Thursday, 21 August 2014

CEH scientists collaborating with global freshwater citizen science programme

CEH scientists working on a project investigating water pollution in urban areas have teamed up with Earthwatch to train citizen scientists in carrying out water quality monitoring. The collaboration has come about via Earthwatch’s Freshwater Watch programme, which aims to study fresh water quality around the globe by engaging employees from participating organisations as citizen scientists.

The POLLCURB project, led by CEH, is looking at how water pollution relates to change in urban areas, in particular change brought about by population growth, and what it may mean for water quality and quantity in the future.

POLLCURB is collaborating with the Earthwatch programme by training citizen scientists, in this case employees from Shell, to monitor water quality in the river Thames and two of its tributaries, the Mole and Ember, using a handheld multiparameter probe.

CEH's Mike Hutchins (centre) teaching participants
how to use the probe. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

Dr Mike Hutchins of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is lead investigator on POLLCURB. At a recent citizen science training day at Wimbledon Common, Mike gave an overview of the project before teaching the budding citizen scientists from Shell how to use the monitoring probe, taking them into the field to gain first-hand practice.

Probe dunking. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

The participants will visit the Thames sites several times over the next six months to collect data on temperature, turbidity, organic matter, algae and oxygen levels, producing a monthly dataset for each location. As well as collecting data for POLLCURB, they are also carrying out Freshwater Watch’s global parameters at each of the sites, which include collection data on nutrient levels.

Looking at the data collected. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch.

Mike told us a little more about the value of the collaboration. He explained, "As POLLCURB is investigating how urban growth influences local water bodies I am keen to get people living in those very towns and cities involved and, in particular, for them to have the opportunity to use some of the equipment that professional scientists are currently using on a day-to-day basis.

"The data the citizen scientists are collecting will benefit me, in terms of improving the models I am using to predict river water quality, and also regulators, who will gain further knowledge of some specific rivers of interest to them."

Looking at results. Photo: Richard Sylvester / Earthwatch

Mike added, "The project with Earthwatch / Shell is flexible and I hope will gain some of its own momentum. There is potential to expand the number of sites or increase the frequency of visits, and also I am particularly enthusiastic about the scope for participants to monitor other local water bodies in which they may have a particular personal interest."

Earthwatch and CEH collaborators at one of the monitoring sites on the
Thames near Hampton Court. Photo: Mike Hutchins / CEH.

For more detailed information on the POLLCURB project, visit the project website.

Additional information

FreshWater Water has already recruited more than 1700 citizen scientists in over two dozen cities around the world. Data collected are uploaded to

Staff page and research interests of Dr Mike Hutchins, CEH

More about the citizen science training day from Earthwatch

Posted by Paulette Burns, Media Coordinator

Monday, 18 August 2014

A weekend at Birdfair

CEH's Biological Records Centre (BRC) teamed up with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) this weekend (15-17 August 2014) to co-host a stand at the hugely popular Birdfair annual event at Rutland. Birdfair attracts more than 20,000 wildlife enthusiasts of all ages and from many different countries and was an ideal venue to encourage more people to record their wildlife sightings. Records submitted through BRC's apps and iRecord website are used in research by CEH scientists and colleagues.

Visitors were able to see how easy it is to use BRC's range of recording apps, such as iRecord Ladybirds and iRecord Butterflies (and get an exciting sneak preview of the forthcoming grasshopper app!). It was also great to see interest in the forthcoming National Plant Monitoring Scheme, which involves both CEH and BSBI. 

A number of CEH scientists were in attendance to chat about their work and about the importance of recording wildlife... well as enjoy the efforts of our stand partners...

...and discover some of the other great research and volunteer efforts being highlighted at the show...

Thanks to everyone who took the time to pop by and have a chat! We hope you had a great show and continue to enjoy viewing (and recording!) wildlife.

There's an app for that...


Related links


Smartphone apps for citizen science and environmental recording

When and how to use citizen science: best practice guides from CEH

Posted by Paulette Burns, Media Coordinator

Monday, 11 August 2014

Understanding ladybird parasites

Scientists at CEH are working to better understand the natural enemies that attack ladybirds.

The arrival of the invasive alien harlequin ladybird in Britain and Ireland provided a new emphasis for research on ladybird-parasite interactions. Parasites of native ladybirds seem to find the harlequin less attractive, so will they adapt to this invader? We want to know!

Ladybird predators

There are very few predators of ladybirds. Ladybirds contain various mildly toxic and foul-tasting chemicals – their bright coloration is a warning to deter predation. But parasites do attack them, including some fascinating fungal pathogens. Two natural enemies are often considered among the most important causes of mortality in adult predatory ladybirds: the braconid wasp, Dinocampus coccinellae, and pathogenic fungi within the genus Beauveria.

Dinocampus coccinellae adult and pupa with harlequin ladybird host.
Photo: Richard Comont

Dinocampus coccinellae

The wasp Dinocampus coccinellae lays eggs in adult ladybirds – a single wasp larva hatches within the ladybird and begins to feed on the host. Eventually it emerges to spin a cocoon between the legs of the ladybird in which it has developed. This parasite-host interaction can be observed in the field: the parasite cocoon is particularly conspicuous in the spring when it can be seen attaching 7-spot ladybirds (and others) to various surfaces such as fence posts and trees.

The fungus: Beauveria

The most common pathogen attacking ladybirds is the fungus Beauveria bassiana which causes ‘white muscardine’ disease in many insects. It persists as tiny spores, usually in soil but also on tree bark or leaves. The fungus spreads by infecting overwintering ladybirds in sheltered spots such as crevices or leaf litter. Scientists at CEH have shown that ladybirds avoid places with lots of fungal spores and move away from ladybirds that succumb to the disease.

Beauveria bassiana infection (late stage) of (left to right) harlequin, 7-spot
and 2-spot ladybird adults. Photo: Helen Roy

Other parasites

Tiny scuttle flies can attack ladybird pupae. There is also a beautiful yellow fungus that grows as fruiting bodies on the surface of ladybirds.

Helping our scientists

Send your records by emailing or upload sightings of Dinocampus to iRecord at

Ladybird app

The free iRecord Ladybirds mobile phone app for iPhones and Android devices makes it very easy to upload your records of ladybirds to the UK Ladybird Survey.

iRecord Ladybirds app from iTunesiRecord Ladybirds app on Google Play
Related CEH links

Harlequin ladybirds escape enemies while native species succumb 3 Dec 2013

Staff page and research interests of Dr Helen Roy

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Posted by Paulette Burns