Field Techniques for Surveying Freshwater Macroorganisms and Their Habitats

Course summary

Field Techniques for Surveying Freshwater Macroorganisms and Their Habitats


This workshop is now fully subscribed. To register your interest in the topic please follow the link under 'Apply for this course' at the bottom of the page.

This 5-day workshop is aimed at doctoral students in environmental science, environmental management and ecology seeking an overview in field techniques for surveying freshwater macroorganisms and their habitats. It will provide multidisciplinary, integrated training in field survey techniques (aquatic macroinvertebrates, macrophytes, amphibians, fish and crayfish, hydrology, water chemistry), sampling strategies and protocols, taxonomy, habitat-specific data analysis and evaluation. Students will be equipped with the core techniques to answer a range of research questions and hypotheses in a diversity of freshwater habitats including ponds, rivers and wetlands.

Field survey techniques will be utilised in the field for a variety of macroorganisms: these include aquatic macroinvertebrates (e.g. water beetles, dragonfly larvae, water snails and leeches), macrophytes (large water plants e.g. sedges, pondweed, duckweed), amphibians (e.g. frogs, toads and newts), freshwater fish and crayfish (native and non-native). In all cases, native and non-native freshwater macroorganisms will be surveyed, identified and evaluated. Hydrology and water chemistry techniques will also be learnt in order to quantify and evaluate the physical environment inhabited by freshwater organisms (e.g. volume and variability of water, acidity and alkalinity, total nutrient load of the water, phosphorus, nitrate). The integration of the physical, chemical and biological interrelationships in freshwater ecology will be a key aspect of the course.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), attendance at the workshop is offered to eligible delegates at no cost, including full-board and accommodation in Oxford, and a travel allowance. See Fee Options and Apply for this course below for further details.

We also offer a wide range of other training courses in Ecological Survey Techniques, Data Analysis in Ecology, Environmental Management, Insect Taxonomy and Field Sampling, Introduction to Multivariate Ecological Statistics and Introduction to Data Visualisation.

With freshwater ecosystem services and associated water resources at risk globally from changing water cycles, pollution and over exploitation, this short course will seek to fill a well identified gap in skills provision needed to survey and monitor freshwaters (‘Most Wanted ll'Report, NERC 2012). The integrated survey, taxonomy and hydrochemistry research skills that delegates will develop are highly transferable and valued by academia, consultancies, NGOs and industrial employers across the sector.

The course will cover survey and identification skills for freshwater macroorganisms and their habitats; field techniques for sampling and monitoring; freshwater protocols and methodologies (PSYM, RHS, RICT, WFD, RAP surveys); deployment of data loggers and sensors in eco-hydrology.

The high tutor to delegate ratio will ensure there is the combined expertise to cover all aspects of freshwater field investigations from data collection through to analysis, and provide individual advice and discussion on delegates own specimens and data. As well as five core tutors there will be three guest lecturers from the Oxford University Herbarium (Dr Stephen Harris) and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Darren Mann, Dr Sammy de Grave).

Training Outcomes

Day 1

  • An understanding of the catchment context of freshwater ecosystems and the range of field techniques needed to answer research questions
  • An introduction to sampling strategies, data collection, and freshwater protocols (PSYM, RHS, RICT, WFD, RAP surveys)
  • An overview of the value of herbarium and museum collections as a source of research data, and for the storage of voucher specimens
  • A practical understanding of techniques used to preserve or record freshwater macroorganisms for identification
  • An introduction to freshwater vertebrate and invertebrate taxonomy and the morphological separation of entomological orders
Day 2
  • A practical understanding of the range of equipment for quantifying and monitoring water chemistry and water quantity/flows, including calibration and maintenance
  • An overview of the spatial and temporal scale and resolution appropriate to sampling and monitoring using different instruments and techniques
  • An understanding of sampling strategies for water chemistry and water quantity/flows
  • A practical understanding of a diversity of techniques used to survey and sample amphibians, fish, and plants
Day 3
  • A practical overview of the main groups of aquatic macroinvertebrates and macrophytes, their ecology and the relevant taxonomic literature
  • An introduction to the use of standard bioassessment indices
  • Working knowledge of field techniques for sampling macroinvertebrates in still water, field and laboratory sorting, and identification
  • A practical demonstration and discussion at a hillside calcareous fen- monitoring of water levels, water chemistry and vegetation
Day 4
  • A practical understanding of field techniques for sampling rivers, River Habitat Surveys and sampling strategies for rivers
  • Practice of field and laboratory techniques for the identification of riverine specimens
Day 5
  • An ability to identify specimens collected to at least family level
  • A practical understanding of using existing protocols to assess water quality for a variety of freshwater ecosystems
  • An overview of approaches used to analyse spatial and temporal data in freshwater science
  • Practical use of secondary data sets from a diversity of freshwater ecosystems for evaluation (PSYM, RHS, RICT, WFD, RAP)
  • Opportunity for delegates to address their own identification and data issues

Programme details

Workshop dates: 16 to 20 March 2015

Core Venue: University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education and Wytham Woods (John Krebs Field Laboratory). Training will also be delivered at a number of other sites including the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford University Herbarium, Marley Fen, Wytham Ponds, Windrush River. Transport between sites will be provided.

Please bring warm and wet weather clothing, walking boots and wellington boots: Delegates should ensure they are suitably clothed for outdoor work in March, whatever the weather.

Full-board and accommodation is provided, and help with travel expenses is also offered. Please contact the course team should you need particular assistance with access to facilities, or have special dietary requirements.


Course with accommodation: £0.00
Course without accommodation: £0.00


The workshop is offered at no-cost to eligible delegates (covering up to five days’ workshop attendance, full-board and accommodation). A travel allowance is available up to a maximum of £120 per delegate for travel within the UK and will be processed following workshop attendance (via a fully completed expense claim form with travel ticket receipts).


Dr Jocelyne Hughes

Director & Tutor

Programme Director in Ecological Survey Techniques and Departmental Lecturer at OUDCE (part-time, teaching and course administration). Research associate with the Water Research Group at the School of Geography & the Environment, Oxford.

Previous posts: College lecturer  at St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford; research fellow at University College London; University Lectureships at the University of Reading and the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Member of the British Ecological Society; fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; member of the Commonwealth Scholars alumni network; member of the Freshwater Biological Association; organiser of my local Wildlife Conservation Group working with volunteers to carry out wildlife conservation projects.


Director of the Postgraduate Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques which is mostly taught online.

Teach and supervise  on a variety of postgraduate courses at the University of Oxford, including the MSc in Water Science, Policy & Management, and the Postgraduate Diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice.

As part of the PG Cert in Ecological Survey Techniques at OUDCE I teach an online postgraduate training course in Field Techniques for Surveying Vegetation; I teach freshwater and wetland ecology on the MSc in Water, Science, Policy & Management in the Geography Department; and Vegetation Survey Techniques for Zoologists at WildCRU, Zoology Department. I believe that ecology has to be taught in the field wherever possible, and I underpin all my teaching with the practical field techniques needed to answer research questions.

I have successfully raised grants from NERC to teach doctoral training courses in practical skills in freshwater ecology, statistics, GIS, data visualisation, insect taxonomy etc.

External examiner at University College London.

Research interests

My research focuses on understanding and quantifying the ecology, hydrology and management of wetlands and freshwater habitats. I have particular interests in the ecological importance of microflow environments provided by aquatic plants in rivers and wetlands; water and nutrient cycling in wetlands; wetland vegetation dynamics; constructed wetlands; biogeography of aquatic plants; and the conservation of freshwaters.

I have carried out field survey work in a diversity of freshwater habitats in Tunisia, Australia, Antarctica, Guatemala and the UK. I am a research associate in the Water Research Group in the School of Geography & the Environment at Oxford, and I am always keen to discuss possible collaborations in interdisciplinary research in pure and applied freshwater processes/ecology.

Marley Fen Project: I am part of a team carrying out field research and monitoring into plant-water relationships at Marley Fen in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire. The results of our research are being used directly in the management plan for this SSSI site.

Reduction of Algal Loading on Water Treatment Works: I co-supervise a research project investigating the ecological functions of a floating reed bed, Living-Filter, on Farmoor Reservoir, for water treatment. The DPhil is funded by Thames Water and involves an industrial collaboration between Aquatic Engineering, Thames Water and the Department for Engineering Science at Oxford University. The research involves field investigations at Farmoor Reservoir and lab experiments using bioreactors at Begbroke Science Park.

Freshwater Ecology & Conservation: A Handbook of Techniques: I am currently editing the freshwater volume in the TECS series, to be published by Oxford University Press

D.Phil student- Ana Castro-Castellon, Department of Engineering Science (Living-Filter: floating biofiltration system for phytoplanton reduction on water treatment works)

MSc student 2015- Clarke Knight, School of Geography & the Environment (diversity and distribution of non-native invasive shrimps in the River Thames and tributaries)

MSc student 2014- Thanti Octavianti, School of Geography & the Environment (phosphorous loads in the Upper Thames catchment)


Selected Publications:

Castro-Castellon, AT, Chipps, MJ, Hughes, JMR & Hankins, NP (2014) Living-Filter: an in-reservoir biofiltration system for phytoplankton reduction at the abstraction point. In (eds. Nakamoto, Graham, Collins and Gimbel) Progress in Slow Sand and Alternative Biofiltration Processes- Further Developments and Applications, pp. 405-412,  IWA Publishing, London


Shi, JZ, Yan-Hong, L, Zhao, M & Hughes, JMR (2013) Hydrological characteristics of vegetated river flows: a laboratory flume study. Hydrological Sciences Journal 58, 1047-58

Co-editor Hydrology & Hydrochemistry of British Wetlands, John Wiley & Sons

Author Aquatic Plants of Tasmania, (Illustrations by Georgina Davis) University of Melbourne

Co-author Inventory of Tunisian Wetlands, University College London, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Ramsar Bureau

Author of first vegetation survey and map of subantarctic Heard Island (Australian Antarctic Territory) published in Polar Biology

Mr Robert Aquilina


Robert has extensive experience as a consultant freshwater ecologist, setting up Aquilina Environmental Quality in 2007. His expertise in macroinvertebrate taxonomy includes dragonflies, freshwater biodiversity assessments including PSYM, RHS, BMWP, RICT, and protected species surveys. He also teaches course for the CIEEM and Flora Locale.

Dr Curt Lamberth


Curt Lamberth has been an environmental consultant since 2000. He specialises in the ecotoxicology and ecohydrology of natural habitats and reducing the effect of man on the environment using a multidisciplinary approach.

A large proportion of his time is take up with voluntary research within Oxfordshire and he is currently working on studying the climate change and catchment impacts on Marley Fen at Wytham, and the ponds at Little Wittenham Wood nature reserve as well as the hydrological requirements of the endangered Fen Violet at Otmoor.

In 2012 he was tutor for the weekly class 'Reading Your Environmental Landscape" at the Department for Continuing Education, and continues as a part-time assessor for Oxford university.

Dr Pascale Nicolet


Dr. Pascale Nicolet is a Senior Freshwater Ecologist at Pond Conservation, National Coordinator of the Million Ponds Project, and co-founder and Secretary of the European Pond Conservation Network (EPCN). She has worked at Pond Conservation for over 10 years on a range of waterbodies including ponds, gravel pit lakes, streams, ditches and canals.

Dr Rosie Salazar


Rosie gained a BSc in Environment, Economics and Ecology in 2004 and an MRes in Ecology and Environmental Management in 2005 both from the University of York. Before joining WildCRU she worked as a consultant ecologist and research assistant. In these roles she specialised in freshwater ecology and GIS analysis.

Rosie joined WildCRU in 2009 as a field assistant on the habitat management and aquatic fauna project in the upper Thames area. In 2010 she was employed as a research assistant on the invasive crayfish management project. She is now completing her doctoral research with WildCRU, looking into the distribution and dispersal of herpetofauna in lowland farmland, with a focus on the common toad. She has also recently begun a new project extending her doctoral research to look at the extent to which amphibians and reptiles use agri-environment scheme field margins in arable farmland, in association with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.

Teaching methods

Each session is taught through an effective mixture of lecture, group and practical work (both lab and field).


This workshop is now fully subscribed. To register your interest in the topic please contact the course team on the details below:

Phone: +44 (0) 1865 286952

Priority enrolment for NERC-funded (50% or higher) doctoral students for this run closed on 12 September 2014