The VCT Conservation Award 2023 was awarded to Sarah Cooney
Sarah Cooney with her VCT Conservation Award

The recipient of the VCT award for Conservation in 2023 is Sarah Cooney.

Sarah has a small stretch of the Bourne Rivulet running through her garden in Stoke.  There was a major flood event in 2014 in the Bourne Valley and this prompted Sarah to join the St Mary Bourne Flood & Emergency Group, and subsequently the Bourne Rivulet Initiative.  In addition, very much as a volunteer, Sarah started working with various stakeholders on a Natural Flood Management project. She also took a keen interest in Chalkstream catchments and the importance of working with nature. Not long after, the Watercress & Winterbournes Project was born and by early 2019 she was trained up and started kick-sampling for Riverfly Monitoring in the Bourne Rivulet. 

Having a scientific background has made learning about riverfly fairly easy for Sarah and, in her words, “standing in the middle of a chalk stream has to be one of the best workplaces in the world!”

Equally many hours of her time have passed looking down a microscope at the exquisite features of the amazing  invertebrate life that lives in chalk streams. 

All  her detailed monitoring and results are now uploaded to a National Database, contributing massively to our better understanding of the health of our rivers. She has also methodically  reported the data to local stakeholders each month and has received all sorts of interesting comments and concerns back.

Sarah is a truly worthy winner of the 2023 VCT Conservation Award.

On receiving the award, Sarah said “I was touched indeed to hear that I had won the award, and that the Watercress & Winterbournes Project as a whole had been highlighted so well by Graham at the recent Chalk Stream Headwaters Forum which I was sorry to miss.

“Riverfly monitoring has been a big part of my life now for almost 5 years; the journey has been amazing and I have learned so much along the way. It is down to the support and encouragement of the W&W Officers Kathryn Boler and Maggie Shelton, and also the expert guidance of our tutors Richard Osmond and Matt Owen-Farmer that has made it possible for me to get involved in the first place. There are many riverfly volunteers out there month on month in all weathers poring over trays and looking down microscopes – and that sense of belonging to a broader team creates a motivating and inspirational volunteering experience. I would also like to mention Cyril Bennett, whose beautiful photographs of the invertebrates that we monitor are so helpful and engaging.

“So thank you all for recognising how important the work is that we do in terms of monitoring the health of our precious chalk streams.

Thank you again – this really means a lot to me”.

Previous awards…

VCT Conservation Award 2018

VCT Conservation Award 2018

The winner of the 2018 VCT Conservation Award was naturalist Tim Sykes who works tirelessly through his role with the Environment Agency.In his spare time, Tim works with many other organisations and people including Wildlife Trusts and educational establishments to...

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VCT Conservation Award 2017

VCT Conservation Award 2017

The first VCT Conservation Award was won by Aquascience in recognition of their work on the Tichborne Estate to redirect the river, creating 1km of pristine chalk stream. Aquascience carefully designed the restored channel, including profiles and gradients. They also...

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