Rapid Habitat Assessment Protocol

Cawthron, in partnership with councils across New Zealand, has developed a Rapid Habitat Assessment (RHA) protocol to support the work of regional councils and citizen scientists in monitoring stream habitat.

What is RHA Protocol?

The Rapid Habitat Assessment (RHA) provides a ‘habitat quality score’ for a river reach which indicates general stream habitat condition for the physical aspect, such as the structure of the stream banks or the nature of the stream bed.

The RHA is now used by almost all regional councils during routine monitoring, and increasingly as part of farm environmental planning. The protocol was developed to help with national standardisation of stream habitat assessment and is designed to complement water quality and macroinvertebrate data collected as part of national State of Environment monitoring.

Benefits of RHA protocol

Aquatic life is dependent on various features of stream habitat and riparian areas. Knowing what types of habitats are present, in what amounts and how these habitats might be changing over time is vital to understanding overall stream health. Using the RHA protocol to help track the impact of stream restoration efforts such as fencing and planting along waterways over time can help measure improvements.

How to carry out a RHA

To help those who are responsible for carrying out RHAs, a series of videos have been developed which aim to standardise the various visual habitat assessment procedures that form the RHA.

The videos contain digitality augmented instructional footage (including aerial footage, close-ups and underwater shots) to explain each of the 10 assessment steps required in a simple, easy to follow manner. The video also contains footage of habitat features across a range of real field examples that will allow watchers to determine appropriate habitat scores at a site.

The RHA protocol is easy to follow and doesn’t take long to complete. A single stream reach can be assessed in 20 minutes with no specialist equipment required.

There are two resources that may be helpful to you:

An instruction document explaining ‘How to sample freshwater macroinvertebrates using a Surber sample,’

And, a ‘RHA Field Recording Sheet’.


Want to find out more?

Robin Holmes

Freshwater Ecologist – Fisheries Management and Biomonitoring.

Get in touch with Robin through his profile page. 

Robin Holmes

Access the ‘How to’ RHA protocol videos: