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Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: EPSRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 2.24M | Year: 2011

The U.K. population is projected to reach 80 million by 2050 and it is anticipated that the overwhelming majority will continue to live in cities. Besides becoming more densely populated, future cities will be surrounded with expanding urban areas. Interactions within cities; across urban areas and with surrounding cities, towns and rural areas with the rest of the UK will place new and different demands on infrastructure, whether housing, energy, transport, freight distribution and disposal of waste. Decisions that are made now will have profound implications for the resultant pressures on transport, living space, energy use, and ecosystem services (the benefits humans receive from ecosystems). These decisions will play out at two fundamentally different spatial scales. First, and by far the better understood, are those decisions that concern individual households and their neighbourhoods. These include issues of how their members move around, what kinds of housing they occupy, how their energy demands and waste production are reduced, and how their negative influences on the wider environment generally will be limited. Second, broad scale strategic decisions regarding regional planning will determine where in the U.K. population growth is primarily accommodated. This will determine, and be shaped by, the kinds of transport and energy infrastructure required, and the environmental impacts. Obviously these two sets of decisions are not independent. The demands for and impacts of broad scale development (whether this be the creation of new urban areas or the intensification of existing ones) - and thus how this is best achieved to deliver sustainability- will be influenced not by the typical demands and impacts exhibited now by households, but by the way in which these have been changed in response to the modification to the associated infrastructure. This makes for a challenging problem in predicting and evaluating the possible consequences of different potential scenarios of regional development. The proposed study SElf Conserving URban Environments (SECURE) will address this grand challenge of integration across scales (the global aim) by developing a range of future regional urbanization scenarios, and exploring their consequences for selected high profile issues of resource demand and provision (transport, dwellings, energy, and ecosystem services) alongside sustainable waste utilisations. In doing so, it will build on findings of research outputs of several previous SUE projects and harness its relationship in the context of policy and economic growth. The study includes specific research objectives under five broad cross-cutting themes - Urbanisation, Ecosystems Services, Building and Energy, Stakeholder Engagement and Policy Integration across themes. SECURE is designed to assemble novel deliverables to bring about step change in current knowledge and practice. The North East Region will be used as a test bed and evaluation of transitional scenarios leading up to 2050 will quantify the benefits of integration across the scales through conservation across the themes. SECURE will deliver policy formulation and planning decisions for 2030 and 2050 with a focus on creating Sustainable Urban Environment.The contributors to this project are researchers of international standings who have collaborated extensively on several EPSRC funded projects, including the SUE research since its inception. The SECURE team builds on their current collaboration on the SUE2 4M project. The Project consortium is led by Newcastle - Prof Margaret Bell as PI and Dr Anil Namdeo as co-ordinator alongside Dr Jenny Brake with academic partners: Prof David Graham (Environmental Engineering), Prof David Manning (Geosciences); from Loughborough: Prof Kevin Lomas, Prof Jonathan Wright and Dr Steven Firth (Civil and Building Engineering); from Sheffield: Prof Kevin Gaston and Dr Jonathan Leake (Animal and Plant Sciences).


News Article | October 27, 2016
Site: www.bbc.co.uk

A scheme that aims to re-establish one of King Henry III's favourite fish in the River Severn has been given nearly £20m in funding. It will reopen the river to fish species, many of which vanished after weirs were installed in the 1800s. Fish passes will be installed at weirs on the river in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. It will allow threatened shad to access their historic spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the river. Twaite shad and allis shad are said to have been favoured in the court of Henry III in the 13th Century, and were once abundant and famed across Europe for their taste and quality. The Bristol Channel, into which the Severn flows, has the only viable breeding population of twaite shad in the UK. Richard Parry, from the Canal and River Trust, said it would help "restore this important fish stock to the upper River Severn". Heritage Lottery Fund trustee Tom Tew said: "Unlocking the Severn is a very rare opportunity to right 150 years of wrongs. "It will save a wonderful, but endangered, migratory fish and hugely benefit the River Severn's wider environmental health." The £19.4m project will install four fish passes, which allow fish to travel past the blockages, in Worcestershire, open up the River Teme to fish at two locations near Worcester, and improve access at a weir on the Severn near Tewkesbury. It will also see England's only fish viewing gallery built at Diglis Weir in Worcester, and the UK's first "Shad Fest" will take place. Work will begin next year and the whole project, which will also benefit salmon and eel, is expected to take five years to complete. The scheme, which is the largest of its kind ever attempted in Europe, was developed jointly by the Severn Rivers Trust, the Canal and River Trust, the Environment Agency and Natural England. Funding includes £10.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £6m from the European Commission.


Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: NERC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 1.19M | Year: 2014

This innovative interdisciplinary project aims to develop an easy-to-use, evidence-based resource which can be used in decision-making in drought risk management. To achieve this, we will bring together information from drought science and scenario-modelling (using mathematical models to forecast the impacts of drought) with stakeholder engagement and narrative storytelling. While previous drought impact studies have often focused on using mathematical modelling, this project is very different. The project will integrate arts, humanities and social science research methods, with hydrological, meteorological, agricultural and ecological science knowledge through multi-partner collaboration. Seven case study catchments (areas linked by a common water resource) in England, Wales and Scotland will be selected to reflect the hydrological, socio-economic and cultural contrasts in the UK. Study of drought impacts will take place at different scales - from small plot experiments to local catchment scale. Citizen science and stakeholder engagement with plot experiments in urban and rural areas will be used as stimuli for conversations about drought risk and its mitigation. The project will: (i) investigate different stakeholder perceptions of when drought occurs and action is needed; (ii) examine how water level and temperature affect drought perception; (iii) explore the impact of policy decisions on drought management; (iv) consider water users behaviours which lead to adverse drought impacts on people and ecosystems and; (v) evaluate water-use conflicts, synergies and trade-offs, drawing on previous drought experiences and community knowledge. The project spans a range of sectors including water supply; health, business, agriculture/horticulture, built environment, extractive industries and ecosystem services, within 7 case-study catchments. Through a storytelling approach, scientists will exchange cutting edge science with different drought stakeholders, and these stakeholders will, in turn, exchange their knowledge. Stakeholders include those in: construction; gardeners and allotment holders; small and large businesses; local authorities; emergency planners; recreational water users; biodiversity managers; public health professionals - both physical and mental health; and local communities/public. The stakeholder meetings will capture various data including: - different stakeholder perceptions of drought and its causes - local knowledge around drought onset and strategies for mitigation (e.g. attitudes to water saving, responses to reduced water availability) - insights into how to live with drought and increase individual/community drought resilience - the impact of alternating floods and droughts The information will be shared within, and between, stakeholder groups in the case-studies and beyond using social media. This information will be analysed, and integrated with drought science to develop an innovative web-based decision-making utility. These data will feedback into the drought modelling and future scenario building with a view to exploring a variety of policy options. This will help ascertain present and future water resources availability, focusing on past, present and future drought periods across N-S and W-E climatic gradients. The project will be as far as possible be open science - maintaining open, real-time access to research questions, data, results, methodologies, narratives, publications and other outputs via the project website, updated as the project progresses. Project outputs will include: the decision-making support utility incorporating science-narrative resources; hydrological models for the 7 case-study catchments; a social media web-platform to share project resources; a database of species responses/management options to mitigate drought/post-drought recovery at different scales, and management guidelines on coping with drought/water scarcity at different scales.


News Article | September 25, 2015
Site: www.theguardian.com

In the school summer holiday of 1937, the conservationist Ted Smith, who has died aged 95, cycled 14 miles from his home in rural Lincolnshire to Gibraltar Point. The sixth-former took his cheap binoculars to look for terns on this lonely stretch of sand and salt marsh beyond Skegness and, surrounded by sky and sea, he fell in love with the place. He noted three “gaudy new houses” on a road cut into the sand dunes, typical of the unrestrained development then enveloping the British coastline. A passion for wildlife and its habitats fired Smith for the rest of his life. This unassuming teacher battled against the tides of his time, industrial agriculture, toxic pesticides, the supplanting of ancient woods with conifers, the ploughing of heaths, and urban development, to cajole into existence a national network of 47 conservation charities now known as the Wildlife Trusts. Smith combined practical action – saving the last fragments of heath, meadow and coast (including Gibraltar Point) from destruction in Lincolnshire – with farsighted thinking, stressing the importance of landscape-scale conservation and the need to open the trusts’ 2,300 nature reserves to the public. The founders of the conservation movement in Britain tended to be academics such as the botanist Sir Arthur Tansley or wealthy aristocrats, such as Charles Rothschild, the banker, who first envisaged a national network of nature reserves. Smith was neither: born in Alford, Lincs, he was the son of an industrious plumber, Arthur, and his wife, Emma (nee Taylor), who also ran a bakery and grocery. From Queen Elizabeth’s grammar school in Alford he went to study English at Leeds University. When he returned to his home county to work in adult education, he set about saving Gibraltar Point. In 1948, he visited the Welsh island of Skokholm to see how its bird observatory operated and met a botanist, Mary Goddard, who became his wife. Smith founded Lincolnshire Naturalists’ Trust, later Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, and the following year Gibraltar Point became the first nature reserve protected by the fledgling group, with a membership of 129. A nature reserve, an area where entire ecosystems were protected, was still a radical concept in the 1940s, and the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, the charity created by Rothschild, was short of money and dynamism. Some people also believed its mission had been accomplished when the postwar government founded the Nature Conservancy (now Natural England) to establish and manage statutory nature reserves as well as national parks. The ailing society was jolted into life by Smith’s energy. In 1954, he addressed its annual meeting with a surprising message: many naturalists, he argued, were indifferent to the great wave of destruction instigated by industrial agriculture, and this must be fought by new county conservation groups whose members would be drawn from a wider section of society than the elitist natural history societies of the day. His egalitarian words were backed up by deeds. He campaigned on many fronts – from stopping the chemical spraying of flower-rich roadside verges to legal protection to save otters – and also believed that nature must not be fenced off from people. He remembered how one botanist used to pick the only lizard orchid left in Lincolnshire each summer, so that schoolchildren would not see the beautiful flower and pick it themselves. “That ‘keep it to yourself’ attitude was totally self-defeating in the end,” he said in 2012. “The idea that reserves were there for people as well as wildlife was a new concept” – and he put it into practice at Gibraltar Point. In the 1950s, Smith toured the country, persuading others to set up their own county conservation groups. He inspired friends in Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire to create wildlife trusts in 1956. Others followed in the West Midlands in 1957, Kent in 1958, Surrey in 1959 and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in 1960. With Smith orchestrating discussions, the new country groups agreed that they needed a national association – and that the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves could perform that role. A national conference was held in Skegness in 1960, and during Smith’s time as its the first general secretary (1975-78) it became the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation. In 1981 it became the Royal Society of Nature Conservation, and in 2004 the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, the umbrella organisation for the Wildlife Trusts, with which Smith remained involved both nationally and in Lincolnshire, where he became chairman and then president. Despite Smith’s efforts, Lincolnshire lost 99.7% of its meadowland in his lifetime. Faced with similarly catastrophic losses nationwide, in the 1970s Smith urged a parliamentary committee to look beyond nature reserves to create buffer zones and corridors so that birds, mammals and insects could move freely through the countryside. But it took three more decades for this prescient desire for landscape-scale conservation to become the mantra of policymakers. Appointed CBE for services to nature conservation in 1998, Smith received a special award on the centenary of the Wildlife Trusts in 2012, when the television naturalist Sir David Attenborough paid tribute to Smith’s forbearance in sitting through countless meetings, a necessary evil for the practical conservationist. Smith was “quiet, unobtrusive, diplomatic, but with steely determination”, Attenborough said. “He understood, to a degree that verged on the magical, the diplomacies needed to coordinate and energise organisations.” Mary died in 2008. Smith is survived by their daughters, Alison and Helen, and two grandchildren, James and Alice.


Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: AHRC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 45.28K | Year: 2013

Considering the amount of use and attention they receive from the general public, minor rights of way, public footpaths and green lanes remain remarkably under-researched by academics. Recent initiatives by Natural England have emphasized the importance of green lanes as habitats, which has led to some surveying and recording by local naturalist groups, including the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists Society. But the history of these features has received little attention, and that of public footpaths virtually none. Pathways to History aims to encourage local communities to research and record the public rights of way (PROW) within their own particular area. Communities would be supported by training sessions delivered by landscape historians from the School of History and our partner organisations. Training in the use of oral history will also be offered, so that participants can effectively record reminiscences about the use of particular routes in the past, lost names for lanes, and local stories and traditions attached to them. In addition, communities will be strongly encouraged to undertake fieldwork to record the physical features of PROW. Participating groups would then be encouraged to upload the results of their research directly onto the project website, which would be designed and maintained by the University, and publicised with the assistance of our project partners. We would also organise a number of guided public walks, each hosted by one of the local groups involved, where they would be able to communicate their findings directly to a wider audience. In addition, the research team will produce three articles presenting the overall results of the project to an academic audience.


Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: NERC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 518.36K | Year: 2016

The Earths surface (soil and plants), and the rock underneath interact, linked by rainwater flowing through the soil into the rock. The soil imparts a chemical signature to the water, sometimes bad leading to loss of water quality. This signature is mediated by movement through the rock, and then, when underground water re-emerges, in streams and rivers by bacterial activity. As such, how this outer layer of planet Earth functions is critical to key needs of mankind - how much water we have available and its quality; how well the soil functions as a result of water draining through it. The study of how these layers interact is thus called critical zone research. Our research programme uses such critical zone research in an environment where the local residents face significant environmental challenges - in rural China, an area of rapid growth and where many live under the poverty line. This is a joint research programme between UK and China. We will focus on two of these challenges: water availability and quality, and how movement of water in the critical zone influences surface vegetation. Crucial to this research is that the underlying rock is mostly limestone. Limestone is easily dissolved and water can move very quickly through the subsurface. So soils may dry sooner (as the subsurface beneath is freely-draining) and there is limited water storage on the surface and underground. Limestone is widely distributed world-wide, but particularly in China and so study here is relevant to many world-wide. The people living in the catchment generally live-off-the-land. It provides their water and food - a phenomenon known as the ecosystem providing services. Where the slopes are not too steep, the land surface is heavily-cultivated. This in turn presents problems e.g., the water quality is poor, with dangerously high-level of nitrate (a chemical that is found in fertiliser); clearance of vegetation exposes rock, limiting how land may be used. Further challenging to local residents is that the climate is changing. How rain is delivered to the catchment has been changing such that water is not available as before. Thus there have also been water shortages, and this led to crop failure and so loss of food. Land use change is important in shaping these ecosystem services, but climate change may be one of the most significant threats the residents will face; science must help them prepare for facing these threats with successful outcomes. Our research will generate models of how the critical zone functions currently and from these we can then investigate how the critical zone functioning may adapt to different environmental drivers. There is a large body of scientific modelling outside this project that has identified how the climate may change. Thus, we can draw on this to run the models we will develop of the critical zone functioning, not only under land use change, but also under future climate scenarios. All this research will contribute to understanding where this catchment critical zone is most sensitive to future threats. However, it is important that this understanding reaches the people who need to use it. So the final activity we will undertake comes under the umbrella of knowledge exchange - sharing our findings with those who need this research, and adjusting our understanding based on knowledge they too have. Thus our last, but not least, activity is working with those who live in the landscape and those who manage it, to help them identify how their activities can cause the least harm and offer the most protection to their ecosystem services. Our collaboration with Chinese colleagues is therefore crucial. We bring new skills to the project (e.g. new hydrological modelling skills) that they will benefit from. Additionally as catchment management practices will be quite different across UK-China, they will learn about other good practice to help improve their environment and remove residents from poverty


Grant
Agency: GTR | Branch: NERC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 385.01K | Year: 2011

Improved understanding of the functioning of hydrological systems and dependent ecology is essential for optimal environmental management. Floodplains in particular are important due to the ecosystem services they provide. The species composition of floodplain vegetation and their ecosystem functions (e.g. leaf CO2 uptake and transpiration) are very sensitive to the soil hydrological regime, which is highly variable both spatially and temporally. The hydrological regime also affects the temperature and nutrient regime of the root environment, leading to indirect impacts on vegetation. However, the mechanisms controlling these interdependencies are not well established. The proposed project, FUSE, aims to advance this knowledge at a variety of scales. A better understanding of these vulnerable ecosystems will allow improved environmental management, under current and future conditions. A field study is proposed in the Oxford Floodplain (OFP). This study will build upon an existing hydrological monitoring network currently in place in the Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The aims will be achieved by a sophisticated combination of environmental data and computer models. This involves state-of-the-art tools: a Wireless Underground Sensor Network (WUSN) and related monitoring of environmental variables, as well as high-resolution Earth Observation (EO, i.e. satellite) data. WSNs are a relatively recent application of technology; uptake of this technology by environmental scientists enables continuous monitoring that is both scalable and less intrusive on its surroundings. It is desirable for land-based sensor networks to have few or no above-ground components, for aesthetic and security reasons, as well as to avoid interference with land management practices. Recently, this has led to the introduction of WUSNs where all or at least the majority of the sensing and transmitting components are underground. WUSNs are rare, especially in the UK, and have not been tested long-term in a challenging environment such as the OFP. Reliability and the potential distance of data transmission depend on a number of factors, including the soil type, sensor installation depth, soil moisture content and technological factors. These will be researched extensively in the FUSE project, initially using existing data on the OFP hydrological regime, soils and vegetation height/density. The precise design of the WUSN will be determined with the aid of a geostatistical procedure. FUSE will allow researchers to reliably measure underground spatial variability at hitherto unachievable resolutions of less than a metre. The project will use a mesh of simple wireless sensor nodes previously developed at Imperial College (Beasties). These nodes will gather environmental data, and route these to a base-station that transmits to a remote database via GPRS. The low-cost, low-power Beasties have been used extensively in similar, but less challenging environments. The enhanced sensor technology will be entirely transferable. Theoretical tools in FUSE comprise of a simulation model (SCOPE_SUB), that can be used to describe and predict the interaction between the soil (soil moisture content, soil temperature and nutrient status), the vegetation (root water/nutrient uptake, CO2 uptake and transpiration), and the hydrometeorological regime. Furthermore we will use geospatial models to spatially interpolate between measured, modelled and EO data, thereby increasing data-density. EO data will serve to guide the continuous (in time) simulation model predictions. In that way high resolution maps of key soil and vegetation variables can be constructed. Computer Science tools, e.g. a so-called Integrated Development Environment to help environmental scientist to set up and test the WUSN, and a Web portal for quality control, sensor calibration, time series- and geospatial-analysis, parameter estimation and real-time model output, will be developed.


News Article | November 17, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

One of Britain’s most threatened farmland birds has reached a major milestone in its recovery from the brink of extinction, figures show. A nationwide survey by the RSPB shows the UK population of the cirl bunting – a small, finch-like bird – has reached 1,078 pairs after numbering just 118 in 1989. The RSPB said the dramatic rise is the result of a 25-year project recovery programme between the organisation, Natural England and local farmers in the south-west of England to help manage their land in order to provide year-round food supplies and habitat for the cirl bunting. Under the initiative, farmers took up country stewardship schemes which provide financial incentives for making nature-friendly choices. These ranged from leaving crops to go to stubble after harvest and provide seed food during colder months to planting grass margins at the edge of fields to support habitats for insects and spiders that would act as a summer food source. Many other birds have benefitted from the effects of the project, including linnets, skylarks and yellowhammer, which are all known to gain from a boost in stubble winter food sources. Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “The recovery of this charming little bird is a remarkable conservation success and shows what can be achieved when farmers and conservationists work together for nature. To go from being on the brink of extinction to have over 1,000 pairs in just 25 years – bucking the overall downward trend for most farmland birds – highlights how effective this project has been.” He added: “Without this action the cirl bunting would have almost certainly disappeared from our shores altogether.” Cirl buntings were once common and widespread across much of southern England but suffered huge declines when their food sources and nesting sites were lost due to changes to agricultural practices in the 20th century. The majority of the UK population remains confined to the fields and hedges of Devon, although the first successful reintroduction programme has established numbers in Cornwall, with 65 pairs according to the latest survey. The RSPB said it expects numbers to continue to grow and hopes the species will return to more of its former areas. But the good news for the cirl bunting comes at a time when other farmland birds continue to struggle. The number of farmland birds in the UK has declined by 54% since 1970, according to the State of Nature 2016 report, with 19 species suffering a 48% decline since 1970.


Gaston K.J.,University of Exeter | Bennie J.,University of Exeter | Davies T.W.,University of Exeter | Hopkins J.,Natural England
Biological Reviews | Year: 2013

The ecological impacts of nighttime light pollution have been a longstanding source of concern, accentuated by realized and projected growth in electrical lighting. As human communities and lighting technologies develop, artificial light increasingly modifies natural light regimes by encroaching on dark refuges in space, in time, and across wavelengths. A wide variety of ecological implications of artificial light have been identified. However, the primary research to date is largely focused on the disruptive influence of nighttime light on higher vertebrates, and while comprehensive reviews have been compiled along taxonomic lines and within specific research domains, the subject is in need of synthesis within a common mechanistic framework. Here we propose such a framework that focuses on the cross-factoring of the ways in which artificial lighting alters natural light regimes (spatially, temporally, and spectrally), and the ways in which light influences biological systems, particularly the distinction between light as a resource and light as an information source. We review the evidence for each of the combinations of this cross-factoring. As artificial lighting alters natural patterns of light in space, time and across wavelengths, natural patterns of resource use and information flows may be disrupted, with downstream effects to the structure and function of ecosystems. This review highlights: (i) the potential influence of nighttime lighting at all levels of biological organisation (from cell to ecosystem); (ii) the significant impact that even low levels of nighttime light pollution can have; and (iii) the existence of major research gaps, particularly in terms of the impacts of light at population and ecosystem levels, identification of intensity thresholds, and the spatial extent of impacts in the vicinity of artificial lights. © 2013 Cambridge Philosophical Society.


Prosser C.D.,Natural England
Proceedings of the Geologists' Association | Year: 2013

Geodiversity, the natural range of geological, geomorphological and soil features and processes, is an integral part of the natural environment, as geoconservation is an integral part of nature conservation. Over the last sixty years, and especially since 1990, a substantial portfolio of geoconservation sites, legislation, partnerships and initiatives has developed within the UK and internationally. This includes local, national and international geoconservation audits, suites of protected sites such as Local Geological Sites, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Global Geoparks and World Heritage Sites, geoconservation legislation, policies, frameworks and guidance, partnerships, groups, societies and associations, periodicals and magazines, regular conferences and examples of success in securing funding for a range of geoconservation activities. This portfolio is an extremely valuable resource for science and society, creating opportunities for research, education, training, and recreation and providing 'windows' through which to study and understand past environmental change and thus inform planning to accommodate future change. The current social, economic and environmental context means that the approach to geoconservation must evolve to embrace new challenges and opportunities including the ecosystem approach, adapting to climate change, increasing the relevance of geodiversity to local communities and operating in a financially constrained environment. The future of geoconservation will depend upon innovation and full engagement with new opportunities, but in so doing, it is essential to maintain and build upon, rather than cast aside, the existing hard-won portfolio of sites, legislation, partnerships and initiatives as it provides the foundation from which to build the future of geoconservation. © 2012 The Geologists' Association.

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