, warm weather.

Whilst algal blooms occur naturally, they can be exacerbated by human pressures, particularly nutrient pollution. We have previously written about the negative ecological effects of algal blooms – such as hypoxia. However, some blooms may also produce toxins which are directly harmful to humans and animals.

A free new app called Bloomin’ Algae has been designed to allow people to record algal blooms in their local freshwater environments. The app, produced by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology with input from Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland, enables users to submit a photo of an algal bloom and note the recreational activities that takes place at its location.

These ‘citizen science‘ recordings of algal blooms are plotted on an interactive map, which allows water managers to track and mitigate their potential health risks to people and animals.

2007_08_Loch Leven bloom1 resized 2

An algal bloom on Loch Leven in Scotland. Image: CEH

Professor Laurence Carvalho, a freshwater ecologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (and MARS project partner) who specialises in the study of algal blooms and water quality, helped develop the app with his colleagues.

Professor Carvalho said, “Algal blooms can be a major health hazard as they commonly produce potent toxins that can result in people experiencing skin rashes, eye irritations, fever, muscle pain and worse. They can also be a significant hazard to animals; dog owners and farmers need to ensure their pets or livestock do not drink from waters affected by blue-green algae.

People can download the app from Android and Apple app stores and if they then come across an algal bloom, they can use the app to send us a photo and details of its location. We will then alert UK environment and health agencies so they can take appropriate action.”

Blue-green algae are microscopic but can clump together in ‘colonies’ up to a few millimetres in size during blooms. These colonies can rise to the surface to form thin wispy green blooms or thick paint-like scums. Algal blooms which pose a toxic health risk to humans and animals are known as ‘harmful algal blooms’ or ‘HABS’.

Mr Kazlauskis, the mobile developer on the project, said, “The app offers an algal guide to help people familiarise themselves with what an algal bloom looks like. Due to integration with the Biological Record Centre’s iRecord system, all verified records can easily be viewed on the Bloomin’ Algae interactive map.”

app_3_1

The Bloomin’ Algae app gives users visual references for identifying algal blooms, and a platform to geolocate them. Image: CEH

The Bloomin’ Algae app allows water managers and scientists to track and manage potentially-harmful algal blooms in UK freshwaters, and to provide subsequent ‘early warning’ messages to the public about sites which may pose a health risk.

In addition, it is hoped to provide an ongoing geographical indication of the different users of freshwater environments – anglers, walkers, birdwatchers and so on – and how their activities are affected by algal blooms.

+

Download Bloomin’ Algae for Apple and Android devices.

Find out more about iRecord on the Biological Record Centre website.

Untangling multiple pressure impacts in Swedish boreal streams

July 4, 2017
7599505330_33aae97c4a_k

A Swedish boreal stream. Image: mrdonb | Flickr Creative Commons

Freshwater ecosystems across the world are affected by multiple pressures acting in tandem, which can cause complex and unpredictable results for their health and diversity. As a result, the topic is a key focus for many aquatic scientists globally.

Human land use is an important driver of multiple pressures. Two common land-use pressures stem from agricultural activities and hydromorphological alterations. Agricultural activities can cause increased nutrient concentrations as a result of fertiliser run-off, cause sediment build-ups as a result of soil erosion, and alter ecosystem hydrology and connectivity through water abstraction.

Hydromorphological alterations are those which change the hydrology (i.e. water flows) and morphology (i.e. the shape, course and banks) of a river or lake. Hydromorphological alterations are commonly caused by the construction of flood defences, hydropower plants and drainage channels, and can significantly change the habitat quality and quantity available to aquatic organisms.

The multiple pressure impacts resulting from agricultural activity and hydromorphological alterations are the subject of a new study carried out on 77 streams in south-east Sweden. Writing in Ecological Indicators, scientists led by Richard K Johnson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala quantified multiple pressure impacts on the insect life in these boreal streams.

Using species and trait composition techniques on ecological monitoring data sampled between 2008 and 2013, the researchers report that agricultural and hydromorphological pressures had significant joint effects on invertebrate assemblages in the studied streams. They found that variability in invertebrate species and trait composition could be explained by variations in agricultural and hydromorphological pressures.

However, whilst changes in species composition were significantly related to agricultural impacts, the unique variance accounted for by hydromorphological variables was not significant for either species or traits. In short, it was difficult to disentangle the unique effects of agricultural and hydromorphological pressures from their multiple pressure ‘cocktail’.

As a result, the research team used multivariate regression, a data analysis method which allowed them to rank individual pressure impacts. They found that whilst agricultural pressures were the best predictors of both species and trait composition for the streams’ invertebrates, the negative impacts of hydromorphological pressures on their populations could be far more pronounced.

Disturbance of riparian habitats was a strong predictor of shifts in invertebrate species and trait composition. This finding has been reported by a number of other past studies (e.g. Gregory et al 1991 – pdf), as the removal of riparian zones often significantly alters stream food webs, shading and water temperature, which impact invertebrate populations.

Community responses were less pronounced at sites affected by both loss of riparian integrity and elevated nutrients, suggesting that negative hydromorphological pressure impacts were mitigated by moderate increases in nutrient concentrations from agricultural run-off.

In quantifying and ranking the impacts of both individual and combined multiple pressures, the study provides a valuable case study for water managers and policy makers seeking to design ecological restoration schemes. More broadly, it is another ‘building block’ in the global effort to gain knowledge on multiple pressure interactions and impacts.

Johnson RK et al (2017) Decomposing multiple pressure effects on invertebrate assemblages of boreal streams, Ecological Indicators, 77, 293-303

Protect the Eels

June 22, 2017

The European eel is one of the continent’s most remarkable and wide-ranging aquatic animals. Young eels (known as elvers) are born in the Sargasso Sea in the West Atlantic Ocean, and migrate back to European watercourses. Here, they mature and grow larger over a number of years, before making the journey back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn themselves.

However, European eel populations are subject to considerable threats. Some eel populations have dropped by over 90% across the continent in recent decades, largely as the result of overfishing and habitat loss. The European eel has been designated as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 2008 as a result.

A new community-engaged animation has sought to tell the eel’s story, through the voices of children. Protect the Eels is a an animated journey into the hidden ecologies of the River Avon in south-west England, as told by the children of Victoria Park Primary School Bristol, using their drawings, ideas and voices.

The video was funded by the AHRC ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship‘ project (read our interview with project lead Owain Jones here). It was produced as part of Water City Bristol, supported by the ‘Sustainable Eel Group (SEG)‘, in association with NOVA, lead artists for Water City Bristol.

We spoke to project producer Lucy Izzard to find out more. She explained the background and working process for the animation, and how the primary school children helped bring eel conservation to life in Protect the Eels.

~

Lucy explains:

“I was contacted by Antony Lyons from NOVA Creative Lab (a creative consultancy for the research project “Water City Bristol”) about making an animation with two classes of pupils from Victoria Park Primary School in Bristol to explore the hidden ecologies of the River Avon. I thought it would be really lovely to make the film entirely from the children’s thoughts, comments and drawings then it becomes a real collaboration because the children are a major part of the film making process.

I and some of the NOVA artists did workshops with the classes which involved drawing & sound recorded sessions, role play in the playground and Skype calls between the children and ‘eel expert’ Andrew Kerr. We learnt a lot about eels along the way – me included! With all the voices and drawings collected from the workshops, I picked the bits that would help create a story about eels. There were so many great drawings, unfortunately I couldn’t use them all … but we did use a lot!

It was quite a lengthy process to make the kids drawings move – keeping the authenticity of the textures and pencil/pen marks is tricky but totally worth while in my opinion. I want the children to recognise their own drawings and feel proud and excited to see them come to life. After the visuals were finished, my business partner from our company ‘Pinch Me! Productions’ Laura added all the sound effects. We collected sound bites from the children during the workshop recording sessions to use for the characters in the film, such as “Are we that old?” The finished sound adds another dimension that suddenly makes everything come alive!

We gave the children and teachers their own film premiere in the cinema at Aardman Animations in Bristol (as I work there as a freelance animation director). I took my 2 week old baby along (it took the same amount of time to make the film as it did to make her!)”

Watch Protect the Eels here.

%d bloggers like this: