Monday, 29 October 2012

National BioBlitz Conference

A guest blog by naturalist, ecologist and entomologist Richard Comont who was a participant at the second National BioBlitz Conference held on 24 October 2012. Richard is working on a PhD in ladybird population ecology at CEH, Rothamsted Research and Oxford University.

Richard on stage at the 2012 National
BioBlitz conference, discussing the
naturalist's view of bioblitzes

Six AM is not a time I naturally choose to be active. But active I am, roused from the depths of slumber by the tail-end of Farming Today and quickly on the road bound for the local railway station.  Once there, the early-morning lethargy is dissipated by a Large Wainscot moth discovered snoozing at the station lights. Not long to admire it though: I’m soon en route to Bristol for the National BioBlitz Conference 2012. 

The question at this point is always the same: “So what’s a BioBlitz?” Probably the best description is that they’re a kind of ‘Time Team for wildlife’ – unleashing expert naturalists, groups of school children, and the general public on an unsuspecting area of land to find and catalogue as many species as possible in a 24-hour period. (Later, one of our conclusions will be that we need to better publicise the name!)

It’s a select group – 43 people are named on the delegate list – but as it’s running as an offshoot of a larger environmental communications conference (‘Communicate 2012’), there’s plenty of people about – TV marine biologist Monty Halls is spotted heading for the coffee stall before giving the final talk of the day, on experiences filming with Cornish fishermen for his series The Fisherman’s Apprentice.

I’m there to give two talks: one on ‘The naturalist’s view of the bioblitz’, and another publicising the Garden BioBlitz (1/2 June 2013), which I co-run with three friends.  Our idea – taking the Bioblitz concept into people’s own back gardens – using available online resources for ID (such as the Open University’s brilliant iSpot website and the Biological Records Centre’s own iRecord software to collect the records) – seemed to go down really well. At least, I’ve never spent an entire conference lunch break chatting about my talk before!
Richard leading a ladybird walk at the 2012 Oxford BioBlitz
(Photo: Science Oxford)

The afternoon is workshops – how to improve bioblitzes, and what the future holds – before Monty’s talk and the long train ride home again.  A great day out with enthusiastic people who love what they do – bring on next year’s bioblitz season!

Richard Comont

Additional information

BioBlitzes in the UK

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Has the world ceased to care about biodiversity loss?

A guest blog by Dr Terry Parr of CEH, who spoke at a side event during the recent Convention on Biological Diversity (COP11) meeting in Hyderabad, India.

Has the world ceased to care about biodiversity loss? Judging by the dearth of UK media coverage of the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) high level conference of national government representatives held in Hyderabad, India over the past two weeks, you'd be forgiven for thinking so.

I dipped into the middle of the event and tested the mood of the things. At a previous CBD meeting governments agreed on some challenging new targets to halt biodiversity loss and maintain essential ecosystem services by 2020. But here in Hyderabad, discussions on how much the rich north would pay the poor south to help achieve those targets were faltering against the hard rock of economic reality. My own small contribution was also in danger of becoming irrelevant.

I was there as co-organiser of an EC side-event on "Mechanisms for delivering biodiversity benefits from REDD+". REDD+ is a new UNFCCC programme that aims to pay tropical countries to reduce destruction and degradation of their forests.  But it was becoming apparent that the initially high hopes that REDD+ would also deliver co-benefits in the form of biodiversity and sustainable development were also being undermined.

Our side event discussed the implementation of REDD+ from policy, business and research perspectives. I talked about a new EC project (called ROBIN) involving 12 European and Latin American partners, coordinated by CEH. I explained how our socio-ecological research will underpin the development of practical decision support and monitoring tools. But I also stressed how it would also help us understand the risks we take if we fail to take into account "the ROle of BIodiversity in climate change mitigatioN" (ROBIN).

And how did it all turn out in the end? Well, there was a last-minute compromise: developed countries will double funding to support efforts in developing states to help reach the 2020 targets and a call for enhanced collaboration between the CBD and the UN climate change initiatives, including REDD+.  A result of sorts. So perhaps my time was not wasted after all.

Terry Parr

Dr Terry Parr, head of a section at CEH's Lancaster site which works across Water and Biodiversity Research programmes, leads the CEH topic on "Observations, Patterns and Predictions for Biodiversity" and is involved with several national and international ecological research networks.

Additional information

Convention on Biological Diversity COP11 (8-19 October 2012)

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

REDD+ programme

Role of Biodiversity in Climate Change Mitigation (ROBIN)

Staff page and research interests of Dr Terry Parr, CEH

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The future of UK floods and droughts (and the big climate change question)

CEH hydrologist Terry Marsh spent this morning in London briefing members of the press on the facts and figures of UK hydrology throughout 2012. Terry joined staff from the Met Office and the Environment Agency to discuss the transition that has occurred from drought conditions in southern England in early spring, following nearly two years of low rainfall, to one of the wettest periods on record in the last few months.
Terry’s presentation covered the facts and figures of the recent, dramatic hydrological events, putting them into context with the longer term records held within the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme archives at CEH. The discussion at the briefing also touched on the water resources outlook for the winter and 2013, and the longer term question of how the UK should adapt to future changes in flood and drought magnitude and timing.

Floods - are they becoming more common in parts of the UK?

A common question we get asked at CEH is whether floods or droughts are becoming more common in parts of (or all of) the UK. CEH staff regularly publish scientific papers on this subject and a recently published study in the Journal of Hydrology, led by Terry’s colleague at CEH ,Jamie Hannaford, examines the issue in detail.
The new paper, “Trends in seasonal river flow regimes in the UK” (J. Hannaford & G. Buys, Journal of Hydrology), analyses trends over the 1969 – 2008 period in a network of 89 ‘benchmark’ catchments from across the UK. More details can be found in the paper abstract here. The results suggest a much more complex pattern of regional and seasonal variation than revealed in previous work (e.g. two previous papers involving CEH staff published in the International of Journal of Climatology in 2006 and 2008, both of which looked at annual figures from the benchmark catchments as opposed to the seasonal statistics examined in the new paper).
Key conclusions from the new paper include:
·         Some findings resonate with observed rainfall changes, and also with potential future climate change – e.g. increased runoff and high flows in winter and autumn, and decreased flows in spring (but NB. the latter is a result which is sensitive to study period, and is not observed in longer records)
·         In summer, there is no compelling evidence for a decrease in overall runoff or low flows, which is contrary to trajectories of most future projections
The paper abstract concludes:
“Overall, the results do not suggest immediate concern for current water resource management on the basis of observed trends alone: however, the differences between observations and model projections suggest these findings should not be viewed complacently, and greater reconciliation between dataand modelbased assessments should be sought as a basis for informing water management decisions.“
As many have found in the global temperature debate the time series you study has important implications for the conclusions you draw. The Journal of Hydrology paper examined datasets up to the end of 2008 (the scientific paper production process can take a while). Since then we’ve had a sequence of wet summers and drier winters and the CEH team are continuing to work on analysing the latest data, and improving our models, so that our science is better able to inform policy and management decisions.
Additional information

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

ECN coming of age

The news this week of significant declines in ground beetle biodiversity in the UK followed a paper published last month in the Journal of Applied Ecology led by Rothamsted Research and involving  scientists from a range of other organisations, including CEH.  The scientists analysed 15 years of data from the UK's Environmental Change Network (ECN).

The researchers found that declines were at their worst at sites studied on mountains, in upland moorland in the north and in pasture in the west. The very nature of the Environmental Change Network allowed such a study to be carried out. Its network of sites includes 12 terrestrial and 45 freshwater locations around the UK, covering a wide range of upland and lowland habitats including moorland, chalk grassland, woods and forests, farmland, small ponds and streams, large rivers and lakes.

It is timely to recognise the work of the ECN, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of its establishment - although monitoring at many of its sites goes back much further.

Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire is an ECN terrestrial
site managed by CEH.

Long-term monitoring data is regularly used in CEH research and the ECN, which CEH coordinates, is an important provider of such data, making regular measurements of plant and animal communities and their physical and chemical environment. Although annual or shorter trends can reveal much that is interesting, long-term data, over decades, is crucial for offering assessments less affected by annual fluctuations or one-off incidents and identifying environmental change over longer periods of time.

Here are just a few other recent examples where ECN data has been used by CEH researchers:
Some ECN sites are locations for long-term monitoring coordinated by other networks, such as the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and the Acid Waters Monitoring Network.

ECN data is available via the ECN website to support research, teaching, policy- and decision-making.

Related links

Environmental monitoring at CEH

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Science Media Centre is 10 years old

Last night I attended the 10th anniversary party of the UK’s Science Media Centre (SMC). For those who don’t know what the SMC is, please take a look at their website. Put simply it’s a meeting space (virtual and physical) where scientists can interact with the people that write the stories behind the headlines (by the way, if you’re a UK-based scientist you really should know who they are!).

CEH’s connections with the SMC go way back, having been involved from the beginning due to our research work on the GM crop fields trials, and more recently on subjects as diverse as floods, droughts, air, water and soil pollution, environmental economics and many aspects of climate science (including ‘climategate’).

The evening began with luminaries, from both the science community and the UK’s science journalism community, giving short talks in praise of the SMC and the fantastic work they have done over the last decade. Points made by two of the speakers particularly struck a chord with me.

First, Paul Drayson, former science minister, racing car driver, and biotech entrepreneur, made an inspirational speech expounding on the need for scientists to be brave (and even fearless) in speaking out about the value of their research. The advent of the SMC has allowed the UK’s science community to do this, giving confidence to many (including staff at CEH) to get involved in debate on controversial issues where the ‘best’ science can inform the public.

Second, Lawrence McGinty, science editor of ITN news and, in his own words, one of the more senior science journalists working in the UK today, made a plea that the SMC (and the wider science ‘community’) should not ignore or exclude 'maverick' scientists. In his view it is vitally important that space is given to a variety of views. In the section of the audience I was sat in many heads nodded in agreement when he made this point.

Hydrologist Jamie Hannaford from CEH talks to Tom Feilden of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme
CEH works on the principle that our
scientists should speak for themselves.

CEH has run a formal Press Office since 2005, so we’re only seven years old, a spring chicken compared to the SMC. Having ‘grown up’ in their shadow many of our principles reflect the ‘core’ SMC values. For example, we’ve always worked on the principle that our scientists speak for themselves, after all they know their research, results and conclusions better than anyone else. We provide independent and impartial scientific advice, background information and evidence so whilst we always consider our funding bodies’ views we do not let them dictate how we communicate our science (in practice this can be tricky...). Finally we try not to tell journalists how to do their jobs, just as we wouldn’t expect them to tell our scientists how to do their jobs!

After last night, I will be adding two more items to our core principles list. First, our scientists should become braver (and ideally fearless) in putting their scientific evidence out in the public arena, allowing it to be debated, and responding to both criticism and praise, and second, they should never, ever, forget, there are opposing views out there that should be treated with respect, even if you fundamentally disagree with them.

Happy 10th Birthday Science Media Centre, and thanks again for all the advice and support over the years. You have made a positive difference to how scientists interact with the ‘real’ world. Long may it continue.

Barnaby Smith
CEH Media Relations Manager