Finding a Love for Freshwater

A Westcountry River Story

Lisève Fierens

Lisève Fierens

Assistant Aquatic Surveyor

I moved to England from my home in a big city, having grown up far from wildlife, to study marine biology, because I loved the sea. Unbeknown to me I would fall in love with another water body: rivers. I joined the canoe club at university because I was curious, having never canoed before.

They took me on my first ever river trip a few weeks later: the River Dart. I still remember the deep fear I felt as I watched the swirling, peaty coloured water lapping around rocks from the bank. I plucked up what little courage I had, got into my kayak, and started my journey. I have never seen or experienced wildlife that way before, journeying down a river, feeling like the only person in the world. My friends pointed out ducks, tucked in behind rocks in the middle of rapids. There were birds in the trees and nothing but the sound of animals and rushing water. It was magical, it was true love.

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I have since paddled many rivers, across the UK but also abroad, in Peru and France. But when I finished university and had to choose where to live, I came to Plymouth so that I was not far from the River Dart and I go there as often as I can. The swirling peaty water of the Dart is my home now, my ultimate comfort. It makes me happy in the rain, in the sunshine, on grey days and on stormy days. It has changed every plan I had made, every dream I had thought of. I wanted to be a marine biologist, boarding boats around the world, studying big and exciting animals, changing the world on a huge scale. I am instead a freshwater ecologist; I spend most of my time walking along or across rivers, picking out animals to study them, returning them with as little damage as possible, changing the world on a local scale. I look at the ecosystems grow and develop, help restore them as much as possible. This is my dream now; one I hope to pursue forever.