Citizen scientists in the Netherlands are trained to contribute to the FreshWater Watch project Urban Ponds in The Hague, supported by the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP).

The research is providing a fundamental contribution to our understanding of how urbanisation impacts the water quality and ecosystem conditions of ponds.

Stepping stones

Recent research has demonstrated that ponds contribute a great deal to biodiversity at a regional level as networks of habitat patches that also act as ‘stepping stones’ to facilitate the movement of species through the landscape.

The impacts that increasing urbanisation is having on freshwater ecosystems are complex. They include increased chances of flooding, modified sediment and nutrient load, and changes in the timing and duration of algal blooms. Litter and chemical pollution from human activities affect the natural ecosystems and can harm the quality of the local water resources.

While data on water quality is often available on a catchment scale, this project aims to collect water-quality data on a micro scale which has greater accuracy and predictive power.


Meet the scientist


Selma Hilgersom is leading the research in the Hague. Selma holds a bachelor in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (Utrecht University) and masters in Human Geography (University of Amsterdam) and Policy and Organization (Utrecht University). During her studies she gained extensive expertise on Geographical Information Systems (GIS), ‘ecopreneurship’ and published on the management and impact of international networking organisations.

While working at the Amsterdam Economic Board and the European Water Partnership (EWP), Selma gained experience in working with eco-innovative clusters and managing and developing European projects related to (eco-)innovation and water. At the EWP she coordinated the activities of the pan-European INNOWATER partnership and set-up a network of National Water Partnerships in Europe.

In April 2014 Selma joined the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). Within NWP her current main responsibilities consist of the coordination of EU activities within NWP and managing the platform of the Netherlands Cooperation on Water and Climate Services that focuses on information services in the water sector.

Q. What do you enjoy about science?

Science is the key to a smarter world. To make sure our world will be the best possible place to live, we will need to combine what we know for sure with the courage to take steps in a new direction to ensure our resilience.

Q. Why did you choose to study water?

If there is no water, there is no life. It is one of our resources that we should value and protect in every way possible.

Q. What is your favourite water memory?

To answer this question I will have to choose between competition swimming - that I have done a lot of in the past - and dipping into the amazing clear and (very!) cold water streams in the Spanish Pyrenees. Tough choice.

Q. Why did you want to start this project with Earthwatch, and why should people care about it?

People are very often unaware of their surroundings, and especially of the quality and biodiversity of nature in their environment. I think that this project has the potential to bring people in touch with water bodies they normally hardly notice. And here, again, knowledge is the starting point for change. It is the first project of its kind in the Netherlands, and it is about time!

Q. What’s the location/the environment in which you are carrying out the research?

For The Hague, ponds are of special interest. The Hague originated around 1230, when Count Floris IV of Holland purchased land alongside a pond, the present-day ‘Hofvijver’, in order to build a hunting residence. Today, almost 500,000 people are living in the city. It is not that hard to imagine that the houses and roads that have been built to accommodate the growing number of citizens have impacted water systems in and around the city.

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

It would be great if these kind of projects would be carried out in the Netherlands on a greater scale and more companies would provide their employees with the opportunity to become ‘citizen scientists’

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

Going out in the field and (biking or hiking) to research locations should be fun as well as working in teams.

Q. What do you think FreshWater Watchers will gain personally from their participation in this research?

Being able to contribute to global water challenges and seeing that your actions in The Hague are pieces in a much bigger global puzzle is surely something to be excited about. The project approaches challenges in a positive way. I also hope that citizen scientists will learn about the value of science and help to disseminate the project and presentation/use of the gathered data.