Friday, 28 June 2013

CEH contributes to new BES report on impact of extreme weather events on freshwater ecosystems

Dr Linda May and Dr Francois Edwards recently led the CEH input to a British Ecological Society Centenary report on the impact of extreme weather events on freshwater ecosystems. The report was launched at a special reception on Tuesday 25 June 2013 at Westminster.

Lake and river ecologists from across the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology were involved in contributing to the report, which aims to provide more information on the problems that floods, droughts, heatwaves etc present for freshwater systems, affecting water quality and quantity.

The launch event was attended by more than 100 people and included speeches from Andrew Miller MP, BES President Professor Georgina Mace and Huw Irranca-Davies MP, who officially relaunched the BES Ecological Issues series, which the new report has been published within.

Earlier in the day Dr Edwards helped run a workshop based on the report at the "Future Water 2013 Building resilience:  A sector fit for the future" meeting at the Royal Geographical Society.

To accompany the full report, a short 2-page summary and policy brief was also published.

Read the full report: The Impact of Extreme Events on Freshwater Ecosystems (7.40mb, PDF from the BES website)

More about the launch event can be read on the British Ecological Society blog.

Executive summary and policy brief

Additional information

RGS meeting agenda

Staff page of Dr Francois Edwards, CEH

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Crowd-sourced soil data for Europe; and the Globe?

CEH scientists worked with our NERC colleagues in the British Geological Survey on the development of the mySoil app, which was released for iOS in June 2012 and has since gained more than 12,000 users. The developers are now hoping to expand it further:

mySoil is a free smartphone app (downloadable at the iTunes App Store), originally for the United Kingdom and recently expanded to cover Europe with contributions from the Met Office in the UK and the Joint Research Centre, Italy. mySoil contains a soil properties map with basic information on soil texture, pH and vegetation habitat. It also has the ability to crowd source geo-referenced data. We are continuing to expand the capabilities of mySoil and would be interested in hearing from groups who might help with data to take this effort global.

David A Robinson.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Introducing the CEH 'paperblog'

CEH scientists lead or co-author more than 400 peer-reviewed papers every year in a wide variety of journals. We know that many of you are interested in regular updates on recent papers involving our scientists, so we’re introducing a new regular ‘paperblog’. The intention is to publish a short post every other Friday giving details and links to a selection of interesting research published in the last few weeks. I’ll try to include four or five recent papers, most of which will have a CEH scientist as lead author, although I’ve reserved the right to make exceptions for interesting material our staff have co-authored.

Paperblog No 1 - 21 June 2013

A bumper edition to launch the paperblog covering topics such as Scottish mountain ecology, ecosystem services, evaporation in Britain, health effects of drought, gannets, river pollution, ecological networks and nitrogen deposition.

  • Dr Alison Kay, working with CEH colleagues, wrote "A hydrological perspective on evaporation: historical trends and future projections in Britain". The paper is published in Journal of Water and Climate Change and the abstract can be read here.
  • Dr Christel Prudhomme worked with staff at the Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) on a systematic review of the health effects of drought. It’s Open Access and published in PLOS Currents.
  • Dr Dan Chapman has a new paper in Global Change Biology reporting on his study using MODIS satellite data to look at temperature sensitivity of mountain vegetation activity on over 2700 Scottish mountain peaks.
  • Monika Jurgens and CEH colleagues worked with scientists from Lancaster University to publish a new paper in Science of the Total Environment looking at the presence of mercury and other substances in wild fish. The paper abstract is here and the paper has already been covered by the Chemical Watch news website (registration required).

That’s it for our first paperblog. More in a couple of weeks!

Barnaby Smith – CEH Media Relations Manager

Additional information

If you’d like a fuller picture of new papers from CEH, just follow the @CEHPaperAlerts twitter feed, which lists CEH peer-reviewed papers newly published online. Full details of Centre for Ecology & Hydrology science publications including those published in peer-reviewed science journals are eventually catalogued on the NERC Open Research Archive (NORA).

Those of you that follow the scientific literature will know some journal websites require registration and some are subscription-only. CEH, as part of NERC, is working with publishers and funders to make more of our output open access, and we’ll be indicating where this is the case.

We also publish lots of other outputs including biological records atlases and project reports. More details can be found on the publications page of our website.

As always we’re very interested in your feedback, so please let us know what you think and any improvements that could be made by commenting on the blog or emailing us via

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Wee beasties star at Loch Leven Discovery Day

Midge larvae were among the tasty morsels on the menu at the recent Loch Leven Discovery Day, held on Sunday 15 June. Staff from CEH's Edinburgh site were there to join in the fun: they explained the Loch Leven food web to more than 400 visitors and helped local children pick out "wee beasties" from amongst the plants and gravels, and view them under the microscope.

Local children were able to view insects from Loch Leven under the microscope.
Photo: Laurence Carvalho

An exciting new feature this year was a live video feed from the nearby loch that showed several small fish making their screen debut. Overall, the day was a great success, with lots of interest being shown in CEH's work on the loch.

CEH staff were helped by a supporting cast of water boatmen, and of caddis, mayfly and beetle larvae, who all performed admirably to entertain the crowds. A particular highlight was a water mite voraciously eating the head of a midge larva, which enthralled local children whilst disgusting their parents!

Discovery Day is an annual event organised by Scottish Natural Heritage to entertain and educate the local community about the biodiversity living in and around Loch Leven.

Read more about CEH's work on Loch Leven on our website.

Laurence Carvalho

Thanks to Laurence Carvalho, Helen Woods and Bernard Dudley for their efforts on the day.

Scottish Natural Heritage

Friday, 14 June 2013

Enthusiasm, buzz and wildlife stories from across the country at Gardeners' World Live

More than 100,000 people, many devoted gardeners, are anticipated to attend the BBC Gardeners’ World Live Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham over the five days of the show (Wednesday 12 June to Sunday 16 June).  So it was with eager anticipation and excitement that we assembled our Biological Records Centre (part of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) exhibit.

Our stand invites visitors to contribute their observations of five common
insects often seen in gardens

This year we have chosen to build on our theme of “every biological record counts” by inviting visitors to contribute their observations of five common insects often seen in gardens: marmalade hoverfly, 7-spot ladybird, tree bumblebee, oak bush cricket and small tortoiseshell butterfly.

We are thrilled to be meeting so many people eager to contribute their
wildlife sightings from their gardens.

The response has been incredible. We have met so many interesting people who are eager to contribute their wildlife sightings and excited by the opportunities of using iRecord to do so.
It is wonderful to hear wildlife stories from across the country including solitary bees in central Birmingham, 7-spot ladybirds in the wilderness surrounding Stirling, orange-tip butterflies in Wales ...stories from allotments, gardens, window boxes, parks, schools and many other places.
We've been hearing your garden wildlife stories from
all over the country.


Visitors also explore our beautiful wildlife gardens and delight at the amazing entomological models on display.
Marmalade hoverfly model made by CEH scientists Lucy and Sarah Hulmes.

One of our wildlife garden areas, a perfect habitat
for pollinating insects like our tree bumblebee.

A hoverfly larva under the microscope is proving hugely popular – with visitors entranced as it voraciously devours sycamore aphids.
Hoverfly larva under the microscope.

But there is one thing in common across all our conversations – enthusiasm. The enthusiasm from both the visitors and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology exhibitors is incredible. The exhibit is simply buzzing!

Enthusiasm has been common across all our conversations.

Update 17 Jun 2013: We were delighted to receive a Highly Commended certificate from the show as displayed by our Tree bumblebee on the photo below!

View lots more photos of the stand on our special Flickr set.

View videos of insects under the microscope on our YouTube channel

Blog post written by Dr Helen Roy, an ecological entomologist at the Biological Records Centre within CEH.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A day out on the farm - collecting scientific data during Open Farm Sunday

Staff and students from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) were heavily involved with the second national farm pollinator survey on 9 June 2013, which took place as part of Open Farm Sunday. Kate Titford, a student spending the summer at CEH, describes the role she played on the day and reflects on the role members of the public can play in collecting scientific data.
You don’t have to be a professional scientist to contribute to science these days. With recent reports of declines in many species across the country everyone can play their part in monitoring changes. Sunday 9 June saw the second annual pollinator surveys taking place on farms across the UK as part of Open Farm Sunday. Scientists and volunteers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) helped members of the public to count pollinators buzzing around crops, pasture and field margins rich with wild flowers.
I joined the team at Waddesdon Estate, Buckinghamshire, commandeering visitors queuing for the tractor trailer rides to take part in a survey. After a cool, cloudy start to the day the sun appeared and brought out the crowds and the insects, too. Our budding scientists ranged from little children, keen to see insects in action after learning about them at school, to mums waiting for children to return from the trailer rides and interested in discovering more about these vital creatures. On our farm we mostly surveyed grass fields and pasture, and their flowering margins whilst other farms surveyed crops as well.

Examining a farmland field margin at Waddesdon Manor during the farm
pollinator survey held during Open Farm Sunday. Photo: Heather Lowther

Tiny parasitic wasps intrigued lots of our citizen scientists. “That’s really a wasp” and “can it sting me?” were frequent comments. Miniature micro moths and beetle larvae hiding in flowers kept children busy counting to make sure none were missed.
As essential to farms as the gigantic combine harvester sharing our field, pollinators are a key part of producing our food and so monitoring numbers will give scientists a better idea about how they are faring. Thanks to all our lovely volunteers, we managed to complete more than 30 surveys giving us valuable data to add to the records from the other farms. All the results from this year will be combined with those from last year to study any changes in the pollinators surveyed.

Younger visitors were enthusiastic contributors to the pollinator survey at
Waddesdon. Photo: Heather Lowther

So, not only did all our enthusiastic volunteers (and I) enjoy a day out at the farm, they made an important contribution to science as well. Twelve-year-old Ella, who took part in the pollinator survey at Waddesdon, said, “I really enjoyed the pollinator survey it was very interesting and we found lots of good bugs and some amazing beetle larvae! I enjoyed contributing to this science research because it is very interesting to learn about pollinators and it makes you feel good to think that your survey has contributed to real science!” 
To take part in a whole variety of surveys as a citizen scientist yourself, look at the Biological Records Centre website for more information.

Kate Titford

Kate is a student at Reading University undertaking a Masters project at CEH (using data from the UK Ladybird Survey) for the summer.

Additional information

Latest results from the Pollinator Survey from the Open Farm Sunday website
More details about the farm pollinator survey from the Open Farm Sunday website

Results from the 2012 Open Farm Sunday Pollinator Survey

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Be part of our science - share your wildlife observations at our BBC Gardeners' World stand!

Update 14 Jun 2013: Latest blog post from the show

For the third year in a row, the Biological Records Centre team from CEH are at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show in Birmingham, and we’re inviting you to visit our stand to learn more about biological recording!

Don’t worry if you are a biological records novice - we’ll take you through the process step-by-step, showing you that it can be relatively easy to identify common insects and tell you why it’s so important for our scientists to receive your records, even those that are from your own garden.

The Small tortoiseshell butterfly is one of five common insects you
can learn about and record at our stand.

But what is a record?

Ladybird expert Dr Helen Roy, an ecological entomologist with CEH and coordinator of the UK Ladybird Survey, will be at Gardeners’ World Live all week so don’t miss the chance to speak to her and colleagues about the records you can make of the insects in your garden, and how scientists can use such information to carry out research.

She explains:  “A record is a wildlife observation, often species, made by someone in a particular location at a specific time.  So for example, this morning I saw a 14-spot ladybird in the village of Crowmarsh Gifford:

Recorder: Helen Roy
Species: 14-spot ladybird
Location: Crowmarsh Gifford
Date: 11 June 2013

Records arrive at the BRC in many formats from records entered through electronic sources (for example, iRecord databases, spreadsheets or even Twitter) or handwritten records (on pre-designed recording cards, notebooks or sometimes on match boxes containing a specimen and even occasionally as intricate paintings).  As long as the what, where, when and by whom are clearly stated then the information constitutes a biological record.  It’s that easy!”

Drop by our Gardeners’ World stand to see a special website that will demonstrate how to make similar records of your own wildlife observations, as well as offer a gateway to the numerous recording schemes in the UK. As well as the chance to talk to our experts about some of the insects in your garden, we’ll also have wildlife planting on show, some superb insect models, real-life mini-beasts to view under the microscope, the chance to see and use new mobile phone recording apps such as iRecord Ladybirds and PlantTracker, and much more information about the rich history of biological recording in the UK.

A demonstration website will be available to start you off with making wildlife
observations from your own garden.

The Biological Records Centre works with 80+ recording schemes, so whatever the insect in your garden, whether a pollinator or a predator, there will be a scheme eager to receive your observations. During the show, we’ll focus on five species in particular: the 7-spot ladybird, the Tree bumblebee, the Small tortoiseshell butterfly, the Marmalade hoverfly and the Oak bush cricket. Don’t worry if you don’t think you know these insects – our experts will be able to tell you all about them, and help you upload records of them from your own garden if you have seen them.

The Marmalade hoverfly is one of the 5 insects we're focusing
on at this year's stand.

So please come meet our experts at stand GFW2, which is located in the Gardening for Wildlife area of this year’s show in Hall 19 of the NEC, Birmingham. The show runs daily from 9am to 6pm from Wednesday 12 to Sunday 16 June. If you can’t drop by in person, we’ll be posting photos and tweets from the event during the week, so stay tuned!

Go to Flickr to view latest photos.

Additional information

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Cleaner air for all - searching for solutions to air pollution at Green Week 2013

Air quality is the theme of this year’s Green Week event in Brussels, which is described as Europe’s largest environment conference, and CEH expertise will be on hand to lead and join in with some of the discussions. Scientists from Europe and further afield will join EU policymakers, non-governmental organisations, business and industry at the event, which takes place from today, Tuesday June 4 until Friday June 7 under the banner “Cleaner air for all”.

The 3000+ expected participants will search for solutions to air pollution, like how to safeguard air quality against the backdrop of rising industrial and energy production, the rise in road traffic and urbanisation, the burning of fossil fuels and climate change.

Despite science-based evidence leading to progress in recent years, air quality standards are still widely exceeded in the EU’s most densely populated areas, especially from pollutants such as particulate matter, ground-level ozone and nitrogen dioxide. The conference is an opportunity for scientists from several key research projects, including those with CEH involvement such as ACCENT Plus, ICP Vegetation and ECLAIRE, to present their latest relevant findings.

Air quality is a broad issue that obviously affects us all, whether as a direct threat to health through poor air quality contributing to conditions such as asthma, cancer, respiratory diseases, or by having negative impacts on changes in ecosystems and biodiversity, and there are a huge range of research strands that go towards securing better air quality.  One such area is climate change research. In the run-up to Green Week 2013, the European Commission’s Directorate General Research and Innovation has emphasised that although air quality and climate change have traditionally been viewed separately, climate change has a significant impact on the chemical composition of the atmosphere and hence on the level of air pollution. Thus, breaking with the traditional view, projects from DG Research and Innovation are putting together their main findings addressing the interaction between air pollution, climate change and the impact on human health.

DG Research and Innovation has organised three sessions at Green Week which highlight such findings, building upon the experiences of the EU research community through the Seventh Framework Programme. CEH staff are involved in two of the sessions.

Prof Mark Sutton of CEH, who worked on the ECLAIRE project, is among those speaking in a session on Thursday entitled “Science & evidence-based environmental policymaking – the science input to the thematic strategic review”. The session, which is moderated by another CEH scientist, Prof David Fowler, will be devoted to illustrating the main research findings relevant for the design and implementation of the EU’s air quality policies. The presentations will be addressed to a broad audience and will therefore focus on those aspects closer to the daily life of the citizen. The main focus will be on the impact of air pollution on human health, environment and climate and on the integrated assessment tools needed to design adequate policies in the EU.

Prof Fowler, who works on the ACCENT Plus project, is involved as a speaker in a second event on Thursday, when he takes part in a session entitled “Perspectives for the future – a research agenda for EU air quality”. This will focus on the main research and innovation challenges that need to be addressed in the medium term up to 2025 to better deal with the challenges of effective management of air quality and approaching the long-term objectives of EU environmental policy. As well as the scientific community, the session will include views from the European Commission services responsible for EU air policy. The challenges associated with air quality monitoring and with integrating human health, climate change and air quality are expected to be addressed.

Elsewhere at Green Week, Dr Harry Harmens of CEH, who is chair of the ICP Vegetation programme, will be speaking at a session giving a status update on research into how air pollution, reactive nitrogen in particular, is an important threat to the environment and biodiversity, and is having a significant negative impact on European ecosystems.

Prof Mark Sutton meanwhile will be speaking at a second session, exploring the relation between air quality and agriculture in the EU. With half of EU land being farmed, agriculture and environment are inextricably linked and sustainable agriculture is an EU priority.  Farming practices have a profound influence on air quality, by contributing to emission of certain air pollutants, such as ammonia, and greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide.

Invisible pollution, real effects

Speaking about Green Week on the opening day of the event, Environment Commissioner Janez Poto─Źnik said, "Air pollution is often invisible, but its effects are very real. When air quality is poor we pay a heavy price: citizens' lives are lost, medical costs are high, and working days are lost to illness. Green Week provides an important platform where policymakers, representatives from local communities and NGOs, public authorities and businesses can exchange ideas on how improve the air we breathe – we are constantly open to suggestions on how to improve our current legislation."

Commissioner Poto─Źnik has declared 2013 as the Year of Air and over the course of the year the Commission's current air policy is being reviewed.

With lots of research findings to keep track of, and assuming you’re not one of those lucky enough to be in Brussels, you can still follow news from Green Week through the conference website, which has a live stream from all the sessions.

Additional information

View the full Green Week 2013 programme [PDF]

Prof David Fowler is interviewed in the recent European Environment Agency publication, "Every breath we take", about air pollutants and chemical processes in our atmosphere.