Introduction to Groundwater Animals UK

Groundwaters in the UK possess an assemblage of invertebrates such as Niphargus spp. (Figure 1) and Antrobathynella stammeri (Figure 2) that are only found in this habitat (stygobites) and thus make a unique contribution to UK biodiversity. The new Groundwater Directive has stimulated interest in groundwater ecosystems and the endemic stygobite, the British well Shrimp, Niphargus glenniei, was added to the priority species list of the UKBAP in summer 2007. Despite this recent interest, groundwater habitats and their assemblages are poorly studied in the UK and so we don’t know much about the distribution, habitat requirements and abundance of these organisms at a national level. Research outside the UK, however, suggests that these groundwater animals are vulnerable to extinction from anthropogenic pressures because they are typically limited in their geographic distribution, occur in low numbers and disperse slowly. In this project, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, we plan to improve our knowledge of the distribution and habitat requirements of groundwater animals (including Niphargus glenniei) in targeted areas of the UK. We will also design a sampling protocol for groundwater animals for future use in a national survey and raise their profile by outreach activities. 

Funded by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
Dates of Project 01.06.2009 – 28.02.2011
Lead organisation Roehampton University (Centre for Research in Ecology)


Figure 1                              Figure 2

Figure 1. Niphargus aquilex. Photograph by Chris Proctor                Figure 2. Antrobathynella stammeri. Photograph by Mark Dunscombe


About GWA-UK


1. Determine the habitat requirements, distribution and relative abundance of obligate groundwater animals, including Niphargus glenniei.
2. Assist in the further development of the Biodiversity Action Plan for N. glenniei.
3. Design a sampling protocol for groundwater animals for future use in a national survey.
4. Raise the profile of groundwater animals through a series of workshops, talks and meetings with wildlife groups and regulatory and environmental management bodies.


This project is a partnership between:


The Research

Sampling strategy:

We are focussing on two counties in SW England, Devon (where N. glenniei is known to occur) and Dorset and one area of Wales. Devon and Dorset have been divided by the BGS into 6 hydrogeological units based on characteristics such as fracturing intensity and pore throat characteristics. These are:

1) Very low permeability strata

2) Granular aquifers (low to moderate permeability)

3) Combined granular and fracture aquifers (high permeability)

4) Fracture aquifers: low to moderate permeability

5) Carbonate aquifer: low to moderate level karstification

6) Carbonate aquifer: high level karstification

We will systematically undertake a sampling programme within these units to assess the habitat requirements of groundwater animals. Figure 3 shows the distribution of these units together with the location of monitoring boreholes. We will primarily use boreholes as access points into the groundwater. Physico-chemical data including dissolved oxygen, turbidity (the amount of sediment in the water column), temperature, pH, conductivity and major ions will be collected at the same time as sampling for animals takes place. The data will be analysed using a GIS to determine the habitat requirements, distribution and relative abundance of obligate groundwater organisms in these key areas.

• Development of national sampling protocol

• Raising the profile of groundwater animals


Figure 3 

Figure 3. The location of the monitored boreholes and the six hydrogeological units. 


  • PDF of the Environment Agency review
  • Robertson AL, Smith JWN, Johns T & Proudlove GS (2009) The distribution and diversity of stygobites in Great Britain: an analysis to inform groundwater management. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology. 42: 359-368 doi:10.1144/1470-9236/08-046. Please email Anne Robertson ( for a pdf
  • Final Report - December 2011
    The Groundwater Animals Project: An investigation into the diversity and distribution of groundwater fauna in England.
    Authors - Tim Johns & Mark Dunscombe with contributions from Prof. Anne Robertson, Lee Knight, Dr Paul Wood, Dr Lou Maurice and Dr Simon Rundle.

A partnership between: A partnership between:

Roehampton University Logo 

Esmee Fairburn Foundation

Freshwater Biological Association Logo 

FreshwaterLife logo

Loughborough University Logo 

Plymouth University Logo

British Geographical Survey Logo