Citizen Science

Full community monitoring logo


Covering a total catchment area of ~14km2, the Red Burn and Birkey Burn are small watercourses which flow south west through the village of Acomb and into the River Tyne, immediately upstream of Hexham. Both these watercourses respond rapidly to heavy rainfall and have, in recent years, flooded the Acomb community. An example includes the 28th June 2012 event, when numerous properties flooded. 12 volunteers have now taken the role as a ‘Flood Warden’ in Acomb, to support the community and ensure they are better prepared should the village flood again. As the watercourses respond so rapidly there is very little information (photographs, observations and datasets) available to fully understand the flooding mechanisms, which is required to predict and manage them in the future. For instance, rainfall and river levels vary significantly in space and time. Being an extremely enthusiastic and determined group, Action4Acomb (A4A) and the wider community are therefore keen to understand their local water environment.

Citizen Science project
LEAF LOGO miniIn an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of how the two burns respond, promote environmental education and encourage involvement on a local level, the Community Foundation Local Environmental Action Fund (LEAF) has awarded A4A a grant to support the ‘Red Burn Citizen Science’ project.

With support from Eleanor Starkey of Newcastle University (a PhD Researcher who has also implemented a similar project in the Haltwhistle Burn catchment), members of the local community now have the chance to become a ‘citizen scientist’ by monitoring weather, water and flood parameters around the area using simple, low-cost and innovative techniques. With additional information collected from a small automatic monitoring network (rainfall and river levels), it is anticipated that catchment-wide monitoring and observations combined will support scientific research and management work undertaken by professionals, such as the Environment Agency.

The Acomb School Common Action Team and Envirowatch Ltd have also kindly offered donations and project support.

Become a citizen scientist

RiverWatch_RedBurnAcombAre you interested in being part of the project? Would you like to explore and understand the Red Burn water environment? If so, please speak to a member of A4A or email

Project update

Three automatic water level recorders were installed along the Red Burn and Birkey Burn on the 3rd April 2015 by Envirowatch, Newcastle University and a local Flood Warden.  Three Flood Wardens have also recently installed river level gauge boards (giant white rulers) within the village.

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Monitoring activities commenced  following a workshop on the 28th May 2015 (download a copy of the slideshow presented here). This webpage is now being used as a ‘community hub’, for sharing local knowledge, communicating, learning, submitting observations, viewing observations, links to further information and much more.

Monitoring activities were put to the test on the evening of Sunday 5th July 2015 when very heavy rainfall passed over Acomb and Hexham. Over 38mm of rainfall was observed in one hour at the school. Evidence of surface water flooding, blocked drains and river levels were also captured. Examples of observations can be found on Flickr and Twitter. These observations are useful to both the community and the Environment Agency.

ROCK booklet front coverNew booklet gives guidance on community catchment management

A new guidance document ‘Community Involvement in UK Catchment Management’, co-authored by Eleanor Starkey and Geoff Parkin (Newcastle University), has been recently published by the Foundation for Water Research. The booklet has been written to help communities to understand how they fit into the ‘modern day’ catchment management process, so that they can begin to manage catchments on a local level with the involvement of local people. Acomb’s flood plan is also presented as a case study. A copy can be downloaded here:

 Links for the Red Burn Citizen Scientists:


Acomb's Community web site