Building a freshwater community

I am delighted to be launching the FBA’s first blog. As we adapt to take on the challenges of the 21st century, our aims remain virtually unchanged from those we had when the organisation started over 86 years ago at Wray Castle in Cumbria.

We are fundamentally dedicated to increasing the understanding and sustainable management of fresh water and encouraging as many people, whether academics, amateur enthusiasts, water managers, policy makers or members of the public, to become interested in fresh waters and understand the importance of sound evidence and information in safeguarding their future.

Pioneering spirit

The FBA has always been an inclusive organisation, from its origins at Wray Castle when Council Members led by the President, Lord Rothschild, and Chair, Professor Fritsch, set up the ‘Windermere Station’. This included laboratories and accommodation for visiting scientific workers. The Association started with 3 members of staff, a Director and two assistant Naturalists who started work in September 1931 and were quickly joined by a colleague from Cambridge University. These workers started the first research of the Association in 1931 and many years of pioneering, and often curiosity driven, research followed at Wray Castle and continued when the FBA moved to Ferry House in 1950.

Many of the world’s great limnologists and freshwater scientists worked at the FBA and were joined by local residents who showed a great interest in all of the activities even from the earliest days at Wray Castle. The first vacation course, later to be known as the ‘Easter Class’, also started in that first year at Wray and was oversubscribed. Eighteen students spent a week attending lectures, field trips and practical classes whilst living in the grand surroundings of the Gothic castle.

Staff and students undertaking field work at the 1932 Easter Class

Staff and students undertaking field work at the 1932 Easter Class

The rapid expansion of both the science and teaching of freshwater biology and the FBA’s reputation grew quickly, and there was a constant stream of visiting scientists from around the world. Along with this came further donations, including many books which started what was to become a world-leading freshwater library. Financial donations were used to fund research students and start their careers in freshwater science. These also allowed the FBA to purchase a 22 foot motor launch and equipment which was ”originally built for the sea, and is of very stout build” for £160 to allow sampling of Windermere!

FBA sampling from a boat archive photo

The FBA further expanded its expertise and estate when it purchased land and ownership of a small section of the River Frome and Mill channel at East Stoke in Dorset in 1963. This was developed into the River Laboratory where pioneering work on river ecology and chalk rivers was undertaken and still continues today.

Fresh water for all

Our staff and Honorary Research Fellows continue to disseminate their findings and work with students, practitioners and the public through our freshwater courses and applied projects as well as through our publications which include internationally renowned identification keys, technical reports and peer reviewed scientific journals.

We are determined to take forward the legacy of community involvement and opening up freshwater science for everyone through education and outreach. We want to continue working in partnership with NGOs and the voluntary sector to add value to international management, scientific and conservation projects, to carry out our own applied research with partners using our lakeside and riverside facilities at Windermere and East Stoke in Dorset.

Present day field research

A current example of our success in undertaking such research is the flagship Pearl Mussel ‘Ark’ and ‘Restoring Freshwater Mussel Rivers in England’ partnership projects which have attracted funds from Biffa Award, Environment Agency and Natural England.

Sharing the science

The FBA continues to take an inclusive approach to providing sound evidence and information to organisations, NGOs, public and private sector through open and accessible data and information, guidance and good practice in data recording, curation and analysis. We are expanding our training courses in plant and animal identification and our bespoke sampling, recording and monitoring courses and fieldwork, working with corporate partners and universities around the world.

As an independent charity, the FBA is well placed to build on our pedigree of involving local people in freshwater research and science and our new strategy focuses on building links and working in partnership with other organisations involved in freshwaters and catchments.

We aim to make much of our extensive grey literature and unpublished collections readily available to all, along with our online data, and our world-class library at our HQ on the shores of Windermere in the Lake District to support research and new generations of freshwater biologists.

The FBA was one of the first institutions to collect long-term freshwater data sets from a number of sites of scientific significance, and this historically important data, and physical specimens in our archives are now regarded as unique and some of the best in the world.

Evidence for change

This foundation in sound science enables us to provide an independent and credible voice to influence sustainable freshwater management practices. Through our trustees, stakeholders and members we aim to develop advocacy through the provision of robust data and evidence and facilitate a joined-up approach across audiences and organisations.

The way ahead

As we take the FBA, and fresh water, forwards to step up to the challenges ahead, it’s always worth looking back to where we’ve come from and the staff list from the FBA’s Thirty – Fifth Annual Report, 1967 illustrates our incredible pedigree.

We hope you will join our community as we take the legacy of those early pioneers forwards to help give fresh water a future.


FBA Staff List 1967 – click for a bigger copy