Ellerbeck and Ellerbeckia

In the post I wrote just after John Lund’s death had been announced (see: “John Walter Guerrier Lund (1912-2015)”), I mentioned that there was a diatom genus named after his house in Ambleside. As I was in the area, I thought I would pay a quick visit so that I could put a picture of Ellerbeck, the house, alongside images of Ellerbeckia, the genus.   I walked down off Loughrigg Fell, through Ambleside and onto the road that leads out towards Kirkstone Pass. A left turn onto, Sweden Bridge Lane followed by a right onto Ellerigg Road brought me, a couple of minutes later, to Ellerbeck, the last of a row of stone cottages right at the edge of the village.

Set on a hillside and surrounded by garden plants, Ellerbeck was not an easy house to photograph, so forgive the odd perspective in the picture below.   The gardens around Ellerbeck are, I imagine, quite wonderful in the summer, though today was not a day to linger.


Ellerbeck: the home of John and Hilda Canter-Lund in Ambleside, Cumbria, photographed May 2015.

The next pictures show Ellerbeckia arenaria, the only representative of the genus found in the UK.   First there is a colony of live cells; after this, I have included some views of cleaned valves.   It is, as you can see, a large, heavily silicified valve with a distinctive cross-hatched pattern on the mantle.  The cells are joined together to form long chains, which often stay together even after the cells have been cleaned with oxidising agents.   One interesting feature of Ellerbeckia that is not easy to see with the photographs here is that the two valves that make up the cell wall are different from one another. One has a convex face, whilst the other has a concave face.   The radial markings on the valve face also differ, so that the “ridges” on one knit with the “grooves” on the next.   This may explain why the colonies are so resilient compared to, for example, Melosira varians (see “Fertile speculations”).


Ellerbeckia arenaria, photographed by Chris Carter.

There is an irony to Ellerbeckia, the genus, being named after a house surrounded by the soft waters of the Lake District in northern England. Looking at my database, I noticed that most of my records were from hard waters in the south, including several chalk streams. I have found it in Cassop Pond, near my house, which is at the foot of the Permian limestone escarpment, but I would not expect to find it in the softer waters of the Lake District.   On the other hand, my old copy of West and Fritsch (1927) says it “occurs on wet rocks, sometimes forming crisp mat-like masses on dripping sandstone, and is common on the Brit[ish] Carboniferous sandstone.”   Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places.


Cleaned valves of Ellerbeckia arenaria, from the Great Stour (Kent), Ripper’s Cross, May 2011.


Crawford, R.M. (1988) A reconsideration of Melosira arenaria and M. teres, resulting in a proposed new genus. pp. 413-433. In: Algae and the Aquatic Environment, edited by F.E. Round. Biopress, Bristol.

West, G.S. & Fritsch, F.E. (1927). A Treatise on the British Freshwater Algae.   Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

John Walter Guerrier Lund (1912-2015)

I was sorry to hear that John Lund died a few days ago.   I first encountered him in a second year undergraduate lecture on succession, when his pioneering work on seasonality in lake phytoplankton was used as an example.   He was appointed to the Freshwater Biological Association in 1944 and produced a series of important papers on the ecology of the phytoplankton based on his observations in Windermere and nearby lakes over the next decades.   I also remember a paper he wrote for the now sadly defunct journal Field Studies, which demonstrated a broader interest in the natural history of freshwater algae. And, in 1996, along with his wife, he published a marvellous book, Algae: their Microscopic World Explored.   She provided the pictures, he wrote the text, drawing on his extensive experience of all algal groups.   You can find more details of his life at the Fritsch Collection website.

Others will write full obituaries in due course. I only met John on a few occasions but the last visit was very memorable.   I was searching for a freshwater Chrysophyte called Phaeodermatium, a relative of Hydrurus foetidus (see “A brief excursion to Norway”).   In their book, John Lund had explained that it thrives in the colder months of the year and usually disappears in summer.   He also commented that it was found in the stream that flowed through his garden.   As it happened, I was going to a meeting in Windermere at about this time and I thought that I could take this opportunity to visit John Lund and collect a sample from his garden.   I called ahead, arranged a time to visit and, at the appointed time, my colleague who had driven me over from Durham dropped me off at his old slate cottage, Ellerbeck, on the north side of Ambleside.   My colleague was going to wait in Ambleside for half an hour or so until I joined him with my sample.

John, at this time, was in his late 90s, physically frail and almost blind, though his mind was still sharp and he was as courteous as ever.   He not only welcomed me to his house but also announced that he would join me on the excursion through his extensive garden to find the alga.   We made our way very slowly along the paths towards the stream, talking about mutual acquaintances.   At one point he stopped, lifted his head and asked me: “are we close to the Magnolia tree?”   I said that we were.  Then, rather wistfully, “it’s very beautiful at this time of year isn’t it?”   And then we moved on again towards the stream.   I was due to be at a meeting in the very near future and took advantage of John’s lack of sight to discretely text my colleague to tell him to go on without me.

We reached the stream eventually, and I stepped in to collect my samples. He had mentioned that Phaeodermatium formed crusts on rocks and stones that could become so thick that the rocks were slippery to walk on. The rocks were certainly slippery but, when I looked at my haul under my microscope a day or two later, the sample was dominated by Diatoma mesodon not Phaeodermatium. We then made the slow journey back through the garden to his house, where I said goodbye and walked into Ambleside where, in the absence of any local taxis, I had to wait for the next bus to Windermere, eventually arriving at my meeting about an hour after it had started.

His house, Ellerbeck, incidentally, gave its name to the monotypic diatom genus Ellerbeckia.   John Lund was married to Hilda Canter-Lund, in whose memory the Hilda Canter-Lund photography prize was established (see “Hilda Canter-Lund photography award 2013 winner”.


Canter-Lund, H. & Lund, J.W.G. (1995). Freshwater Algae: Their Microscopic World Explored. Biopress, Bristol.

Lund, J.W.G. (1961). The algae of the Malham Tarn district. Field Studies 1: 85-115.