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© Copyright S.M. Haslam & Tina Bone
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With contributions from Dr J. Purseglove & Dr G.A. Wait.
1997. 344 pp. ISBN 0-521-57410-2.

Available from: Cambridge University Press


This book is intended to help biologists, naturalists, students, landscape architects and other environmentalists to understand rivers. It aims to give a wide view, and an overview. It is also for specialists in one aspect of rivers who wish to learn, reasonably painlessly, something of other aspects, and for those engaged in high-level surveys who wish to learn more of the background of what they are doing. It is not a Restoration Handbook: readers will be able to say ‘this is wrong’, but will have to go to elsewhere to learn how to wield the JCB or plant the willow wands. A much greater emphasis than usual is placed on the cultural history of our rivers: they have been used directly and indirectly by people with increasing intensity for over two millennia, and the social or historical ecology is as valid and valuable as the natural ecology.

This book stresses the interpretation and illumination which can be gained solely by looking at rivers, and without the use of specialist equipment. It therefore concentrates on water, structure, vegetation, pollution, birds, artefacts, etc., omitting the equally fascinating fields of invertebrates, fish, chemistry, diatoms, other algae and micro-organisms. Much use is made of pictures, as these can be studied at many levels, and show features from general topography to the effects of drought. Readers interested in the subject should return to these, after the first reading, to acquire more knowledge. The pictures are not solely British: they demonstrate a wider range.

Invertebrates are the main group of organisms used for river study, and are likely to remain so, with the BMWP, TBI, Chandler Score, etc., indices for pollution monitoring, RIVPACS for a more ecological approach, and methods from Watch (Wildlife Trusts), the Field Studies Council, etc., for ‘pond (or river) dipping’. There are plenty of standard methods easily available, so they are not repeated here. The use of vegetation for pollution monitoring is government-accepted, but is unlikely to replace the use of invertebrates (if only because of the extent of existing historical data). There are two schemes for classification of vegetation, that by Holmes (1983) and that by Haslam & Wolseley (1981) and Haslam (1987). The former uses species present, using a key, the latter, the communities characteristics of physiographic habitats. Naturally, the two schemes overlap. The schemes can be used by non-zoologists, and as a complementary tool to the use of invertebrates.

There are several high-level river survey classification methods: that from the former National Rivers Authority (river habitat survey) now the Environment Agency; SERCON (system of evaluating rivers for conservation value); that from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; and those developed by various County Trusts, etc. Each has been designed for different purposes and has different strengths. That at the end of this book is not intended to compete but to check on the degree of understanding achieved. Readers may use it, or omit it and go straight to one of the others, as wished, for natural ecology. No other method covers cultural ecology.

This book may be read either as a whole, or for one or two subjects at a time. Chapter 6 (pollution monitoring) depends on Chapters 4 (vegetation) and 5 (pollution), but otherwise each chapter can be studied separately.



Part I Introduction

1 Introduction: the river habitat

The river environment; Introduction to the book; Legal and safety note.

2 Water: the essential element

Introduction; Reference water depths and flow types; Stream patterns; Abstraction; Regulation; Shallowing and vegetation; Pollution; Other changes and vegetation.

Part II The Natural Environment

3 River Structure and its damage

Introduction; River structure; Stability; Channel position; Trees and shade; Buffer strips; Organic carbon and debris dams; Sediment; Legacy areas; Grazing, trampling, cutting and biocides; Boats; River structure in settlements; Appendix: Wetland dyke (ditch) management: recommendations for conservation.

4 RIVER TYPES in relation to vegetation

Summary identification; Introduction; Species identification, habit and habitat banding; Tall monocotyledons; River classification A: Haslam and Wolseley Method; River classification B: Small-scale interpretation of differences; River classification C: Holmes method, typing rivers according to their flora; Fragile watercourses: their identification and protection; Rivers change: the changing vegetation of rivers; Causes of change in stable river vegetation; Protected plants; Introduced plants.

5 POLLUTION: altering chemical quality

Introduction; The purifying power of the river; Pollutants entering the river; Effect of land use.

6 ASSESSING the effect of pollution and other interference using vegetation (macrophytes)

Introduction; How vegetation responds to pollution; Benthic algae, blanket weed, sewage fungus and ‘sewage algae’; Damage rating; Cover—Diversity number (too much human impact).

7 RIVER STRUCTURE for larger animals

Introduction; Information presented; Invertebrate: Crayfish; Amphibians; Birds; Mammals.

8 DEVELOPMENT: enhancement, improvement and geomorphology

Introduction; Flood and waterlogging; Rehabilitation and enhancement.


Introduction; The Environment and Water Acts; The Environmental Protection Act 1990; Conservation duties; The MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) Habitat Scheme. Water fringe areas, 1994; Legal powers and duties of the Environment Agency and the internal drainage boards; Planning.

Part III The Cultural Environment

10 Historic and Recent CULTURAL HERITAGE

Introduction; Place names; Structure and features.


Introduction; Identifying sites; Addresses of archaeological organisations.


Introduction; Objectives; Activities; Conclusions.

Appendix Survey methods and recording

Introduction; Equipment; Recording and assessment; Summary sheet; For water (Chapter 2); For river structure (Chapter 3); For river types: vegetation (Chapter 4); For pollution (Chapter 5); For assessing pollution and other damage using vegetation (Chapter 6); For structural habitat for larger animals (Chapter 7); For historic and recent cultural heritage (Chapter 8); For archaeology (Chapter 11); For recreation (Chapter 12); River plans.


List of principal Latin and English plant names used in the book

Sources of information


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