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Quality assurance and uncertainty in bioassessments

The River Communities Group is the top freshwater macroinvertebrate laboratory in the UK. The Group has over 30 years of history in the identification of streams and river animals from across all of the UK.  The Group’s invertebrate taxonomists are accredited by the rigorous Natural History Museum Identification Qualification scheme. We maintain an extensive reference collection of specimens (over 1000 taxa) from the full range of invertebrate groups found in the British Isles and many specimens from mainland European waters. We also actively contribute to the creation and revision of freshwater animal identification keys.

Services offered by the River Communities Group:

  • Family-level quality assurance audit
  • Species-level quality assurance audit
  • Macroinvertebrate identification verification

Please contact Dr James Pretty to discuss your requirements.

The River Communities Group provides all the UK environment agencies (EA, SEPA & NIEA) with a sophisticated Quality Assurance Audit of all their macroinvertebrate monitoring of rivers.  Each year, the UK environment agencies carry out an extensive bioassessment programme across UK rivers and streams.  The macroinvertebrate community present at a given location is used to assess the ecological quality of the river through the use of biotic indices and the RIVPACS (River Invertebrate Prediction and Classification System) bioassessment tool.  These national river quality surveys are used for one of the government’s Headline Indicators of environmental quality, as well as for purely operational purposes, including Catchment Abstraction Management Strategies, assessing pollution and setting priorities for capital investment.

Given the importance of the river quality classifications, derived from the analysis of macroinvertebrate samples, an independent audit is essential to ensure that a high and consistent standard of laboratory processing of samples is maintained.  Macroinvertebrate samples processed by each organisation (EA, SEPA & NIEA) are re-analysed by our experienced team of biologists.  This work identifies errors in the original analysis (taxa missed in sorting, mis-identifications, data entry mistakes) and enables the net effect (termed bias) of such errors on derived biotic indices to be estimated.  Crucially, having an estimate of bias for each regional laboratory/organisation means that the subsequent classification of a river into one of five quality categories (high, good, moderate, poor, bad) can be made with a known uncertainty. This has wide implications under the European Water Framework Directive which states that all inland and coastal waters must be of ‘good’ ecological status by 2015. Understanding and quantifying the sources of uncertainty in any bioassessment method is critical to establishing confidence in its results. Indeed the EU WFD (Annex V, 1.3) emphasises that any monitoring protocol must achieve an acceptable level of confidence and precision in the final classification, and that the levels of confidence must be declared.

The Group also offers its quality assurance auditing service to other organisations and consultancies that undertake biological monitoring of freshwaters. Quality assurance audits can be carried out at different levels of taxonomic resolution.  Our laboratory also offers an identification verification service; where customers can send us specimens that they would like to have identified by our experts. Please contact Dr James Pretty to discuss your requirements.

Collaborators and stakeholders:

Selected publications in this research area:

  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) Macroinvertebrates of the Environmental Change Network sites on the Garvarey River and Owenkillew River in 2009-2011. Report to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). QMUL Report Ref: SBCP1A4R/01. 26pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Arnold, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). QMUL Report Ref: SBCP1B3R/01. 118pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCP1D6R/01. 68pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Arnold, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/11.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Arnold, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the AQC analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/12.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Arnold, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: Bill Bellamy Assoc. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/13.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Arnold, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2012) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2011: Dave Leeming. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/14.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2011) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/06. 105pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2011) An audit of performance in the AQC analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/07. 64pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A. & Murphy, J.F. (2011) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1C9R/01. 88pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A. & Murphy, J.F. (2011) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). QMUL Report Ref: SBCP1A8R/01. 115pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2011) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: GT Environmental Ltd. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/08. 31pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2011) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: Bill Bellamy Assoc. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/10. 31pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Duerdoth, C.P., Hawczak, A., Murphy, J.F. & Jones, J.I. (2011) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2010: APEM Ltd. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/09. 31pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H. & Murphy, J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/01. 106pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H. & Murphy, J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the AQC analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: The Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/02. 65pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Hawczak A. & Murphy J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B9R/01. 93pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H., Hawczak A. & Murphy J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). QMUL Report Ref: SBCP1A5R/01. 120pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H. & Murphy, J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: GT Environmental Ltd. Report to the Environment Agency QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/03. 31pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H. & Murphy, J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: Bill Bellamy Assoc. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/04. 30pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn , J.H. & Murphy, J.F. (2010) An audit of performance in the analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2009: Dave Leeming. Report to the Environment Agency. QMUL Report Ref: SBCH1B1R/05. 31pp.
  • Clarke, R.T. & J.I. Jones (2009) Report on a workshop to bring together experts experienced with tool development and uncertainty estimation. WISER, Water bodies in Europe: Integrative Systems to assess Ecological status and Recovery, Deliverable D6.1-1.  PDF
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn, J.H., Corbin. T.A., Hawczak, A. & H.M. Vincent (2009) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2008: The Scottish Environment Protection Agency. CEH Report Ref: C03148MC/14. 97pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn, J.H., Corbin. T.A. & H.M. Vincent (2009) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2008: The Environment Agency. CEH Report Ref: C03148MC/15. 113pp.
  • Pretty, J.L., Blackburn, J.H., Corbin. T.A., Vincent, H.M., Hawczak A. & F.E. Edwards (2009) An audit of performance in the primary analysis of standard biological macro-invertebrate samples in 2008: The Environment and Heritage Service, Northern Ireland. CEH Report Ref: C03148MC/13. 119 pp.
  • Jones, I.J., Clarke, R.T., Blackburn, J.H., Gunn, R.J.M., Kneebone, N.T. & M.W. Neale (2007) Lake Benthic Macroinvertebrates 2: Quantifying Uncertainty in Sampling Methodology.  Environment Agency Science Report SC030294/SR2.  45pp.  PDF
  • Bass, J., Blackburn J.& Giraudy, C (2004) Range extension of the 'Witham Orb Mussel' Sphaerium solidum (Normand)(Bivalvia: Sphaeriidae) or an overlooked resident of the Great Ouse? Journal of Conchology, 38(1)  61-66.
  • Armitage, P.D., Szoszkiewicz, K., Blackburn, J.H. and Nesbitt, I. (2003) Ditch communities: a major contributor to floodplain biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 13, 165-185.
  • Wright, J.F., Gunn, R.J.M., Blackburn, J.H., Grieve N.J., Winder, J.M. and Davy-Bowker J. (2000) Macroinvertebrate frequency data for the RIVPACS III sites in Northern Ireland and some comparisons with the equivalent data for Great Britain. Aquatic Conservation Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 10, 371-389.
  • Blackburn, J.H., Gunn, R.J.M. & Hammett, M.J. (1998) Electrogena affinis (Eaton, 1885) (Ephemeroptera, Heptageniidae), A Mayfly New to Britain. Entomologists Monthly Magazine. 134. 257-263.
  • Gunn, R.J.M. & Blackburn, J.H. (1998) Caenis beskidensis Sowa (Ephemeroptera, Caenidae), A Mayfly New to Britain. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine. 134. 94.
  • Gunn R.J.M., & Blackburn J.H. (1997) Caenis pseudorivulorum Kieffermuller (Ephemeroptera, Caenidae), a mayfly new to Britain with amendments to the key to larvae of the family. Ent. mon. Mag 133, 97-100.
  • Wright, J. F., Blackburn, J.H., Gunn, R.J.M., Furse.M.T., Armitage.P.D., Winder, J.M.., Symes, K.L., & Moss, D. (1996). Macroinvertebrate frequency of occurrence data for an extensive data-set of running-water sites in Great Britain: value for conservation. Aquatic Conservation, 6, 141-167.
  • Blackburn, J.H. & Forrest, M.B. (1995) New records of Hydropsyche saxonica McLachlan (Trichopt., Hydropsychidae) from small streams in Great Britain. Ent. mon. Mag. 131, 71-76.
  • Armitage, P.D., Blackburn, J.H., Winder, J.M. & Wright, J.F. (1994) Impact of vegetation management on macroinvertebrates in chalk streams. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 4, 95-104.
  • Wright, J.F., Blackburn, J.H., Westlake, D.F., Furse, M.T. & Armitage, P.D. (1992) Anticipating the consequences of river management for the conservation of macroinvertebrates. In: River conservation and management (eds P. Boon, G. Petts & P. Calow). John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 137-149.
  • Nilsson, A.N., Malmqvist, B. Baez, M., Blackburn, J.H. & Armitage, P.D. (1988) Stream insects and gastropods in the island of Gran Canaria (Spain). Annales de Limnologie – International Journal of Limnology. 34 (4), 413-435.
  • Armitage, P.D. & Blackburn, J.H. (1985) Chironomidae in a Pennine stream system receiving mine drainage and organic enrichment. Hydrobiologia 121, 165 172.

Contact

For all enquiries, please contact :

Tel: +44 (0)1929 401 892    
email: j.i.jones@qmul.ac.uk

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