Who will watch the watchmen now?

vineyards_near_Bad_Durkheim

There can only be one topic to write about today.   On Thursday, the UK voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union and entered a period of uncertainty and instability as the nature of the “divorce” is agreed between London and Brussels.   I know that most of my UK readers were in favour of staying in the EU but at least one was in favour of exit.  And, as I know from personal experience that the EU is a far-from-perfect organisation, I am happy to accept that there is scope for intelligent people to hold different opinions on the benefits of membership.   I also accept that being anti-EU does not necessarily equate with being anti-Europe, or a “Little Englander”.  I do believe, however, that the “out” campaigns presented a distorted view of EU policy particularly on immigration, in order to play on the fears of sections of the populace.

However, what is done is done and now attention must focus on the nature of the future agreement between the UK and the EU.   As the dust settles and the bluster dies down, we awoke to a horrible truth: the “out” campaign actually have no more idea of what the future will look like than anyone else.   We now enter a period of negotiation with 27 countries, several of whom are both annoyed and worried by the UK decision, and they are not going to roll over quietly and let UK politicians dictate terms.

I have grave concerns for the UK environment after an EU exit.   The campaigns from both sides involved stripping down highly complicated arguments to a few key points that would have traction with the electorate, and then rebutting the other side’s efforts at the same. It was, in short, a campaign decided more by political process than by principle.   Unfortunately, this is exactly how environmental policy is decided at the highest level.   The sad truth is that most people’s awareness of environmental problems comes from the media, not direct experience.   Press stories can synergise with a general sense that summers are different now to when we were young to reinforce fears of global warming.  At the same time, the patterns are not so robust that naysayers cannot spin their own interpretations.   The same applies to the aquatic environment: we have (thankfully) passed the stage when many rivers looked (and smelt) appalling.  The reason we know that our rivers are polluted now is more due to media accounts, and the reason we know that they are improving is due to the Environment Agency’s press releases.  Beyond a dedicated band of anglers, few of us have enough direct experience to challenge either set of statements.

That’s where the EU played a role.   They provided a level of scrutiny above that provided by domestic politics.   I spent much of the past 15 years working towards definitions of the health of the aquatic environment that were applicable throughout Europe.   That provides a benchmark against which claims of rivers improving or declining in quality can be judged.   Bearing in mind that Europe extends from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean and from the Alps to areas that are below sea level, this was not an easy task, and what we have is a “work in progress” rather than a definitive product.  But it is a positive step that, to push a metaphor, “detoxifies” debates about the state of the environment.

Unfortunately, interventions such as this represent exactly the sort of loss of “sovereignty” that Ian Duncan-Smith, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and others decry.   So let’s unpick just what “sovereignty” might mean in this instance: it would mean DEFRA deciding on criteria to define the health of the aquatic environment, irrespective of the views of experts elsewhere in Europe.   Bear in mind that DEFRA also has responsibility for agriculture (high political sensitivities), my comments above about the susceptibility of environmental policy to “spin” and the general advocacy for “small government” from the right, and this cannot be good news for the environment.  I predict that the clause in the Water Framework Directive that allows “less stringent objectives” under certain circumstances (article 4, paragraph 5) will be applied very broadly in the UK, once scrutiny from Brussels is loosened.

What to do?   We may have to wait and see how the “Brexit” negotiations unfold.  My hope is that free access to European markets will require the UK to stay signed-up to legislation that ensures a “level playing field” for business, and that the environment will be part of this package.  This would be similar to the deal that Norway has at present, and Norwegian colleagues continue to make substantial and valuable contributions to debates on how EU environment policy is implemented.  That would mean “business as usual” for the UK environment.

However, changes in the Tory party may bring a more obstreperous breed of politician to the negotiating table and we cannot rule out the possibility that rattles will be thrown out of the pram.   Plan B, therefore, may be for independent, non-Governmental bodies such as the river trusts to steps in to scrutinise UK environment policy and measure claims against evidence.   As the Environment Agency will be even more liable to funding cuts once obligations to the EU no longer exist, such bodies will also need to watch that sufficient evidence is being collected, and maybe to collect some evidence themselves.  All that will take money, and I don’t know where that will come from.   But we need to start preparing for a world in which the “watchmen” return to being political pawns answerable only to Westminster and Whitehall.

Cadaques_2012Memories of happier times in Europe: Cadaqués in north-eastern Spain, June 2012.  The top picture shows vineyards near Bäd Dürkheim, Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany (circa. 2000), the area where my love affair with continental Europe started in 1972.  

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Eat it to beat it …

Lacul_Snagov_June16

The second lake I visited on my brief visit to Romania makes it almost impossible to avoid mentioning two of Romania’s most infamous citizens.   Lacul Snagov, about 40 km north of Bucharest, is surrounded by the weekend villas of Romania’s current and past elite, including the notorious Nicolei Ceauşescu.  That connection, however, pales beside that of a monastery on an island in the lake, reputed to contain the grave of Vlad the Impaler, better known to the rest of the world as Dracula.   This is mostly due to Bram Stoker’s novel although he never actually visited Romania.  His interpretation of the Dracula legend was based partly on hearsay, but largely on his own vivid imagination, much to the despair of modern Romanians.

Whereas Lacul Cāldāruşani had turbid phytoplankton-rich water, Lacul Snagov was much clearer, with a varied assortment of submerged plant visible below the surface as we travelled across the lake in an inflatable boat.   Large areas of the surface were covered with water lilies, a mixture of Nymphaea alba, the common white water lily, and, of more interest to me, the Indian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera.   As the name suggests, it is native to Asia: I have seen this growing in Bangladesh, and eaten it in Korea and China, but here it was growing in abundance in a European lake.  The term “invasive species” has been applied to Indian lotus but, like many visually attractive plants, the “invasion” was helped by human agents. Records of lotus in Snagov go back to 1955, and now it covers large areas of the lake surface.   There is some evidence that the spread of Nelumbo nucifera  has altered the composition of other plants in the lake, albeit without detracting seriously from the visual aesthetics (see image above).

The topic of invasive plants and animals is controversial, and is one that can make usually mild-mannered ecologists sound like rabid xenophobes.  I enjoyed Ken Thompson’s recent book “Where do Camels Belong?” which questioned the whole concept of a “native species” in an ever-changing landscape.   If you cannot define a “native” species securely, argues Thompson, then nor should we rush to attach labels such as “invasive” or “alien” to non-native species.  Judge each on its merits.

And Nelumbo nucifera does have several merits.  There is the rather beautiful flower for example and, lurking in the bottom muds, a less attractive but very tasty rhizome.   We rarely encounter it in western cuisine, or even in Chinese restaurants in the West, but you can buy it frozen from Chinese supermarkets.   Were Europeans to follow the Asiatic lead, then a solution to this particular “invasive species” problem presents itself.   This tangential line of thought started with a blog by my wife Heather on a native British species, Alliaria petiolata (garlic mustard) that happens to be regarded as an invasive weed in north America.  Her internet searches led her to an entire cookbook devoted to ridding the world of this one weed (“From Pest to Pesto: Eat it to Beat it”) and I can vouch for the gastronomic qualities of British populations as a result.

In the same vein, here is my first attempt at cooking and eating lotus roots, admittedly based on frozen, rather than foraged, lotus and inspired by my recent trip to China:  boil about half a kilogram of (thawed) lotus roots for a few minutes, until just tender, drain and dry.   Roast a tablespoon of sesame seeds until they are brown.   Heat some sesame oil until hot, then stir fry the lotus roots along with two tablespoons of finely-chopped spring onions and a finely-chopped clove of garlic for a couple of minutes.   Add one or two tablespoons of light soy sauce (enough to coat the lotus roots) and finally stir in the sesame seeds. Stir it for another minute or so, then serve.

Repeat this until the invasive species has disappeared. It’s called “biological control”.

lotus_roots_with_sesame_see

References

Anastasiu, P., Negrean, G., Başnou, C., Sîrbu, C. & Oprea, A. (2007).  A preliminary study on the neophytes of wetlands in Romania.  In: Rabitsch, W., F. Essl & F. Klingenstein (Eds.): Biological Invasions – from Ecology to Conservation. NEOBIOTA 7: 181-192.

Thompson, K. (2015).  Where do Camels Belong?  Profile Books, London.

How to make an ecologist #9

fieldwork_in_Italy_1988

One of the minor pleasures of this year has been digging out old 35 mm slides, scanning them into a digital form and then using these to trigger memories of the twists and turns in my professional life (see “How to make an ecologist #8“).   I have not done this for some time, largely because other topics have seemed to be a higher priority to write about.   None more so in recent weeks than the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.   A serendipitous moment, however, led me to two boxes of slides documenting two periods of fieldwork in Italy in 1988 and, through these, to remember how difficult travelling around Europe used to be before the advent on the single market.

I visited Italy twice in 1988, as a postdoc on a project looking at Holocene vegetation history.  On both occasions we drove from northern England in a four wheel drive vehicle loaded with equipment.   I have two strong memories of those journeys: the distances we covered (Calais to northern Italy in a single day) and the hassle at every national border we crossed.   In those pre-open market, pre-Schengen agreement days we not only had to show passports at each frontier, we also had to queue up with the lorries and other commercial vehicles and go through a full customs check.   This had also entailed travelling to the Chamber of Commerce in Leeds shortly before we left to get a “Carnet de Passage en Douane”.   This was a document that allowed us to temporarily import our equipment for the duration of the project without the need to pay any customs or taxes at the border.   It entailed leaving a bond in the UK, which was returned if our Carnet de Passage was signed and stamped at every border to show that we had brought out the same as we had taken in a few days previously.  My memory is that the customs checks were not especially thorough; indeed, the officials rarely looked inside our vehicles.  But we did have to sit in the long queues awaiting our turn in order to get our carnet de passage signed.

sampling_in_Italy_1988

Fieldwork in Italy during 1988: sampling surface sediments from a lake somewhere in the Appenines with Brian Huntley during our spring visit (left) and using a Livingstone corer to collect a sediment core in the fens beside Lago di Monticchio in southern Italy in September 1988.

Almost thirty years later, I take for granted that I can travel around Europe for pleasure or business with almost no constraints.   In my own small way, I run a business that depends, to some extent, on “exports” to the European Union.   I had forgotten, until I dug out these memories, just what that entailed.  The irony is that establishing a tighter control on our borders will, almost inevitably, make crossing those same borders slower and will generate extra paperwork, particularly for those of us who travel on business.  Of course, once we are in Europe, the open borders will mean that our progress across the continent will not be impaired.   And the stated aspiration of the “leave” campaigners is that there will be a free trade agreement between UK and the EU which will mean that we can continue to do business.

Like much of the rhetoric that surrounds the EU referendum, the reality is less certain than the protagonists suggest.  My own view is that leaving would be foolish but, if that is the outcome of the referendum, then a free trade agreement probably will be achieved, possibly on the lines of that currently enjoyed between Norway and the EU.   Brexiters such as Johnson, Farage and Duncan Smith talk glibly of this as if a deal strongly weighted in the UK’s favour was no more than a formality.   This is naïve: my own belief is that a free trade agreement will be contingent on the UK maintaining the “level playing field” for business which, in turn, will mean staying signed up to, amongst other things, key employment and environmental legislation.   It will also mean paying some money to Brussels to support the implementation of those aspects of EU law, and any other parts of the EU’s activities that are deemed beneficial (access to research funding, perhaps?).   That is something that the Brexiters have been rather quiet about over the past weeks.

Of course, I regard the prospect of the UK staying signed up to EU environmental legislation, in particular, as a small crumb of comfort in these worrying times.  That is partly down to self-interest, as helping with the implementation of EU legislation is a major part of my business.  But it is not just self-interest.  As I have written before (see “What has the EU ever done for us?”), I do genuinely believe that we get stronger environmental protection by being part of the EU than we would if we depended solely on Westminster and Whitehall.

I don’t expect that I will need a Carnet de Passage any time soon.  But remembering how things were, in the days before the European Economic Community morphed into the European Union and promoted genuinely free trade, is enough to remind of just how much we stand to lose after next week’s referendum.

Pinus_pinea_Italy88

A clump of umbrella pine, Pinus pinea, on a hillside, photographed during fieldwork in 1988.

Reflections from a Romanian lake

lac_Calbarusani_June16

If you have followed my blog for some time you will know that two of my professional interests are ensuring consistency in the implementation of environmental legislation across the European Union and trying to make ecological assessment as straightforward and understandable as possible. These two interests sometimes collide briefly, particularly when I am travelling, as I have an urge to grab a sample from lakes and rivers that I pass and to make a quick judgement on their quality (see “Lago di Maggiore under the microscope” and “Subsidiarity in action”).   This isn’t quite as straightforward as it seems, as my specialism requires use of a microscope, and travelling light precludes carrying my field microscope on my travels.   Instead, I bring small, discrete samples home and have a look at the diatoms in their live state.  Enough are usually recognisable to allow me to make a rough calculation of the indices that we use to evaluate ecological status.

My visit to Romania included a trip to Lacul Cāldāruşani, on the flat lands of the Wallachian Plain about 40 kilometres north of Bucharest. It is a shallow lake, fringed by reeds (Phragmites australis) and it was from these that we collected our sample.  The reed stems were all smothered with the green alga Cladophora glomerata which, in turn, hosted a rich diatom flora.   Many of these could be either identified, or a plausible guess at their identity made, from the live state, so I was able to make a list of diatoms and, from this, to calculate the indices that we use in the UK to assess the quality of lakes.   My conclusion was that that this was definitely an enriched lake, some way below the standards set by the Water Framework Directive, which agreed with the evidence that my Romanian hosts already had.   That I can travel from near the western edge of the European Union to the eastern edge and still make a robust inference of the quality of the lake says much for the robustness of the methods with which we are dealing.

The most abundant diatom in the sample was Cocconeis pediculus, which lives on the surface of the Cladophora filaments.  This means that it is, in this case at least, an epiphyte on an epiphyte, as the Cladophora was, itself, growing on the reed stems.  Rhoicosphenia abbreviata is another diatom that lives epiphytically on Cladophora, and this was also common in the sample.  As well as these, there were at least three species of Encyonema, mostly free-living but a few in tubes, plus Navicula tripunctata and at least one other species and a few cells of Epithemia sorex.   There was also a rich assortment of green algae, but I had only limited time to dedicate to this sample, so these will have to wait for another day.

Cocconeis_on_Cladophora_Jun

Cladophora-smothered sections of submerged stems of Phragmites australis collected from Lacul Cāldāruşani, Romania, June 2016; b. and c. Cocconeis pediculus growing on living and dead filaments of Cladophora glomerata from Lac Cāldāruşani. Scale bar: 10 micrometres (= 1/100th of a millimetre).

Caldarusani_diatoms_June16

Diatoms from Lac Cāldāruşani, Romania, June 2016: a. two cells of Rhoicosphenia abbreviata on a stalk; b. Navicula sp.; c. Navicula tripunctata; d. Epithemia sorex; e. Encyonema sp (E. silesiacum?) growing in mucilaginous tubes.  Scale bar: 10 micrometres (= 1/100th of a millimetre).

One difference between this lake and most lakes in the UK is that the Romanians have a taste for a far broader range of freshwater fish than we do.  We enjoy salmon and trout, but there is not much enthusiasm for eating other freshwater fish here, in contrast to many parts of central and eastern Europe where fish such as carp are both farmed and eaten (we, in the UK, seem to have lost that taste, as many ruined monasteries have “carp ponds”).   Lac Cāldāruşani has a commercial fishery, and this probably contributes to the poor quality of the water.   Many shallow lakes and ponds are stocked with carp in the UK too, but for angling, not commercial fisheries.   Many of these are too small to feature on the regular monitoring programs (which only covers water bodies that are at least 50 Ha in size).   Carp, however, are fish that like to root around in the mud for food and, in the process, stir up the sediments releasing nutrients back into the water where they can be used by algae.   The algae, in turn, die and sink to the bottom where they decay and release the nutrients back to the water, only for another carp to stir them up again.  These shallow lakes are, in effect, not just polluted by this year’s inputs of nutrients, but also by pollution from the preceding decade, which is constantly being recycled as the fish search for food.

From here, we climbed back into the car to visit one other lake.  The story of that lake, however, will have to wait for a future post.

References

More details about the methods for assessing lake ecological status using diatoms in the following two papers:

Bennion, H., Kelly, M.G., Juggins, S., Yallop, M.L., Burgess, A., Jamieson, J. & Krokowski, J. (2014).  Assessment of ecological status in UK lakes using benthic diatoms.  Freshwater Science 33: 639-654.

Kelly, M., Urbanic, G., Acs, E. Bennion, H., Bertrin, V., Burgess, A., Denys, L.,  Gottschalk, S., Kahlert, M., Karjalainen, S.-M., Kennedy, B., Kosi, G., Marchetto, A., Morin, S., Picinska-Fałtynowicz, J., Poikane, S., Rosebery, J. Schoenfelder, I., Schoenfelder, J., Varbiro, G.(2014). Comparing aspirations: intercalibration of ecological status concepts across European lakes for littoral diatoms.   Hydrobiologia 734: 125-141.

The heart of the matter …

Suffolk_Street_Forest_Gate_

I have made no secret of my strong belief that the UK would be foolish to leave the European Union (see “What has the EU ever done for us?“).  Until now, I have argued the case for our environment being better protected by EU regulations and enforcement procedures.  However, that is only part of the reason that I will be voting to stay in the EU on June 23.  The emotional heart of my argument is encapsulated in the two photographs above.

They both show the road, Suffolk Street, in Forest Gate, East London, where my mother and her family lived during the Second World War.  The left hand picture shows my mother standing outside the house where she was brought up.  Like almost every house in the street it is a 19th century terraced house, with two rooms upstairs and three downstairs.   Right up to the time my grandmother died in 1989 it had an outside toilet and no separate bathroom.   The right hand picture shows three houses built in the 1960s that stand about 100 metres further along the road from my mother’s house.   Those houses stand on the site where a German V1 flying bomb landed in 1944.  My grandmother, mother and uncle emerged from the air-raid shelter at the end of their small garden to find their windows blown in and a gaping hole between two of the downstairs rooms.   I still remember seeing the crack in the wall when I visited as a child.   My mother’s favourite doll also lost one of its arms during the attack.

Seventy years on, I spend a proportion of my working life working with the European Union, and have a reasonable idea of the realities of getting representatives of 28 different countries to agree on a common path.  It is not always easy, and sometimes there are frustrations and disagreements.   The lack of uniformity across Europe is part of what makes travelling around the continent and working with people from other countries a generally rewarding experience.   We share many values, but the expression of those values is shaped by different cultures and histories.   Finding a way through the problems and disagreements is not always easy, but a brief pause to reflect on how far we have all travelled since Britain and Germany dropped bombs on one another is enough to put these disagreements into perspective.

There is much with which I do not agree within the European Union; the time is not right for greater movement towards a single federal state, and the Euro, for all the practical conveniences, was rushed ahead without thinking through all the implications.   However, major constitutional changes require agreement from all members, so the UK cannot be forced down paths with which it disagrees profoundly.  But all of these debates are fringe affairs compared to the recognition of shared values, achieved through the increased mobility of citizens around the EU, whether on holiday, to work or to study.  Perhaps the UK does not get the full benefit of the free movement of labour because our language skills are not as developed as in many other countries?  But that is a matter that we have to resolve ourselves and is hardly the fault of the EU.   That said, the working language of scientists within the EU is English and I am writing this on the way back from a business trip to Romania, so there is hope, even for the linguistically challenged …

Being in Romania also served as a reminder of the role that the EU played in encouraging democracy and economic development in the former communist states.   Liam Fox, the former Conservative Defence Secretary – and prominent “out” campaigner was scornful of the suggestion that the EU contributes to peace. That, he claimed, was due to NATO, not the EU.   That betrays a very limited understanding of “peace” as no more than “not war”.   “Peace” is a far bigger concept than Liam Fox’s definition, embracing all the interactions we have that make war inconceivable.   NATO, at best, contributes to a sense of security in situations where true peace has already failed.  But that’s a topic for another day.

A major limitation of the “out” campaigners is their appeal to a sense of nationalism that seems thoroughly behind the times in our modern interconnected world.  To me, being “European” is just one more layer to my identity.  It does not conflict with my nationality.  I was reminded of this as I listened to Sunderland fans taunting Newcastle supporters as their victory over Everton consigned Newcastle to relegation.  But I know that, as the European championships get under way, Sunderland and Newcastle fans will be standing side by side supporting England.  So the idea of nested identities is hardly new.  Europe is just one more layer to our identity.  Voting to stay in on June 23rd is a complete no-brainer…

Bucharest_Peoples_Palace_Ju

The Palace of the Parliament (“Casa Poporului”) in Central Bucharest, built on Nicolae Ceauşescu’s orders: a reminder of Romania’s Communist past.

Hilda Canter-Lund competition 2016 winner

swell_life_Tiffany_Stephens

The winner of the 2016 Hilda Canter-Lund photography award is Tiffany Stephens, for her photograph “Swell Life”, showing algae in the intertidal zone of Snares Island, a small sub-Antarctic island, 200 kilometres south of New Zealand.  Tiffany took this photograph whilst studying for her PhD at the University of Otago with Chris Hepburn.

The picture’s genesis is in the spirit of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”: Tiffany was on R.V. Polaris II, trying to collect data on the amount of particulate organic matter that was being released into the water by macroalgae, and the role that this played in food webs.    One day, when the sea was especially calm and the swell small, the skipper was able to bring the boat closer to the steep rock wall smothered with algae so that she could lower a probe into the water to collect a sample.   It was during this manoeuvre that Tiffany was able to snap the picture.   Closely cropped, the algae of the intertidal zone and the surging water create a semi-abstract composition that also tells a story of the functioning of near-shore communities in an inhospitable environment.

The dominant alga in the photograph is Durvillaea antarctica, “southern bull kelp”, a brown alga that is only found on exposed shores of the cooler regions of the southern hemisphere.   Above the Durvillaea there is a resilient band of mixed red and encrusting coralline algae.

Tiffany_Stephens

Tiffany Stephens, 2016 Hilda Canter-Lund award winner.

Unlike the fucoids, common on north temperate coasts, Durvillaea antarctica does not have air bladders in its fronds.  Instead, the interior tissues of the leathery blades have an unusual honeycomb structure which confer strength and buoyancy.   This also means that if the holdfast fails, the kelp is able to float, and to be transported around by oceanic currents.  This may help to explain why Durvillaea is so widespread in the southern hemisphere.  However, it is not just the kelp that benefits: these “rafts” of Durvillaea have been suggested as one means by which the sub-antarctic islands were recolonised by invertebrates following the last ice age.

Durvillaea is also eaten by coastal communities in some parts of the southern hemisphere and, bizarrely, used by Maori communities in New Zealand to preserve “mutton bird”, the sooty shearwater (Ardenna griseus).  If the honeycomb structure of Durvillaea is to function as a buoyancy aid for the living plant, the exterior tissues of the blades needs to be air-tight.  The Maori exploit this property, removing the inner honeycomb tissues to create air-tight bags.  They then preserve the young shearwater inside these bags, covered by their own fat (a sort of shearwater confit, I guess?).

One final fact about Durvillaea is that it forms part of a rather rude expression for sexual intercourse in Chile (remojar el cochayuyo – literally “soaking the seaweed”).  Don’t ever say that reading my blog doesn’t broaden your horizons …

Durvillaea_antarctica

Left: an underwater view of a “forest” of Durvillaea antarctica; right: the “honeycomb” tissues inside a frond of D. antarctica.  Photographs: Chris Hepburn, University of Otago.

References

Fraser, C.I., Nikula, R. & Waters, J.M. (2011).  Oceanic rafting by a coastal community.  Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B 278: 649-655.

Stephens T.A. & Hepburn C.H. (2014). Mass-transfer gradients across kelp beds influence Macrocystis pyrifera growth over small spatial scales. Marine Ecology Progress Series 515: 97–109.

“May you live in interesting times”: memories of Brian Moss

Moss_books

I have twice had to follow presentations Brian Moss, who died last week, at scientific meetings and on both occasions it was a daunting experience.   He had a reputation as a fine scientist, and brought pure ecological thinking to applied science problems in a way that no other freshwater scientist has, in my opinion, ever bettered.   He was, however, extremely critical of the way that Europe, and the UK in particular, had gone about implementation of the Water Framework Directive.  As most of my work over the past decade has focused on just that, a difference of opinion was inevitable.   As the eminent professor, he inevitably started proceedings, giving a witty and erudite plenary talk which won the audience onto his side.  When he sat down and the applause had died away, the hapless defenders of the flawed status quo would start their talks on the back foot.  However, he usually had a twinkle in his eye as he spoke, and I always enjoyed our discussions before and after the sessions.

I remember one occasion in particular, at the British Phycological Society meeting in Birmingham when I had to follow him.   I had a talk prepared and, as he spoke, I saw my carefully planned arguments being undermined and demolished one by one.  I stood up in front of the audience and said: “I agreed with about a third of what Brian said, I disagreed with a third, and the other third I missed because I was rewriting my own talk …”   A decade on, I still disagree with much of what he wrote about the Water Framework Directive.   His scientific logic was usually flawless, but he was never very cognizant of the way that large public sector bodies operated, and the compromises that were necessary to get 28 countries working together.  Perhaps he didn’t need to be: I wrote to him after he was awarded the CIEEM Medal in 2010, saying that he was “the piece of grit in the oyster shell that was necessary if a pearl of great price was to be produced”.

The first edition of his textbook Ecology of Freshwaters was one of the first books about freshwater science that I read, and one of the very first seminars that I attended was a talk by him on his work on the Norfolk Broads.  In that talk, he managed to make ecology both fascinating and relevant, and that, in turn, probably encapsulates his career.  His textbook, now in the fourth edition, is now a book that I recommend to my own students, and I also suggest that they might like to try “Lakes, Lochs and Loughs”, his most recent work (an update of Macan and Worthington’s classic New Naturalist book on lakes) as lighter background reading.   We live in a world where the specialist is valued over the generalist, and it was refreshing to follow Brian’s text as he wrote knowledgably about all the different groups of organisms that inhabit our standing waters, and how they interact.  I thought the book was a little over-written in places, but he succeeds in finding some clever metaphors as he attempts to make the intricacies of freshwater science accessible to wider audiences.

Sometimes, we agreed to disagree.   Once, I recall, after a vigorous discussion, we concluded by agreeing that the challenges that the Water Framework Directive posed were encapsulated by the apocryphal Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times”.   With Brian around, they usually were.