Plymouth River Keepers

Actions we take now to care for our water will define our future

This project has now ended

The Plymouth River Keepers (PRK) project ran from 2020 until late 2023.

We worked closely with the communities in Ernesettle, Tamerton Foliot, Southway, Whitleigh, Widewell, Honicknowle, Derriford West and Crownhill, and Manadon and Widey.

Although the project has closed, Westcountry Rivers Trust will  be delivering legacy works in the area.

These include:

  • aftercare for trees planted in Tamerton Foliot.
  • removal of ecoplugs added to laurel stumps for non-native invasive species control and to avoid leaving plastic in the environment.
  • laurel removal works required to be undertaken outside of the bird-breeding season

We will be sharing our final report soon to highlight what we have achieved for nature with people living locally.

Our Project Outputs

NNIS Removal

In 2021 Water Fern (Azolla filiculoides), a NNIS from the Americas, was identified in Budshead Pond.  

To control the spread, we released North American Weevils (Stenopelmus rufinasus) into the pond.  2,000 weevils were released in August 2021, and the Water Fern was completely eradicated by October 2021. The Water Fern has not returned (as of November 2023).  

Fixed Point Photography

We installed a fixed point photography post at Budshead pond to help monitor the progress of the weevils which were helping to combat the invasive Water Fern that was growing in the pond.

As of November 2023, 57 photos have been sent in to us.

Farm Advice & Interventions

Westcountry Rivers Trust farm advisors worked with farmers and landowners to the north of the PRK project area. Farms were offered a full farm survey and plan with the aim to deliver land management advice and on-farm measures to minimise pollutant loss while maximising efficiency and enhancing ecological health.  

Of the farms contacted, three farms went on to work with us to deliver a series of interventions including pond creation and riparian coppicing.

River Operations

Our River Operations team coppiced hazel and sycamore in Woodland Wood to reduce the level of shading along the stream, helping other native flora to thrive.  

Approximately 250m² of laurel was removed from around 2km of the riparian corridor in Woodland Wood. Ecoplugs were deployed in the laurel stumps to prevent re-growth. The ecoplugs will be removed after 12 months to avoid leaving plastic in the environment.  50 hazel whips were planted along the bank of the Tamerton Stream in Wadlands Meadow to infill the hedgerow due to the removal of laurel.

Litter Removals

We carried out litter picking events with the public and worked with our River Operations team to remove larger fly tipped items from the river.

In total, we removed 29 shopping trolleys from a 2km stretch of the stream in Woodland Wood.

We also removed other large items such as car tyres, traffic cones and office chairs. Clearing these items has helped with water flow and fish migration which could have been impeded.

Ernesettle Rainshare Scheme

The Rainshare scheme shares run-off from building roofs that would otherwise be wasted. People can use this water to help with things like gardening and food growing.

Ernesettle Rainshare began following a request from the Friends of Ernesettle Creek and Budshead Wood Group about water resourcing for their two community orchards and proposed Elizabethan garden.

In October 2023, two 1,200L slimline tanks (interconnected) were installed on Ernesettle Scout Hut.  

Woodland Wood and Budshead Wood NbS

Our River Operations team installed 22 leaky dams, 10 flow deflectors and 1 brash feature in Woodland Wood (along 2km of watercourse) and Budshead Wood (along 0.5km of watercourse).

This work was delivered in conjunction with the Plymouth Natural Grid Team from Plymouth City Council and the National Trust.  

Tree planting in Tamerton Foliot

Working with community volunteers and local residents, we held planting days where we planted five trees. Three (crab apple, field maple and wild cherry) were planted in The Old Playground in Tamerton Foliot.

Two common alder were planted adjacent to the Tamerton Stream in private gardens.

Aftercare will be provided for these trees until the end of summer 2024.

Fisheries Work

We carried out timed, semi-quantitative salmon and trout fry index electrofishing surveys, in addition to presence/absence electrofishing surveys for European eel.

In 2021, 11 sites were surveyed, while eight sites were surveyed in 2022 and 2023.

It was not possible to survey all sites in 2022 due to low flows. In 2023, the sites surveyed in 2022 were repeated.  

Click the button to read the full results.

Water Quality Investigations

We carried out investigations on the Tamerton Stream in a bid to narrow down the source of repeated pollution incidents using a sonde (a static data logger) and three trail cameras.

*Coming soon – click the button for the results. 

A Snapshot of Our Impact

Project Updates

2023 Ongoing Work

In 2023, the River Ops team undertook shade management alongside the streams in Woodland Wood and Budshead Wood through the removal of non-native invasive plant species, including laurel and rhododendron. Rivers and streams need an adequate supply of sunlight to support their productivity and their complex food webs. Shade management creates areas of light to increase productivity as well as areas of shade to provide refuge for fish from direct sunlight and high water temperatures.

Following on from our 2021-22 fish surveys, we carried out more in 2023. We did this to assess the impact of barriers to fish passage on populations and to inform the effectiveness of the works undertaken. These surveys are semi-quantitative and will allow an accurate count of the number of fish present, including species, size and age.

June 2023

In 2021 and 2022 our River Ops team worked with community volunteers to remove the invasive non-native plant species Himalayan Balsam from Whitleigh Wood. Following a site visit in June 2023, very little Himalayan Balsam was identified and any found was removed by our River Ops team before it had chance to set seed. Therefore no further Himalayan Balsam events needed to be held due to the successful reduction/potential eradication of the plant in the woodland.

Early 2023

Community volunteers joined the PRK team in early 2023 in Tamerton Foliot to plant three native trees in a community green space. Two further trees were donated to local residents and planted by the PRK team in their gardens to enhance the bankside habitat of the Tamerton stream. PRK will continue regular aftercare for these trees until the end of summer 2024 to ensure that they thrive in their new home.

December 2022 – An Outfall Safari in the Woods

Our first Outfall Safari in Budshead Wood Local Nature Reserve has been a great success.

Eleven volunteers from the community joined us in December 2022 to visually assess and report on surface water outfalls within the Reserve.

The outfall safari method has been designed by the Zoological Society of London, the Environment Agency and other partners. It allows for locating, assessing the impact of, and reporting polluting surface water outfalls.

In addition to the outfall safari, the volunteers used kits from our Westcountry Citizen Science Investigations river monitoring scheme to test for phosphates, nitrates and ammonia. These can all indicate pollution linked to humans or farm animals, for example from cleaning chemicals and sewage.

This is important work in the PRK area and ties in with the project’s wider work understanding surface water drainage misconnections from households and the industrial estates (e.g., when dishwashers, washing machines are incorrectly plumbed into the surface water drainage system, which can lead to detergents and other household chemicals to flow directly into the streams). By finding these misconnections, the root cause can be addressed which will lead to fewer pollution incidents and higher overall water quality.

Project officer Jenny Wytcherley said: “The volunteers learnt about the surface water outfall system, different types and sources of pollutants and the negative effects they can have on wildlife and water quality.

“This led to some interesting and insightful conversations during the walk around Budshead Wood and we are looking forward to our next outfall safari which will take place very soon.”

To find out more about Outfall Safaris, head to: and visit our events page for future Outfall Safari dates.

October 2022

The PRK team have been working with the Plymouth Natural Grid team (Plymouth City Council and the National Trust) to install leaky dams and flow deflectors in Budshead Wood and Woodland Wood.
Read more via

2021 – 2022 Ongoing work 

Our Fisheries Team conducted fish surveys in the PRK area using the electrofishing method, with 11 sites throughout the catchment surveyed in 2021. Eight sites were surveyed in 2022 (reduced surveys due to low flows and drought conditions).

These surveys assess populations of Salmon, European Eel and Brown/Sea Trout (these species are known as salmonids). European Eel and Brown Trout were identified at a number of sites, although Salmon were absent from all sites. The surveys demonstrate the importance of these small urban streams for salmonids, despite the presence of significant barriers to fish migration and poor water quality.

August 2021

PRK, working closely with Plymouth City Council and the local community, have released weevils into Budshead pond to help fight the invasive Water Fern. Read the full story here: Non-native weevils help to clear Budshead pond of an invasive plant. | Westcountry Rivers Trust (

July 2022

Hear from our project volunteer and citizen scientists Nick about why being involved is important to him:

Summer 2021

Community events – PRK has teamed up with our colleagues on the Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project and Westcountry CSI to run a number of community events throughout the PRK area. These include litter picks and pop-up events, giving local communities the opportunity to learn more about the wildlife that lives in the streams, watch Westcountry CSI demonstrations, take part in river themed crafts and enjoy River Stories from a Storyteller. Find a full list of the events here: Events | Westcountry Rivers Trust (

June 2021

Non-native Invasive Species (NNIS) Surveys – Our River Ops Team has started non-native invasive species (NNIS) surveys in the PRK area, and so far identified Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed, Laurel, Bamboo, Rhododendron and Water fern (Azolla filiculoides).
Over the course of the PRK project, we’ll be tackling the non-native invasive species to improve the habitats for our native wildlife.

We removed a large area of Himalayan Balsam from Whitleigh Wood (a Woodland Trust wood) at a Himalayan Balsam Bashing community event, and identified a further area of Balsam for a future event.

May 2021

Lucie, a Plymouth University Student currently on placement with us, speaks about undertaking water quality monitoring within the PRK catchment. Read the full post here: Day in the life of a river scientist in Plymouth. | Westcountry Rivers Trust (

April 2021

Our Fisheries Team has completed the first phase of SNIFFER surveys at 15 fish migration barriers in low flows. The Team will be returning to the catchment in autumn/winter 2021/22 to undertake the second phase of high flow SNIFFERS. The results will help us to prioritise which barriers should be removed through PRK.

The SNIFFER protocol is a technique developed by the Scottish and Northern Irish Forum For Environmental Research (SNIFFER) and looks in-depth at barriers (such as weirs and culverts) to give expert judgement of its “pass-ability” in terms of different migratory fish species.

Feb 2021.

Our wildlife and resident/organisation surveys are now closed. We will be sharing findings from these in the coming weeks. More soon.

Our Reports

Plymouth River Keepers has aimed:

  • to prevent pollution incidents and improve water quality
  • to protect the streams for wildlife and current and future generations
  • to ensure the places where streams flow are ones people can enjoy, now and in future
  • to embed water environment caretakers in communities
  • to inspire a local love for water across the UK

Monitoring data we collected relating to plastic has been shared with our sister project, Preventing Plastic Pollution.

Preventing Plastic Pollution

Plymouth River Keepers - background story

The Tamerton Stream near Plymouth has suffered several pollution incidents over the years. 

In August 2016, a pollution incident caused by the build-up of commercial-use wet wipes created a blockage in the sewerage pipe. When this happens, untreated sewage is released into the nearest waterway.

This pollution incident had a substantial impact on the stream, unfortunately killing more than 80 brown trout. 

As a result of this incident, an Enforcement Undertaking (EU) was agreed by the Environment Agency with South West Water (SWW) to the value of £350,000.

To help improve the area, SWW used this EU to enable Westcountry Rivers Trust to conduct work to improve the urban watercourses in the Plymouth area, particularly the Tamerton stream,* which has led to the creation of the Plymouth River Keepers (PRK) project.

WRT has often worked with communities to achieve positive results for people and nature and recognises community involvement is vital to the success of PRK. We worked with the Bioregional Learning Centre (BLC) in the early stages of the project to support community engagement. 

This three-year project (2020-2023) aimed to show the benefits (health, wellbeing, environmental) that individuals, groups and businesses can gain from connecting water, people and place in this location.

WRT aimed to undertake the following actions, which are designed to increase the recovery in fish populations and restore, and improve the resilience of, local streams via engagement with people from the local community:

Baseline data collection (to inform which further surveys are required and potential works to be undertaken):

  •  Baseline ecological surveys by WRT Evidence and Engagement Officers.
  •  Water quality sampling by WRT Evidence and Engagement Officers.
  •  Fish surveys (including electrofishing) by WRT River and Fisheries Officers.


Potential works:

  • Litter/ debris removal – to be run as community engagement activities, led by WRT/other.
  • Removal of invasive non-native plant species – to be run as community engagement activities, led by WRT/other. 
  • Areas of bankside erosion to be improved by allowing access to the river via hardstanding, to increase the connection to the water.
  • Targeted coppicing to reduce shading in appropriate areas and improve the productivity of the watercourse.
  • Investigations of barriers to fish passage to determine the severity of each barrier and to assess the potential for their removal.


Citizen Science:

  • Westcountry CSI (Citizen Science Investigations) – monitoring the river for a variety of reasons such as problem plants to pollution.
  • Riverfly surveys – recording freshwater invertebrates to assess the water quality.



  • WRT will promote engagement opportunities, while overseeing public communications for the project.


* The Environment Agency is responsible for enforcing laws that protect the environment. An EU is a voluntary offer of funds from the responsible party to remedy the effects of an incident such as the pollution incident on the Tamerton Stream. In addition to the EU, South West Water has since cleansed the main sewer line that runs through the woods and this should help reduce the likelihood of any further pollution incidents.