Placement (Freshwater Biological Association)

Swimdermere Freshwater Biological Association Collab

Yesterday was my last day on placement as Communications and Engagement Assistant for the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA).

The FBA are a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) and charitable trust dedicated to understanding and conserving freshwaters across the globe. Based in Windermere, Lake District National Park – the FBA has been shaping and driving internationally significant research to inform sustainable management of freshwaters for almost 100 years (est. 1929). Their work includes species recovery and citizen science projects that enable hundreds of people to learn and participate in vital freshwater ecology research. 

My part-time role over the past 3 months has been a busy and insightful experience – developing my insights into the logistics, strengths, and challenges of environmental NGOs, and the determination required to make freshwater research and citizen science happen.

With the support of the FBA’s Windermere Project Officer (Emma Kelly), Head of Science (Dr Louise Lavictoire), Executive Director (Simon Johnson), and biogeochemist (Dr Ben Surridge) at Lancaster University, we delivered a successful Spring 2024 Big Windermere Survey (BWS) *. Together, we coordinated 108 citizen science volunteers in the Spring 2024 Survey to take water quality samples, contributing to ongoing water quality research and investigation within Windermere and the Leven catchment. Drawing on my PhD research with local water users, I also helped expand the FBA’s volunteer recruitment to wider paddling and swimming communities.

* Over the past 2 years, the BWS has trained local volunteer citizen scientists to help monitor the ecological health of Windermere and its surrounding catchment. Using professional, rigorous and accredited laboratories, citizen scientists enable mass collection of water samples, allowing a catchment-wide snapshot of water and bacteriological quality on a specific day. 

Big Windermere Survey

Following the Spring 2024 Survey, I helped connect the FBA with multiple local businesses. I established a collaboration with Fell Brewery to reach broader audiences and generate potential income streams for the charity. Later, I produced a crowdfunder alongside Aviva Community Match funding to support the Summer 2024 Big Windermere Survey. Ongoing costs for the BWS include the water sampling kits, lab analysis, logistics, staffing, science hubs, transport, data mapping platform, and community engagement. 

The FBA have been fortunate to receive funding from multiple local organisations for the past 2 years (8 surveys). However, they now need further financial help. To continue funding the BWS, they need to raise an initial £30,000 to fund the Summer 2024 Survey. The crowdfunding platform provides opportunities for local businesses to support this vital citizen science research at Windermere. 

My role in promoting the BWS crowdfunder also included: 

  • Communicating press releases to over 80 media outlets, charities, and larger organisations.
  • 15 video interviews with invested researchers, community members, volunteers, and influencers for social media.
  • Engagement with nearly 300 local businesses within the catchment.
Big Windermere Survey Crowdfunder

Other communication support included web development, search engine optimisation, social media engagement, email marketing, and other video, photo, and scientific written outputs – alongside contributing to meetings, duties, and other logistics to support the charity.

This placement has further enriched my knowledge of the social, political, and environmental factors influencing Windermere’s ecological health. Freshwater conservation and research are crucial, yet funding and resources can be scarce. Working in an NGO requires passion, determination, and creativity – and I feel grateful to have learnt from the FBA, alongside the opportunity to support ongoing research on Windermere and other freshwaters. Additionally, I built on my experience of communicating research and organisational updates to the public, the business sector, and media outlets using written and multi-media outputs. Overall, it was a pleasure to work with the FBA, and I will miss our lunchtime swims. Thank you to the FBA, the partners, the BWS volunteers, the local community, and my funders *.  

I would encourage other funded PhD Researchers to jump at the opportunity of taking a placement within their field of interest or expertise. It can be a hugely valuable experience. However, do remember to pace yourself, establish boundaries, and communicate your needs as it can be overwhelming if you are balancing your PhD duties alongside the placement.

"I just wanted to say a huge thank you for all of your hard work and dedication over these last few months. You've moved us forward massively and provided some really valuable insights on how the BWS and FBA is perceived in the local community."
Dr Louise Lavictoire, Head of Science (FBA)

Now that my placement has ended, I need to switch my attention back to my thesis. Alongside this writeup, I am travelling to Amsterdam next month to share my research at the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST/4S) 2024 Conference in a session titled ‘Troubled Waters: Ethnographic Engagements with Cleanliness and Pollution’. I will also be sharing some exciting academic contributions for outdoor swimming research in the next couple of months. Stay tuned for more updates.

* This placement was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the South West Doctoral Training Partnership.

Author: Taylor Butler-Eldridge | Published: 27 Jun 2024

Wave White


Keep up to date with the blog posts and updates from the research project.

Swim Guide