Online (and virtual) training on hydromorphology

Last week was a bit of a first for us and myself. We (the River Restoration Centre) held our first full day online hydromorphological training course with a virtual field work component!
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we have been unable to offer our usual series of training courses in person. The challenge here was to develop a course that provide the same kind of experience as the one we normally run that includes a very important field component where participants can directly experience hydromorphological processes and forms as well as pressures and impacts of modifications.


So we have been busy designing new ways of offering the same experience online by adding virtual site visits and even fieldwork. We delivered the Introduction to Hydromorphology (Level 1) training course using a combination of Zoom and Google Earth software. Fifteen delegates joined us on the Zoom call with regular switches to Google Earth and Streetview to demonstrate and experience hydromorphological processes forms and drivers virtually using one of our case study catchment on which we collected a lot of 360 photographs. Polls were set up to ask the delegates questions, and create as much of an interactive session as possible to keep everybody’s attention alive.

The crux of the course was to introduce delegates to a framework for analysing catchment and river processes, forms and how they are influenced by modifications and land management. This was achieved through formal short presentation followed by group work, in pairs, in the air and on virtual ground using Google Earth online, 360⁰ photos, and historic maps.

Delegates worked in pairs through tasks to spot features and modifications, think about processes, and map pressures. Finally, delegates were asked to assess everything we had gone over in the training and offer justified restoration options. This was a great opportunity to go over all the concepts we had been introduced to, and brainstorm ideas.

Feedback from the course has been really encouraging, and we are now looking at adapting the rest of our courses online and run more this Summer and Autumn. We are also considering adapting the River Habitat Survey course, potentially turning the existing presentations that are delivered in a training room into a series of online modules with virtual field work, and organising site visits separately over a few days to practice doing the survey whilst maintaining social distancing rules. We will be in touch with more information soon and we would welcome your suggestions.

In the meantime, please visit the RRC website to view our training events and please email us rrc@therrc.co.uk if you are interested in attending a virtual training course.

NEW – RHS Toolbox 1.4 with automated derivation of GIS data and new quality indices

The RHS Toolbox 1.4 features new functionality to extract map data such as altitude, slope and geology as well as indices on hydromorphological naturalness and fine sediment runoff from agricultural sources. The software also features new indices assessing hydromorphological impact.

The new tools will help practitioners with habitat assessment for the Water Framework Directive, Planning Applications, River Restoration and more. 

The software is on a free trial for 30 days and it is available for 32 and 64 bit version of Office.

New features:

Automated map data extraction for sites in England, Wales and Scotland (only available to licenced users)

To be able to run a context analysis with the RHS Toolbox, you need to derive altitude, slope, distance to source and height of source to calculate the PCA score for your site that will be used to select sites of similar types (see Jeffers, 1998 in References and Context analysis).

Using the RHS Toolbox, you can now automatically extract this information using a database of previously derived point on the river network. A form will display all nearby points using the mid-site grid reference and you will be able to map them to decide which one to choose for your site (see below). This feature is only available to licenced users and is not available to trial versions.

The process will not only extract data on for PCA score calculation but also background information on geology, sinuosity, typology using the Jeffers types (1998) and also predictions for four hydromorphological indices (Indices) in semi-natural conditions. This will enable the calculation of Hydromorphological Impact Ratio indices for your site to assess departure from semi-natural conditions (see below).

New indices

A series of indices and fields have been added to the interface.

Hydromorphological Impact Ratios

Provided your site is located in Great Britain, the software will extract predictions for four hydromorphological indices (Appendix 2 and also in the resource section and Naura et al, 2016) at semi-natural conditions (the ‘expected’ column in the figure below). These indices were derived as part of a research project (Naura et al ms).  The RHS Toolbox will then calculate Hydromorphological Impact Ratios (HIR) for each index.

Hydromorphological Impact Ratios representing the distance to semi-natural condition in % for four hydromorphological indices

HIRs represent the level of departure from semi-natural condition (or impact) for each index compared to the maximum level of departure (or maximum possible impact) that could be expected (see figure below and Appendix 4 or here for download). The HIRs are expressed as percentage values from 0% (no impact) to 100% (maximum possible impact). The site HIR represents the maximum possible impact for any of the four indices categorised into 12.5% impact classes:

  • Very Low : HIRindex between 0 and 12.5%
  • Low : HIRindex between 12.5 and 25%
  • Moderate : HIRindex between 25 and 37.5%
  • High : HIRindex between 37.5 and 50%
  • Very High : HIRindex between 50 and 100%.
Hydromorphological Impact Ratio derivation for the Channel Substrate Index. The ratio represents the relative difference between observed and expected index values compared to the maximum possible impact observable.

Agricultural fine sediment load and potential risk to biota

Provided your site is located in Great Britain, the software will extract information on agricultural fine sediment delivery to your site in tonnes per year and derive a series of indices representing Agricultural Sediment Load (ASL), Fine Sediment Accumulation (FSA) and overall Agricultural Sediment Risk (ASR). These indices were derived as part of research for the UK government and published in 2016 (Naura et al 2016).

Total agricultural fine sediment delivery represent all fine sediments transported from upstream in the water column and local sediment delivery through run-off and tributary inputs. The data are derived using modelling but can be entered by hand by the user.

Local agricultural fine sediment delivery represent all fine sediments delivered through run-off and tributary inputs.

The Fine Sediment Accumulation index is derived directly from your RHS site spot-check data for channel substrate.  Sites will be categorised according to the number of spot-checks with silt, sand or clay as:

  • Very low = 0 spot-checks with fine sediments
  • Low = 1 spot-check with fine sediments
  • Moderate =2,3 spot-checks with fine sediments
  • High = 4 to 6 spot-checks with fine sediments
  • Very high = 7 to 10 spot-checks with fine sediments

The ASR combines the FSA and ASL using the following matrix

For more information about the software, you can go to the software page or read the manual online.

Instructions to download and install the RHS Toolbox:
1- Download the zip file for the relevant version of the RHS Toolbox: 

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2- Create a RHS folder somewhere on your computer (e.g. C drive) and extract the content of the zip file into that folder.
3- If you do not have Access 2010 or later already installed on your PC, you can download and install the free Access 2016 runtime here
4- Double-click the file RHSDataInput.accdr.

The RHS Toolbox development requires investment in time and resources so it is unfortunately not possible to deliver it free of charge. You have access to a trial version for 30 days after which you will have to register and purchase a license. During the trial period, every time you log in, you will be asked whether you wish to purchase a license and register. Information on pricing can be found here

Potential issues: the RHS Toolbox was tested on UK (English) Windows Operating Systems. Due to different ways of representing decimal points, some of its functionality may not work on French and other Operating Systems that use commas (,) instead of points (.) to represent the decimal fraction of real numbers. Please let us know if you come across such problems.

Using River Habitat Survey in the Geography Curriculum at the University of Worcester

by Professor Ian Maddock, University of Worcester, January 2020

Third year undergraduate students at the University of Worcester can take an optional module in River Conservation and Management as part of their Geography or Physical Geography degrees. We offer a practical-based degree programme with a strong emphasis on fieldwork and in this module, the practical work is focused around the use of RHS. The first half of the module is largely classroom-based, focusing on new approaches to environmentally-sensitive river management, including river restoration, natural flood management and the application of environmental flows.  Guest speakers from the EA, wildlife trusts, rivers trusts, local authorities and environmental consultancies provide an overview of some of the organisations involved with these topics and give students insights into potential careers relevant to their interests.

copyright Ian Maddock

RHS provides the focus for the 2nd half of the module. Students are familiarised with the field survey methods and features that are assessed in the classroom and then get to trial the software in a PC room with dummy data sets. This allows them to get used to data input and score calculation and explore the impact of altering input fields and assessing the effect on the metrics calculated. They get a feel for what influences the Habitat Quality Assessment (HQA) and the Habitat Modification Score (HMS) and their sensitivity to data input.

This is followed by three weeks of fieldwork using RHS. The first one involves a ‘practice’ survey of a local stream and then straight back into the computer room for data input and metric calculations. Students work in small groups (2s and 3s) and all assess the same reach. Comparing scores between groups and identifying which features were scored differently between them enables a discussion on observer variability and the need for training to help standardise approaches and optimise data quality. In the following two weeks students assess two contrasting sites. One is a largely natural gravel-bed stream in a local nature reserve, with minimal direct human impact and high habitat quality. The second is a contrasting, heavily-modified urban stream dominated by channelisation including weirs, bank and bed reinforcements and channel realignment. For their assignment, students are required to produce a mock consultancy report and use the RHS outputs to 1) assess the current habitat quality and habitat modification, and 2) make recommendations for the implementation of suitable river restoration techniques. The important thing with the latter is they use the breakdown of the HQA and HMS metrics to underpin their recommendations, explicitly acknowledging the output of the RHS survey results to justify the techniques proposed.

RHS provides an ideal field technique for this type of work for many reasons. Students can become proficient in its use relatively quickly, survey times are sufficiently short to enable them to conduct a survey in a 3-4 hour timetable slot, it promotes a discussion about how to identify river habitat features, what features are deemed ecologically relevant and how the differing importance of features is acknowledged by the differential weighting of them towards the calculated metrics, and how habitats have been impacted in the past or can be restored. It also enables a more general discussion on the use of rapid visual assessment methods as a survey protocol compared to more detailed but time consuming quantitative techniques. We plan to trial the new mobile app this forthcoming year which should provide a more convenient way of recording data in the field and uploading it to the PC-based software.

Professor Ian Maddock

Professor of River Science

University of Worcester