Freshwater ecology is the study of the relationship between freshwater organisms and their environment. This includes the study of streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and some wetlands.

Freshwater ecosystems provide us with many valuable services. They purify our drinking water, supply irrigation for agriculture, recycle nutrients, help stem the severity of floods and droughts and support fisheries and recreation. They face many threats, however, including:

  • pollution from pesticides and fertilizers
  • climate change
  • habitat loss
  • drainage
  • invasive species
  • dam construction
  • over-use of water

To sustain good water quality and ecological health demands wide-ranging, intensive research on how freshwaters respond to these threats and how they improve in relation to management and restoration measures.

CEH work on freshwater ecology


CEH carries out freshwater ecology research at all its sites, conducting pioneering research on the ecological functioning of lake and river ecosystems. Long-term monitoring is an important component with flagship freshwater observatories across the UK.

We also undertake research at national, European and international scales, often in inter-disciplinary collaborations with CEH colleagues, universities, government agencies and industry. Examples include:

Monitoring sites

Research Facilities


Edinburgh (Laurence Carvalho)

Lancaster (Stephen Maberly)

Wallingford (Francois Edwards)

Watch a stunning video of some freshwater organisms sampled during CEH's lake monitoring programme


Scottish Freshwater Group logo
Promoting collaboration on a wide range of issues related to the freshwater environment - one of Scotland's most precious natural resources
Cows by Esthwaite Water
International lakes research (March 2014 e-conference)
Soil water measurement
Simulates the resulting reactions of metals entering water and soil systems
Pair of arctic charr
Identifying causes of the decline of Arctic charr
Scientist photographing algae on Loch Flemington
Managing regime shifts in a shallow eutrophic lake
Clatto reservoir on a sunny day
Assessing failure to control cyanobacteria using Phoslock®
Working on Loch Leven
The data and infrastructure to improve understanding of ecological processes and environmental change impacts
Thames Initiative monitoring sites
An intensive study of the changing water quality of the Thames from the Cotswolds to Windsor
Two swallows on a wire
Addressing knowledge gaps about changes in the seasonal timing of biological events
Himachal Pradesh, India. Photo - Shutterstock
Coordinating UK input to international hydrological programmes
The experimental aquatic mesocosm facility at CEH
Isolating environmental pressures on water systems