Freshwaters are among the most globally threatened habitats and their biodiversity is declining at an unparalleled rate. Many organisations are carrying out conservation management projects to address these concerns but currently evaluating the effectiveness of these projects is time-consuming and expensive. It is really important that land managers can efficiently assess the success of conservation projects and interventions and also have a straight forward monitoring system to trigger concern and a need for action.

The University of Stirling has carried out extensive research across three contrasting landscapes of Britain (lowland agricultural, eastern England; upland, north‐west England; urban, central Scotland) to assess the biodiversity of their freshwaters. This information was then analysed to determine the links between different, but common, species groups to develop a biodiversity indicator.

Taking into account the huge variation in ecological conditions across the geographic range, it was found that for ponds in particular the diversity of aquatic plants (including structural diversity) was directly linked to an increased number of aquatic invertebrates (e.g. molluscs, beetles and dragonflies). Therefore, the number of aquatic plant species can be used as biodiversity indicator of the health of ponds.

Land managers and conservation practitioners are therefore encouraged to start with improving aquatic plant diversity to improve biodiversity overall. This can often be achieved by reviewing land management e.g. reducing grazing pressure and cutting regimes at the edge of wetlands to allow vegetation to grow.

The research was carried out as part of the Hydroscape project which examines the impact of people and the natural environment on freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. The project, funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council, is led by the University of Stirling, and partners include University College London, Lancaster University, University of Glasgow, British Trust for Ornithology and the Natural History Museum.

Glasgow was the main urban location for the research and, despite notable human impact on waterbodies, was highly biodiverse with 153 species of aquatic plant found, 33 mollusc species, 98 beetle species and 11 dragon- and damselfly species.

Glasgow City Council, in partnership with a range of organisations, has been carrying out wetland creation and enhancement projects for a number of years now.  Formal ponds in the City have been naturalised, by softening the banks by establishing shelves of wetland plants. More informal areas have benefitted too from similar works including the creation of new wetland shelves and a reedbed at Hogganfield Park Local Nature Reserve. Floating islands with wetlands plants have also been installed at lochs within the Seven Lochs Wetland Park.

All of these projects have increased the diversity of aquatic plants at wetlands in Glasgow. And ongoing pond management work creates a sources of plant material to carry out additional local projects. Find out more about wetland projects in and around Glasgow 

Find out more about the research