This website is intended as a hobby project by father and son Kenny and David Gifford, with the aim to photograph, identify and record the microscopic life in the freshwater lochs of the Shetland Islands. It is hoped that this website will be of interest for biological recording and monitoring, and to students of freshwater biology, anglers, naturalists, ecologists, as well as casual observers. The website is updated as a blog, with records photographed and added to the site after each loch visit.
Download a spreadsheet of the records identified* to species level:
shetland-lochs-records.csv (comma-separated values)
*Please note this is an amateur project. Best efforts are made to identify species. However this website and the spreadsheet linked above should not be relied on as a reference. Assistance with identifications and taxonomy is very much welcomed — please contact us.
When I was in my very early teens I was introduced to microscopy and freshwater invertebrate life by a school violin teacher by the name of Geoffrey De Mercado. I also became owner of a Watson and Sons brass microscope and like many other young people I was fascinated by the microscopic world. Geoffrey de Mercado went on in his later years to produce a booklet ‘Notes on Shetland freshwater life and arthropods’ … an informative and interesting book illustrated in time-honoured fashion by his own line drawings.
In my latter working life I had the privilege to teach aquaculture (SQA National Progression Award in Aquaculture) to secondary school pupils. Part of the course content consisted of field studies, involving gathering samples of plankton and data on water quality. Subsequent labwork involved the students identifying and photographing specimens and finally presenting their work in class.
When I retired I discussed a hobby project with my son David where we would visit freshwater lochs in Shetland on a regular basis and compile a database of photographs of species found.
Some work was done in Shetland by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology for the Nature Conservancy Council during the late 60’s and early 70’s on listing freshwater invertebrates, macrophytes and water quality. The species found were listed in a report commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage, compiled in 1995 by Dr Peter Maitland of the then Fish Conservation Centre in Stirling.
Some lochs were singled out in the report as being of importance. The Tingwall loch in particular was described as ‘one of the base rich Shetland lochs with rich and diverse flora and fauna’, and that it ‘must qualify as one of the important fresh waters of Shetland’. With this in mind it was decided we would concentrate our blog / database initially on compiling a photographic record of aquatic life of the Tingwall Loch, progressing to other lochs in the islands as time allows.
Shetland’s geographic remoteness and position lying between Norway, Scotland, Faroe and Iceland, makes variation in some species very probable. In addition the 1,577 lochs in Shetland are mostly unspoilt and unpolluted. Many are in remote areas, a long way from any commercial developments.
Samples are generally obtained using a plankton net, towed either off the shore or from a boat. The nets used are regular small plankton nets from EFE & GB Nets with 20 - 50 micron mesh. A simple pock dip net has also been used for larger aquatic stages of flies, small fish, and beetles. Samples are washed into 750 ml plastic bottles and taken back live to the ‘lab’ for photographing and identification. Another sampling method is to take a quantity of sphagnum moss from around the loch and squeeze the water content into a suitable container. The findings from this method work well for the likes of desmids.
Chemicals used to aid with examination include Lugol’s iodine, isopropyl alcohol, and formalin (at 4% concentration).
A student-level biological trinocular microscope was used at the start of the project and replaced in July 2020 with an Olympus CX43.
The microscopy subjects on the site have been photographed using various Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras mounted to the microscope. The photos are processed and filed using Adobe Lightroom. Focus stacking (Zerene stacker) has also been used to generate many of the images and Toupview software to make mesurements.
Thanks to Bill Brierley of the Freshwater Biological Association in Windermere. The importance of getting species’ names correct is high on the agenda so with that in mind I visited the FBA at Windermere and met with Director Bill Brierley who very kindly took time to show us around and discussed ways we could be helped in dealing with taxonomy questions. That process is paying off with very good contacts for example Chris Carter who has been a huge help with Desmids. Thanks also to Tony Pattinson, member of the Quekett microscopy club, for help with identification.
And thanks also to the Aquaculture training staff at the NAFC Marine Centre in Salloway who have offered their boundless advice, encouragement and coffee!
Bellinger, E. G. and Sigee, D. C. (2015). Freshwater algae: identification, enumeration and use as bioindicators. 2nd edition. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Błędzki, L. A. and Rybak, J. I. (2016). Freshwater crustacean zooplankton of Europe: cladocera & copepoda (calanoida, cyclopoida): key to species identification, with notes on ecology, distribution, methods and introduction to data analysis. Switzerland: Springer Nature.
Brook, A. J., John, D. M. and Whitton, B.A., et al. (2017). The freshwater algal flora of the British Isles: an identification guide to freshwater and terrestrial algae. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brook, A. J., Williamson D. B., and Price, J. H. (2010). A monograph on some British desmids. London: The Ray Society.
Carter, C. F. and Williamson, D. B. (2016). Staurastrum spinolobatum: a new species of placoderm desmid from the Shetland Islands. The Glasgow Naturalist, 26(3). Available at: http://bit.ly/2BQmuPA [Accessed February 2018].
Carter, J. R. and Bailey-Watts, A. E. (1981). A taxonomic study of diatoms from standing freshwaters in Shetland. Nova Hedwigia, 33, pp.513–629.
Dobson, M., Pawley, S., Fletcher, M. and Powell, A. (2013). Guide to freshwater invertebrates. Ambleside: Freshwater Biological Association.
Duigan, C. (1991). The rediscovery of the Cladoceran Eurycercus glacialis Lilljeborg, 1887 (Branchiopoda, Chydoridae) in Scotland. Freshwater Forum, 1(3), pp.184–194. Available at: http://aquaticcommons.org/4525/ [Accessed February 2018].
Eiseler, B. (2005). Bildbestimmungsschulüssel für die Eintagsfliegenlarven der deutschen Mittelgebirge und des Tieflandes. (Identification key to the mayfly larvae of the German Highlands and Lowlands). Lauterbornia, 53, pp.1–112.
Elliott, J. M. (2013). Contrasting dynamics from egg to adult in the life cycle of summer and overwintering generations of Baetis rhodani in a small stream. Freshwater Biology, 58(5), pp.866–879.
Elliott, J. M. and Humpesch, U.H. (2012). Mayfly larvae (ephemeroptera) of Britain and Ireland : keys and a review of their ecology. Ambleside: Freshwater Biological Association.
Frey, D. G. (1971). Worldwide Distribution and Ecology of Eurycercus and Saycia (Cladocera) 1. Limnology and Oceanography, 16(2), pp.254–308. Available at: http://doi.org/10.4319/lo.1971.16.2.0254 [Accessed February 2018].
George D. G. and Maitland, P. S. (1984). The fresh waters of Shetland: Physical and morphometric characteristic of lochs. Freshwater Biology, 14, pp.95–107.
Gurney, R. (1931). British freshwater Copepoda. London: Ray Society.
Harding, J. and Smith, W. (1974). A key to the British freshwater cyclopid and calanoid copepods. 2nd edition. Ambleside: Freshwater Biological Association.
Haslam, S. A., Sinker, C A., and Wolseley, P. A. (2019). British water plants. Telford: Field Studies Council.
Kelly, M. (2013). Identification of common benthic diatoms in rivers. Telford: Field Studies Council.
Macadam, C. and Bennett, C. (2010). A pictorial guide to British Ephemeroptera. Telford: Field Studies Council.
Macadam, C. R., Chadd, R.P., Pickwell, A. and Doe, J. (2018). A new British mayfly: Baetis atlanticus (Soldán & Godunko, 2006) (Ephemeroptera: Baetidae). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 154(4), pp.263–265.
Macan, T. (1959). A guide to freshwater invertebrate animals. London: Longmans.
Maitland, P. (1978). Biology of fresh waters. New York: Wiley.
Maitland, P. (1995). The fresh waters of Shetland. Stirling: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Mellanby, H. (1963). Animal life in fresh water. 6th edition. London: Chapman and Hall.
Mercado, G. (1967). Notes on Shetland freshwater life and arthropods. Lerwick: T. & J. Manson.
Sars, G. O. (1913). An account of the crustacea of Norway. Volume 6. Bergen: Bergen Museum.
Scott, T. and Duthie, R. (1895) The inland waters of the Shetland Islands. Annual report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, 13(3), pp.174–191.
Scott, T. and Duthie, R. (1896) The inland waters of the Shetland Islands, part II. Annual report of the Fishery Board for Scotland, 14(3), pp.229–243.
Scourfield, D. and Harding, J. (1966). A key to the British freshwater Cladocera. 3rd edition. Ambleside: Freshwater Biological Association.
Shiel, R. J. (1995). A guide to identification of rotifers, cladocerans and copepods from Australian inland waters: identification guide series no. 3. Albury: Co-operative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262726036_A_Guide_to_Identification_of_Rotifers_Cladocerans_and_Copepods_from_Australian_Inland_Waters_Identification_Guide_Series_No_3 [Accessed June 2019]
Sinev, A. (2009). Discrimination between two sibling species of Acroperus (Baird, 1843) from the Palearctic (Cladocera: Anomopoda: Chydoridae). Zootaxa, 2176, pp.1–21. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288618810_Discrimination_Between_Two_Sibling_Species_Of_Acroperus_Baird_1843_From_The_Palearctic_Cladocera_Anomopoda_Chydoridae [Accessed June 2019]
Smirnov, N. N. (1974). Fauna of the U.S.S.R.: Crustacea. Volume 1 No. 2 Chydoridae. Jerusalem: Israel Program for scientific translations.
Sutcliffe, D. W. (1974). On gammarus from fresh waters in the Islands of Orkney and Shetland. Crustaceana 27(1), pp.109–11. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20102120 [Accessed October 2019]
West, W. and West, G. S. (1905). Freshwater algae from the Orkneys and Shetlands. Transactions and proceedings of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 23(1), pp.3–41. Available at: http://img.algaebase.org/pdf/AC11010B1644d16847GUw2E09E32/32749.pdf [Accessed April 2018]
Williamson, D. B. (1992). A contribution to our knowledge of the desmid flora of the Shetland Islands. Botanical Journal of Scotland. 46(2), pp.233–285.
Please note this is an amateur project. Best efforts are made to identify species. However this website should not be relied on as a reference. Assistance with identifications and taxonomy is very much welcomed — please contact us.