Hydroscape’s field work is the cherry on my research cake!

My name is Ambroise Baker and I am involved with Hydroscape as a postdoctoral researcher based in University College London (UCL). I focus on two aspects of our project:

(i) Biodiversity distribution across freshwater habitats in response to connectivity and stressors, and (ii) identifying biodiversity long-term refugia following landscape-scale environmental degradation.

As a post-doc, one of my roles is to bring together existing datasets about freshwater biodiversity, assess whether they are going to provide sufficient insights to meet our aims and purposes, identify gaps in our knowledge, and get out of the office to fill these gaps with new information from the natural world.

And, for me, this last part, field work, is the cherry on the cake of my research position. This is not only about collecting missing data but also an exceptional opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors, practice natural history and gain inspiration to develop new environmental research.

Visiting the natural world is an inspiration for my work. Rydal Water, Ambleside, Cumbria.


Alan Law, post-doc at the University of Stirling, and I are lucky to lead together one of Hydroscape’s field campaigns. We aim to document biodiversity from various freshwater habitats across North Norfolk, Cumbria and the greater Glasgow area. All in all, we have spent about six weeks in the field this summer; Alan focussed on identifying aquatic beetles and molluscs while I focussed on aquatic plants from over 100 sites.

I forgot to mention that I’m passionate about field botany, so, yes, going to all these places recording aquatic plants is a dream job! We have visited fantastic lakes and ponds, and ditches, and streams – let alone Carl Sayer’s mythical backwaters – each a hidden gem of its type for plants.

Underwater plants are notoriously difficult to observe from above-water for many reasons including water depth limiting access, water clarity and light reflection on the water surface
Aquatic mosses in hyper-acidic waters from an urban Glasgow pond


If the sites sites are large (> several hectares) we conduct our surveys from a small boat, but most sites can be accessed by wading into the water wearing thigh high waders. One obvious question comes to mind: do we ever fall in? My botanical curiosity tends to take me one step too far so I often have an accidental dip – not a big plonk, but enough to fill up my waders and create a squelch sound for every step!

Because of people like me who tend to fall in water, risk assessment procedures are becoming increasingly complex… note the ‘designer’ life jacket to mitigate the compulsive drive to discover a new species. Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow


You’ll have to ask Alan about that time he saw me, water to the waist, hanging from pine branches over deep water. He knows how to turn it into a funny tale. I only remember the rare Sparganium natans, small burr reed, in full bloom at this site… as well as water filling up the waders and my hands and arms getting deeply grazed by conifers.

Sparganium natans at it’s best, surrounded by white waterlilies at Grizedale Tarn East, Cumbria


As a little side project during this field campaign, I am taking a particular interest in water lilies of the genus Nymphaea. They appear quite simple: there is the native one and the horticultural ones. But telling them apart can be tricky! The horticultural ones can turn up in the most unexpected places, although mostly where they were intentionally planted by anglers. Probably the most photographed and most emblematic of our aquatic plants.

An obviously horticultural clone with pink-tinter petals and large flowers, leaves abundantly sticking out of the water and reddish leaf undersides. Parkgate Tarn, Cumbria
An apparently native specimen with smaller flowers and impeccably flat leaves. Note the red colouration of the upper side of the leaves. Beacon Tarn, Cumbria


Finally, another native specimen with no leaves sticking out the water despite intense underwater competition for light. Thrang Moss Tarn, Cumbria



In short, hydroscape field work is fun! No matter how wet I get I enjoy searching for aquatic plants, experiencing the outdoor and sharing good moments with colleagues. But the real highlight is that these extra data and experiences put us in a position to deliver great science!


Glorious weather at Glasgow, Cumbria and Norfolk!



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