The Research

Dr Hutchins (centre) advises a group of Citizen Scientists during field measurements

FreshWater Watchers are monitoring the river waters in west London. They are seeking to quantify the impact that point sources of pollution (for example from wastewater plant effluents) have on river quality and also the influence that river structures have on the quality of water passing through. In this specific case they will be investigating the weirs. There are over 40 weirs along the main River Thames.


The research is timely due to responding to European Legislative requirements and the recent advent of sensor technologies, which allows us to collect more comprehensive information than previously possible and widens the scope to involve citizen scientists.


Dr Mike Hutchins – Lead Scientist

Q & A

About you

Q. What’s your background?

A. Originally I studied geochemistry as an undergraduate and then undertook a PhD investigating the impacts of acid rain on surface waters in the hills of mid-Wales. I have worked in both the private and public sector, applying mathematical models to better understand how human activities affect the water quality of our rivers. 

Q. Why did you become a scientist?

A. When I was a child I always loved maps. I think geological maps were my favourite as I became fascinated by the evocative names in the geological succession. I also became interested in weather forecasts and collected my own basic meteorological data. I never thought about these things together at the time but combining rainfall and rocks made geochemistry the obvious subject for me!

Q. What do you enjoy about science?

A. I love the problem solving and the lateral thinking required; and the fact there is also something unexpected around the corner to challenge my understanding of the natural environment.

Q. What is your favourite water memory?


A. As a PhD student a main aim of my research was to develop a model of how stream water quality changed during storm events. I didn’t have enough data so needed to collect more. I waited many months for sufficient rainfall yet it didn’t come (in Wales of all places!). At last, on my birthday coincidentally, it started to rain persistently and over the next few days I was darting around my field site in dreadful weather grabbing samples from rivers, soils and ponds - wherever I could find water. The feeling of satisfaction, when sitting in the car afterwards wet through and covered in mud, at having collected the elusive information to get my model working was immense. I work in different areas now but as a hydrologist I will always vividly recall the aromas of those peaty upland waters! 


About the Research

Q. Why is this a good time to carry out this research?  

A. The research is timely due to responding to European Legislative requirements and the recent advent of sensor technologies, which allows us to collect more comprehensive information than previously possible and widens the scope to involve citizen scientists.


Q. What are your hopes for the research over the next three years?


A.The longer the data collection is sustained the more valuable and unique it becomes. I also hope the monitoring programme via citizen science will gain some of its own momentum. We are starting with a limited number of sites but, with a large pool of potential citizen scientists, there is the possibility to expand. There are a number of other sites in the local area from which data would be of interest to the Pollcurb project and to the Environment Agency.


About Citizen Science

Q. What excites you about the participation of citizen scientists in your research?


A. I think there are three main aspects. Firstly, I am very curious about the potential for participants to identify other local water bodies which they may have a particular personal interest in, and may wish to monitor in their own time. I am very supportive of this. Secondly, I will be interested to hear how the citizen scientists pass on their experiences to colleagues, friends and families and hope that this process will help expand the participation of the public in the project. Thirdly, something that will be of great value and become apparent, during the project, is identifying which aspects of the project work well in terms of how citizen scientists and professional scientists best work together. This will help allow us to plan future citizen science involvement, so it can be utilised in the most effective way both in UK and elsewhere.

Q. What do you expect FreshWater Watchers will enjoy the most about this research?


A. The ease and speed with which they can record data using the probe that we are providing for them to use. This means more time to make the other visual observations as part of FreshWater Watch, and the chance to go for a drink and relax afterwards!



Q. What are your top tips for FreshWater Watchers?


  1. Make sure the tablet batteries are adequately charged beforehand. No charge equals no data.  All scientists will testify that a wasted site visit is no good for morale especially on a cold winter’s day!

  2. Allow plenty of time to complete the work without rushing.

  3. Take care not to get in the way of users of the river. The River Thames in London can be a busy place.

  4. If you can, aside from being much more pleasant, it is better to try and time your visits for when conditions are dry, as it can be tricky to prevent water getting into the electronics.