UCL News


UCL scientists ask public to delve into their ponds

13 May 2010


Young person examining pond life geog.ucl.ac.uk/about-the-department/people/academics/neil-rose" target="_self">Dr Neil Rose
  • OPAL
  • UCL Environmental Change Research Centre
  • UCL Geography
  • OPAL water survey: join in now
  • UCL scientists are researching the quality of England's lakes and ponds and asking everyone to get involved in a project led by UCL's OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) Water Centre.

    The project, led by Environmental Change Research Centre within UCL Geography, aims to assess existing research which suggests that many ponds and lakes are either damaged by pollution or neglected, making these important habitats one of the most threatened in our landscape. However, currently, the true extent of this damage is unknown.
    The research also highlights the need to assess the quality of these important habitats, so that the best ones can be protected and the polluted ones can be improved.

    To address the task, the OPAL Water Centre team are asking people all over the country to take part in the OPAL Water Survey this summer. The survey asks people to look for commonly found animals, such as dragonfly larvae and water beetles, which can indicate the health of the habitat.

    Participants are also asked to take water clarity and pH measurements (which determine the acidity of water) before uploading their findings online. The survey team is interested in finding out more about all kinds of lakes, including garden ponds, as remarkably little is known about these popular habitats.

    By joining in with the survey, people will be uncovering valuable new information that will help to protect freshwater wildlife. Ponds and lakes are important havens for wildlife and, despite the impacts of pollution from a variety of sources, there may still be thousands of good quality ones to be found.

    As part of the project, the team has developed the OPAL water pack, a simple-to-use water quality assessment that has been distributed to schools and a wide range of community groups this week. The pack was developed by the OPAL Water Centre in UCL's Department of Geography in collaboration with Pond Conservation, BugLife, the British Dragonfly Society, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the Botanical Society of the British Isles.

    Dr Neil Rose of the UCL OPAL Water Centre said, "England has thousands of lakes and ponds which play a vital role in protecting our freshwater plants and animals. Although we know a lot about some of our larger, more famous lakes, there are huge gaps in our knowledge about the vast numbers of smaller waters dotted all over the landscape. We need to know where the best sites are so we can protect them properly; and who knows what we might find once people start to take a closer look?"

    Dr Jeremy Biggs, Director of Pond Conservation, said, "Last year our Big Pond Dip took a detailed look at wildlife garden ponds to help us to understand more about these hugely abundant habitats. There are between two and three million in English gardens alone, and we know very little about them. This year, Pond Conservation has joined forces with OPAL to further investigate how we can make the most of these important habitats."

    The OPAL Water Survey can be carried out at any lake or pond in England, including ponds in gardens. Anyone can take part with an identification guide and workbook that can be downloaded free from the OPAL website at the link above. The website will display uploaded results on an interactive map, along with those of other participants from around the country.

    Image above: Young person examining pond life

    UCL context

    The OPAL Water Survey has been developed by UCL scientists in partnership with Pond Conservation and Buglife - The Invertebrate Conservation Trust. It is funded by OPAL's grant from the Big Lottery Fund of £11.75m.

    The OPAL project is a nationwide partnership running until 2012, led by Imperial College London and includes the Natural History Museum, Open University and other universities, parks and the Met Office. The project hopes to create a legacy of knowledge and interest in aquatic monitoring which will feed into new campaigns being developed by Pond Conservation in 2011. The five-year programme will bring scientists and the public closer together, allowing environmental issues to be explored which have both local and global relevance.

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