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eConference on The Future of Water Management in Europe

September 11, 2017
2012_11_27_Loch Leven_AirLandWater1

Loch Leven in Scotland, where water quality has significantly improved in the last 25 years following effective water management. Image: Laurence Carvalho

Between 19th and 21st September the MARS project will host an online eConference on The Future of Water Management in Europe.

The eConference aims to gather constructive and practical suggestions from the scientific community to help improve the monitoring and management of aquatic ecosystems across Europe.

Speakers from across Europe will lead presentations and discussions on key issues surrounding aquatic science, policy and conservation. These include Dr Lidija Globevnik from the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, talking about the stressors impacting freshwaters in Europe, and Dr Victor Beumer from Deltares, Netherlands, who will present on the implementation of nature-based solutions to supply multiple benefits in water management.

More than 200 delegates are expected to take part in online discussions at the eConference, the outcomes of which are intended to inform the effective implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is scheduled for review in 2019-20.

Leven_sampling_20170815 (2)

Ecological sampling on Loch Leven. Image: Laurence Carvalho

Professor Laurence Carvalho, the eConference organiser, and a freshwater ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) said, “The aim of this eConference is to bring together leading experts in river basin management concerned with constructive and practical ideas on how we can more effectively implement the Water Framework Directive, due for review in 2019-20.

“It is over 15 years since the WFD was formerly adopted and in that time Europe has changed, with new pressures being recognised. This includes impacts linked to climate change – and associated flood and drought risks – as well as the rise of invasive species and a broad range of emerging pollutants. At the same time new perspectives on environmental management have developed, including payment for ecosystem services, nature-based solutions and circular economies.

“Given these changes in pressures and policy approaches, this eConference aims to gather scientific opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of current WFD implementation, innovation in monitoring and management and best practice in policy implementation.”

The eConference presentations are being recorded and will be available on the conference website for a year afterwards. A synthesis of the eConference will also be written up as a science-policy opinion article.


Online registration for The Future of Water Management eConference is free.

Attendees will be able to pose questions to presenters, and take part in discussions. Afterwards, they will asked to complete a survey to give their views on future options for water management in Europe, which will be used to help shape policy recommendations from the eConference.


eConference programme

All times are Central European Time (CET)

Tuesday 19th September: Monitoring and Assessment Systems – The Good, the Bad and the Innovative

10:45 – 11:00 Welcome to eConference & day from Chair
Anne Lyche Solheim (NIVA, Norway)

11:00 – 11:30 Strengths and weaknesses of current assessment systems
Martyn Kelly (Bowburn Consultancy, UK)

11:30 – 12:00 Innovation in Monitoring – Satellites, citizens and sequences
Laurence Carvalho (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK)

12:00 – 12:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Christine Argillier (Irstea, France)

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 14:30 Tracking progress in a one-out-all-out world
Daniel Hering (University Duisburg-Essen, Germany)

14:30 – 15:00 A new biomonitoring approach to optimize mitigation and recovery
Annette Baattrup-Pedersen (Aarhus University, Denmark)

15:00 – 15:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Peter Pollard (SEPA, UK)

Wednesday 20th September: Programmes of Measures – How do we Best Manage Multiple Stressors?

10:45 – 11:00 Welcome to day from Chair
Ursula Schmedtje (Federal Environment Agency (UBA), Germany)

11:00 – 11:30 Stressor situation in Europe
Lidija Globevnik (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)

11:30 – 12:00 How do we diagnose the cause of degradation under multiple stressors?
Christian Feld (University Duisburg-Essen, Germany)

12:00 – 12:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Dr Jeremy (Jay) Piggott (Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 14:30 How multiple stressors are managed under water scarcity? The case of the Ebro River
Sergi Sabater (University of Girona and ICRA, Spain)

14:30 – 15:00 Implementation of Nature-based Solutions to supply multiple benefits
Victor Beumer (Deltares, Netherlands)

15:00 – 15:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Teresa Ferreira (Univ. of Lisbon, Portugal)

Thursday 21st September: The Policy Mix – Can we get Better Integration?

10:45 – 11:00 Welcome to day from Chair
Ana Cristina Cardoso (European Commission Joint Research Centre)

11:00 – 11:30 Integrating ecosystem service concepts into River Basin Management
Bruna Grizzetti (European Commission Joint Research Centre)

11:30 – 12:00 Synergies and conflicts between policies – how do we join up?
Josselin Rouillard (Ecologic, Germany)

12:00 – 12:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Angel Borja (AZTI, Spain)

12:30 – 14:00 Lunch break

14:00 – 14:30 Joining up water & agricultural policy
Sindre Langaas (NIVA, Norway)

14:30 – 15:00 Legal Issues for Policy Integration
Sarah Hendry (University of Dundee, UK)

15:00 – 15:30 Panel Q&A with chair, speakers & guest panelist
Guest panelist: Kirsty Blackstock, James Hutton Institute, UK

15:30 – 15:45 Closing remarks to eConference
Sebastian Birk (University Duisburg-Essen, Germany)

Relaunch of the Freshwater Information Platform

September 8, 2017

freshwater information platformThe Freshwater Information Platform – initiated and hosted by four leading European research institutes – has undergone a major update this week, two years after its launch.

The platform makes information from a large set of freshwater ecosystem research activities accessible to scientists, stakeholders and the wider public. It offers a forum for information exchange and open-access publishing of maps and data, and seeks to stimulate cutting-edge research and collaborations in the field.

In so doing, the Freshwater Information Platform provides a unique and comprehensive knowledge base for sustainable and evidence-based management of our threatened freshwater ecosystems and the resources they provide.

Existing sections of the platform including the Freshwater Biodiversity Data Portal, the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas, the Freshwater Species Traits Database, and the Freshwater Metadata section, have been developed and updated.

freshwater atlas

Exploring patterns of biodiversity in the Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas. Image: FIP

New sections on the Freshwater Information Platform increase the availability of accessible information and tools for freshwater science. Freshwater Information Systems offers a comprehensive collection of other available freshwater information systems or knowledge platforms. Research Deliverables and Freshwater Networks + Projects compile research deliverables from freshwater related projects mostly funded by the EU.

The Freshwater Tools section includes recently developed interactive diagnostic tools from the MARS project, which help to identify and diagnose multiple stressors and their effects on waterbodies and suggest potential management measures. This section is complemented by a variety of other useful tools for freshwater research, including modelling tools, assessment tools, GIS and R tools.


Outputs from 15 global freshwater research projects are collected in the Research Deliverables section. Image: FIP

Currently, the Freshwater Information Platform is maintained by four research institutes in Austria (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences), Belgium (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences) and Germany (University of Duisburg-Essen, Aquatic Ecology and Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries).

Input, contributions and support from other institutions, projects and scientists are welcomed. Details of how to contribute to the Freshwater Information Platform can be found here.

Broader scale research needed for emerging threat of endocrine disrupting chemicals

September 1, 2017

Around a fifth of male roach sampled in British rivers showed signs of mutating into females as a result of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Image: myfrozenlife | Flickr Creative Commons

Some chemicals in freshwater ecosystems have the potential to alter the hormonal balance and function of aquatic organisms. Such ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’ (or EDCs) can significantly affect how aquatic organisms live, feed and reproduce, and potentially cause stress on their populations.

A new open-access review published in Biological Reviews by Fred Windsor and colleagues argues that whilst EDCs pose an increasing threat to aquatic biodiversity, there is little current understanding of the ecological effects of EDC exposure at different scales.

EDCs – which include ibuprofen (a common painkiller), progesterone (used in contraceptive pills), and numerous other steroids, pharmaceuticals and organic compounds – are increasingly pervasive in freshwater ecosystems, as a result of their widespread human manufacture, use and waste.

Speaking recently at the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, environmental biologist Prof Charles Tyler – a co-author on the new study – identified EDCs as a key emerging stress on freshwater environments.

In 2008, Tyler’s research found that nearly a quarter of male roach sampled from 51 sites on English rivers showed signs of becoming female. These physiological changes – such as the fish having eggs in their testicles – were attributed to heightened concentrations of oestrogen (derived from contraceptive pills, and passed through the sewage system) in the river waters.

According to the authors of the new Biological Reviews review, the multiple non-lethal effects that growing numbers of EDCs can have on freshwater organisms at different scales makes their assessment and management difficult. They argue that EDC research on their effects should take place at broader spatial and temporal scales than the current laboratory centred experiments.

Such broader-scale research has the potential to reveal both direct and indirect EDC effects at individual, population and food web scales in ecosystems, they argue. This could form the basis for environmental managers and policy makers to make more informed decisions about freshwater conservation and restoration.

Lead author of the review, joint Cardiff and Exeter PhD student Fred Windsor said:

“A large array of substances derived from industry, drugs and personal care products can pose an environmental risk to the normal hormone functions of a wide array of organisms: These so-called ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’ (EDCs) occur increasingly in streams, lakes and rivers, and have become a source of considerable concern because of possible effects on fish, other wildlife and, potentially, people.

So far, much of our understanding is from laboratory toxicological studies that don’t capture the complex pathways or mechanisms through which EDCs affect real ecosystems.  Our review identifies the need for greater efforts using ecologically oriented assessments at population-, community- and food web levels under real conditions.”

EU MARS project scientist and review co-author Prof Steve Ormerod added:

“One of the greatest environmental success stories over the last few decades has been the restoration of urban rivers affected by gross pollution and heavy industry.  However, we’re increasingly realising that complex substances like EDCs might cause continuing problems because they’re not removed fully by conventional wastewater treatment. (See, for example, Steve’s research on dippers).

Rural environments are also at risk – for example where various pesticides and pharmaceuticals from livestock reach streams and rivers. These chemicals add to the suite of multiple stressors that have to be addressed to protect and restore biodiversity and those ecosystem services for which water is critical.”

Windsor FM, Ormerod SJ, Tyler CR. (2017) Endocrine disruption in aquatic systems:
up-scaling research to address ecological consequences. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc (open access)

Vulnerable estuary fish populations require stronger conservation management

August 25, 2017

Gweek estuary, Cornwall. Image: Tony Armstrong | Flickr Creative Commons

Estuaries are transitional ecosystems where freshwater and marine waters meet, and their biodiversity overlaps. As a result of their supporting roles in trade, transport, fishing and tourism, estuaries are often also highly altered and pressurised ecosystems.

According to a new study, European estuaries are home to some of the most vulnerable and least resilient estuarine fish populations in the world. Writing in Nature Scientific Reports, Rita P. Vasconcelos and colleagues outline that European estuaries are particularly pressurised by human activities such as overfishing, habitat alteration and pollution. However, the authors of the newly published study argue that these highly-pressurised European estuaries are often lacking in sufficient protected area coverage to help conserve vulnerable fish species.

The researchers used publicly-available scientific data sets on global fish populations for their analysis. They found that two fish species traits which affect species response to pressures – vulnerability and resilience – were not evenly distributed in estuarine populations globally, and were driven by environmental features such as temperature, connectivity and area.

In this study, both species traits are based on responses to fishing pressures. Vulnerability describes the susceptibility of fish species to become extinct due to fishing pressure. Vulnerability is an indirect measure of species sensitivity to change, and can be influenced by life history and ecological features such as body size, age at maturity and geographical range.

Resilience is used in this study to describe the capacity of fish species to recover from fishing pressure. The resilience of fish species is related to their fecundity and natural rate of population growth. In essence, the use of these species traits in this study allows the authors to analyse the susceptibility of global estuarine fish biodiversity to multiple human pressures.

The researchers outline that assemblages of more vulnerable and less resilient fish species were generally found in estuaries at higher latitudes – particularly Europe – and with high connectivity between the freshwater and marine environments. The authors argue that current conservation schemes typically pay little attention to species traits such as vulnerability and resilience, despite their ecological importance.

In this study, Vasconcelos and colleagues show that global protected area coverage of estuary ecosystems is only weakly related to the distribution of sensitive fish species. This shortfall in protection is exacerbated by the multiple pressures acting on the estuaries supporting the most vulnerable fish populations. They argue that conservation schemes are needed in estuary environments across the world, particularly those with populations of vulnerable fish species.

Their study is focused on protected area management, where restrictions are placed on human activities within a set geographical area, such as those classified in IUCN management categories I-V. In addition, it is largely focused on fishing as a key pressure on fish populations, as measured through their trait responses. As such, the study doesn’t address the environmental benefits that legislation such as the Water Framework Directive brings to European estuaries, by requiring governments to conserve and restore water and habitat quality.

Regardless, the study has an important message: European estuaries subject to multiple pressures are home to vulnerable fish populations, which are in need of protection.

You can read the full open-access article here.

Restoring Swindale Beck

August 14, 2017

A new film released recently by the RSPB shows how the restoration of a stretch of Lake District river has brought swift ecological improvements along its course. Around 200 years ago, Swindale Beck was artificially straightened to increase the grazing area along its floodplain. The straightened course had unnaturally fast water flows, which washed away gravel from its bed, largely preventing salmon and trout from spawning.

A major river restoration project was carried out last summer to bring back the river’s natural meandering course. As documented in this new film, the work was undertaken by a partnership between the RSPB, the Environment Agency, United Utilities and Natural England.

The restoration work created slower and more diverse water flows in Swindale Beck, which improve the habitat for spawning fish. Earlier this year, only months after the work finished, 16 salmon were spotted in the restored one-kilometre stretch of river, together with five ‘redds’ – the patches of disturbed gravel where salmon eggs have been laid.

The re-meandering of Swindale Beck is also intended to help buffer flooding problems, by allowing flood waters to spill out onto the river’s floodplains. This, alongside alterations to livestock grazing in the valley, have caused wildflower meadows on the floodplains to flourish.

Lee Schofield, RSPB Site Manager at Haweswater, said, “Working to restore natural processes in Swindale has been incredibly rewarding and has delivered huge benefits for people and for wildlife. Most of the work that have carried out is compatible with farming and other land uses. We hope to see more projects like this happening across the country, helping to make landscapes and businesses more resilient to future flooding and the impacts of climate change.”

Like all rivers, the flow dynamics of Swindale Beck are linked to landscape use in its catchment. At the highest point of the river’s catchment is a large area of blanket bog at Mosedale. Restoration work here has blocked 29 miles of artificial moorland drains, which has raised the water table and created numerous new ponds, which have become habitat for aquatic insects. This work also helps ‘slow the flow’ of heavy and sudden rainfall to the river channel.

Native tree species have also been planted throughout the river valley. As they grow into riparian woodland, it is intended that they will help stabilise the valley soils and river banks, further slow the flow of flashy rainfall, and provide new habitat for species such as the red squirrel.

Oliver Southgate, River Restoration Project Manager at the Environment Agency, said, “This project demonstrates the true essence of partnership working. Everyone contributed throughout the project to ensure we delivered the maximum of benefits. It really does show that nature will find a way if you allow it to. It’s a brilliant project and another one for the UK River prize-winning Cumbrian river restoration programme.”

The NSERC Canadian Lake Pulse Network: Assessing lake health across Canada

August 10, 2017

This week we have a guest post by Yannick Huot and Catherine Brown from the NSERC Canadian Lake Pulse Network. Like MARS, their research network focuses on the impacts of mutiple stressors on the health of aquatic ecosystems – in this case on lakes across Canada. You can find out more about their work on their website.


How do you combine a pan-Canadian assessment of lake health with innovative research, while also providing governmental partners and other stakeholders with new knowledge to spur evidence-based decision making? Put it all into an NSERC Strategic Partnership network grant, of course. The objectives of the NSERC Canadian Lake Pulse Network (we affectionately call it “Lake Pulse”) are ambitious to say the least!

Lake Pulse participants collaboratively explore many aspects of limnology, including paleolimnology, spatial modelling, remote sensing, genomics and contaminants, while determining how to best integrate these advances into lake management and provide accessible data for policymakers and decision making.

Our aim is to create an accessible web platform to promote a science-based understanding of lake health, which will help bring together stakeholders and facilitate informed and cooperative lake management. This 5-year research network, initiated in mid-2016, includes 18 university researchers and will train over 40 students. Our partners include federal, provincial and territorial government agencies as well as non-governmental organizations.

lake pulse

Many Lake Pulse participants are finding that a departure from their usual modus operandi is required. Enhanced cooperation is essential in this network, and many individuals are coming together to contribute to common goals.

For example, Lake Pulse students will be immersed in our multidisciplinary, collaborative field expeditions to sample 680 lakes across Canada over 3 summers. These students will collect data for the entire network and cannot focus only on their own individual projects. They will be trained in diverse limnological techniques; contribute to our large, shared database of lake variables; and help to refine our Lake Pulse field manual of protocols that will be consistently applied nationwide and aligned with the EPA’s National Lakes Assessment.

Lake Pulse researchers, unlike researchers working in many other NSERC Strategic Partnership networks, are not allocated funds to carry out specific research projects; instead, they are provided with partial stipends for students. Our partners are deeply embedded in all aspects of Lake Pulse from planning to analyses, including data collection and publication.

For this network to succeed, trust must be built amongst all participants; methods and guidelines must be put in place; and communication must be efficient and flow freely. Establishing this framework was some of the work cut out for us over the last few months, along with building the core team at our host institution, the Université de Sherbrooke.

To say that these months have been fast paced would be an understatement, and to claim that there were no challenges would by a lie. However, we are confidently on track to begin one of the most ambitious limnological field campaigns ever carried out in Canada. When our mobile labs set out in July 2017, you can follow their progress online.

We also welcome opportunities to work with new partners, collaborators and researchers who have the potential to enhance our Lake Pulse objectives. To learn more about us, visit our website… and subscribe to our blog!

European public want more environmental protections according to new survey

August 4, 2017
Symbolique 2006

Water is a key element of EU environmental policy. Image: Symbolique 2006

Over half of the European public are in favour of more environmental protections across the continent, according to a new European Parliament survey.

53% of the 27,901 EU citizens interviewed by Kantar Public for the survey thought that existing environmental protections across Europe were ‘insufficient’. 75% of citizens thought that more policy and management interventions were necessary to protect European environments.

There is a broad geographical distribution to these findings. Three of the top five ‘insufficient’ ratings in the survey were made by people from southern European countries – Spain, Portugal and Greece – where climate change and development pressures are increasingly strong. The strongest ‘insufficient’ rating came from the Swedish public.

On the other hand, the four lowest ‘insufficient’ ratings – i.e. those who mostly saw current protections as ‘sufficient’ – came from people in the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and in the Czech Republic. All four of these countries gained membership of the EU in 2004. Citizens from the UK and Ireland were only slightly more positive about the sufficiency of existing environmental protections.

Overall, 36% of EU citizens surveyed thought that existing environmental protections were sufficient, whilst 4% thought they were excessive.

Of the three-quarters of EU citizens who called for increased environmental protection interventions from policy makers, the three most positive respondents were again from Southern European countries – Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. All three countries have experienced water shortages in recent years (and in Spain’s case, unusual winter floods and snow) – driven by climatic trends which are projected to worsen in coming decades.

The Baltic States, Czech Republic, Poland and the UK reported the lowest enthusiasm for increased environmental protections. However, in Latvia and Estonia, the two least-positive results, over half of surveyed citizens (52% in both cases) were still in favour of increased environmental protections.

Of course, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions on the influence of national geopolitics or environmental issues on the results of this survey – particularly when respondents were encouraged to think about the EU as a whole throughout their interviews. However, there are geographical trends in the reported results, which deserve subsequent in-depth research and analysis to properly understand.

More broadly, the survey yields a number of insights for environmental policy makers seeking to address the public appetite for environmental protections across the EU. When citizens were asked about the policy topics they would like more information on, environmental protection was the fifth most popular, after issues surrounding terrorism, unemployment, health and social security and migration.

The greatest enthusiasm for more environmental information came from citizens in Northern European countries with relatively high GDP: The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. The lowest was from the Estonian and Latvian public. Overall, these results suggest that there is scope for broader and more effective environmental science and policy communication and engagement in the EU.

There is a long-held idea in conservation practice that a person or community’s attachment to a place (what geographer Yi Fu Tuan calls ‘topophilia‘), means they are likely to support its conservation and protection. The survey reveals that EU citizens feel far more attached to their city/town/village, region and country (between 87-92% do) than they do to the EU as a whole (between 51-56% do).

This result points to a challenge for environmental policy makers and managers in designing large-scale, cross-national initiatives. One question might be in how continental-scale conservation and protection initiatives (for example, this recent Natura 2000 waterbird project) can best be justified and popularised at each of their local and regional ‘nodes’.

Finally, the survey suggests that over half (53%) of EU citizens don’t believe that their voice counts in EU decision-making processes, whilst 43% believe that theirs does. The most negative opinions came from citizens in Greece (perhaps predictably, given recent economic and migration issues), Estonia and the Czech Republic. The most positive came from citizens in The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark – the same citizens who were receptive to more environmental protections information.

According to citizens across the continent, voting in European elections is the main way (57-59% of respondents) of making your voice heard in EU decision-making. In the context of an overall public desire for more EU environmental protection initiatives, the results suggest that there is the opportunity for environmental NGOs, charities and community groups to communicate how public participation in environmental debate and action can influence EU decision making.

You can read the full survey report here, and see the data here.

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