Friday, 28 March 2014

Sustainable Land Management Science Area at CEH

CEH's new Science Strategy identifies three interdependent, major societal and environmental challenges: Securing the Value of Nature, Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards, and Managing Environmental Change. We're delivering our strategy by Science Areas and underpinning activities, and over the next few weeks we are profiling these on our blog. 

This post focuses on our Sustainable Land Management science area, which is led by Dr Richard Pywell. The research we undertake in this area is delivered in the context of ensuring adequate provision of food, fuel and water while conserving biodiversity and vital ecosystem functions.

CEH develops practical solutions to restore and enhance ecosystem
functions that deliver goods and services crucial for human wellbeing,
such as pollination services for crops and biodiversity.

Population increase, climate change, pollution and other environmental stresses are expected to have highly detrimental impacts on ecosystems and natural resources vital for human wellbeing and livelihoods. Therefore novel land management approaches to optimise natural resources are needed.

CEH's sustainable land management science area aims to understand the threats to semi-natural and highly managed ecosystems, and their component resources. From this understanding, we will develop robust strategies to conserve vital resources and increase their resilience to environmental change. We will also develop practical approaches that can be applied at the field, farm and landscape scale to restore and enhance the ecosystem functions and services crucial for human wellbeing and livelihoods.

Our research activity involves experiments, long-term monitoring, the development of practical land management and restoration techniques, engagement with practitioners and industry and the support of policy development.

Our science helps to protect, restore and enhance ecosystem functions that support food production, such as pollination and pest control.

We also engage with practitioners and the farming industry to develop new, innovative eco-intensive farming systems that are practical and commercially viable.

Future objectives include constructing spatial decision-support tools to balance demands on limited land; developing and testing management and restoration strategies; mapping potential deficits and vulnerabilities of pollination and pest control services to environmental stress; and supporting future land management policies that meet the challenges of sustainable intensification and multi-functional land use.

For more details of these and other objectives in our Sustainable Land Management Science Area, see our Science Area Summary [PDF].

Additional information

CEH Science Strategy 2014-2019

CEH Science Areas

Staff page of Dr Richard Pywell, Science Area Lead for Sustainable Land Management

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Spring has sprung – wildlife records and the shifting seasons

According to Google’s latest doodle, spring begins today, 20 March, in the northern hemisphere. At CEH we tend to follow the Met Office seasonal definition* which lists 1 March as the start date. Whichever way you look at it, spring-like weather has been seen in many areas of the UK over the last couple of weeks, and our natural environment is beginning to react.

Primroses. Photo on Flickr by anemoneprojectors used under
Creative Commons licence.

Many of the environmental records held at CEH have been crucial in tracking the start of spring over recent decades. As a result we tend to get lots of questions at this time of year along the lines of:

  • "Which species have been seen so far?"
  • "How does 2014 compare to previous years?"
  • "Is there anything unusual happening?"
  • Finally, the big one, "Is it spring yet?"

To answer these questions we turn to our national experts and our long-term large-scale datasets. Scientists across CEH work on a broad range of species ranging from invertebrates through plants to seabirds. Much of the work is at the broad national scale, but we also get detailed field observations sent to us, particularly via the 80+ wildlife recording schemes and societies that are part of the Biological Records Centre.

Earlier this week I asked some of our ecologists to tell me about their latest ‘spring’ related projects and observations:

Dr Stephen Thackeray is leading a project on shifting seasons. He writes, “Over the past few decades we have seen that, on average, many signs of spring have been occurring earlier in the year. However variable weather conditions mean that, in any single year, the timing of these natural events may be relatively early or late compared to this long-term change. We are currently investigating differences in the sensitivity of many of the nation’s favourite signs of spring to changes in temperature and rainfall, to better understand the reasons behind these long-term patterns of change in UK freshwater and dry-land environments, and in our coastal seas.”

Dr Michael Pocock, an ecologist in the Biological Records Centre at CEH, said, "With the milder weather over the past few weeks, queen bumblebees have been emerging from hibernation and beginning prospecting nesting sites. I’ve seen buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) and tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) queens out already. Plants like sallows (with their pussy willow catkins) and winter-flowering heathers (in gardens) are important early sources of nectar for these bees.

"They will be establishing their nests and will produce workers later in the year. It is these workers that will be counted by thousands of school children and other participants for a ‘citizen science’ project later in the year, seeking to look at the effects of our landscape on bumblebee diversity.” The project Michael refers to is the Big Bumblebee Discovery.

7-spot ladybird, photo Helen Roy

Dr Helen Roy, like Michael an ecologist in the Biological Records Centre at CEH, has a particular interest in ladybirds. She also co-leads the UK Ladybird Survey. In 2014, the survey has already received reports of many of the 46 species of ladybird in the UK including the 22-spot, harlequin, the Adonis ladybird, 11-spot, cream, orange, heather, 16-spot,  10-spot and even the very rare 13-spot ladybird.  There’s also been lots of 7-spots reported, which is excellent news. Dr Roy is often asked about the impact of the alien Harlequin ladybird on the UK’s native species which include the 7-spot and 2-spot.

She says, “In 2012 harlequin numbers were slightly reduced because of the dreadfully wet spring and summer. In 2013 the spring was slow to get going but the fantastic weather through July and August enabled the harlequin to increase in numbers. This alien species can continually reproduce throughout the warm weather and so has the advantage of getting through a couple of generations per year. In contrast many of our native species have only one generation per year. So the high numbers of harlequins are a consequence of a good summer - favourable weather and lots of food (aphids).

"In contrast 7-spot ladybirds didn't fare so well last year but, so far, the numbers of records received by the UK Ladybird Survey in 2014 are encouraging. So although there were fewer 7-spot ladybirds around to overwinter  through 2013-2014 compared to 2012-2013, a good number have survived. Tens of thousands of people have got involved with the UK Ladybird Survey and their observations contribute enormously to our understanding of ladybird ecology."

Finally, Dr Marc Botham, who works on the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme,  gave me some butterfly information. As expected all the UK butterfly species that overwinter as adults were seen very early in January this year given the mild (if rather wet) weather in the South. Within the last two weeks as the sun has come out there have been observations of various 'spring' species including Small white, Large white, Holly blue and Speckled wood. More can be found on the first sightings page.

Speckled wood butterfly, photo: Shutterstock

The best way to record your wildlife observations is via iRecord.  It’s time to get outdoors and get recording!

Barnaby Smith 

Additional information

*Met Office: When does spring start - the difference between the meteorological and astronomical seasons

Review of recently published shale gas evidence report

There has been some comment in recent days regarding the role played by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in reviewing a shale gas evidence report published on 10 March 2014.

The report ‘Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK - Examining the evidence for potential environmental impacts’ was produced by a partnership of the Angling Trust, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Salmon & Trout Association, The Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). The opinions expressed in the report are solely those of the report authors and their respective organisations. CEH was not involved in the partnership.

Dr Andrew Singer, a soil, water and air pollution scientist from CEH was contracted by the consortium partnership responsible for the report to spend four days to review its scientific content. His role was to provide an independent peer review of the science case put forward in the evidence report’s’ literature review; this was not a systematic review. Dr Singer evaluated the evidence in the report in a similar manner to that used for many literature review papers in scientific journals.

Dr Singer did not examine, or review, the ‘Are we fit to frack?’ summary report published alongside the evidence report. This summary report made ten recommendations related to the potential environmental impacts from the shale gas industry which have been widely reported including on BBC Online.

CEH is the UK's Centre of Excellence for integrated research in terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and their interaction with the atmosphere. The organisation provides impartial, independent scientific expertise and analysis in many areas, including potential impacts from new activities within the wider environment.

Prof Mark Bailey, Director, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, UK

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Soil Science Area at CEH

CEH's new Science Strategy identifies three interdependent, major societal and environmental challenges: Securing the Value of Nature, Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards, and Managing Environmental Change. We're delivering our strategy by Science Areas and underpinning activities, and over the next few weeks we are profiling each of these on our blog.

This post focuses on our Soil Science Area, which is led by Professor Bridget Emmett. Sound scientific knowledge of soil functioning is essential to assure UK and global security for food, fuel and water.

The multidisciplinary research at CEH makes us ideally placed to develop new understanding of soil function and the relative importance of soil biota, physical and chemical properties and their emergent properties across scales. We apply this knowledge for improved sustainable management of soil and the ecosystem services soils provide.

Soils are critical for life. As well as providing nutrients and water to grow food, they help regulate floods and droughts, they play an important role in modulating the greenhouse gases which control our climate, and they support a large and diverse biological community.

But such societal benefits depend crucially on soil quantity and condition, both of which are at risk from threats such as over-exploitation, contamination and climate change. Understanding and managing the diverse and sometimes conflicting services provided by soils demands an integrated, multidisciplinary approach.
CEH's soil science expertise is multidisciplinary and allows us to develop new
understanding across scales.

CEH's current and future research objectives include new tools and data, for example we are developing in partnership a UK Soils Observatory and an enhanced mySoil app. We are aiming to increase understanding, for example of the links between biological and physical structure of upland soils and their implications for water and carbon services. We will quantify the impacts of land use change to energy crops on soil carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions for the UK, and we are developing web interfaces with partners to deliver real-time soil sensor data.

For more details of these and other research objectives in our Soil Science Area, please see our Science Area Summary [PDF].

Additional information

CEH Science Strategy 2014-2019

Staff page of Professor Bridget Emmett, Soil Science Area Lead

Monday, 17 March 2014

Winter 2013/14 rainfall records at CEH's Wallingford meteorological station

Katie Muchan, a hydrologist with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, looks at the 2013/14 winter rainfall totals recorded at CEH's meteorological station at Wallingford, Oxfordshire.

The news for the last three months has been dominated by record rainfall and prolonged flooding. It was the wettest winter for England & Wales since records began in 1766; and in south-east England, 2013/2014 winter rainfall in both the Thames and Southern regions was more than 230% of the average. The story for the meteorological station based at CEH’s Wallingford site has been no different, with several rainfall records broken during the winter of 2013/2014.

Daily temperature, rainfall and sunshine have been recorded at the meteorological station at the Wallingford site since 1962, in addition to observations of cloud cover, present weather and visibility. The persistence of the storms through the winter of 2013/2014 can be seen in the daily rainfall data. Once the storms started on 15 December 2013, rainfall was recorded on 73 of the 76 remaining days of winter. Furthermore, 66 of these 76 days can be classed as a rain-day, defined as a day when at least 0.2mm rainfall is recorded.

Daily rainfall (mm) during winter 2013/2014 at CEH's Wallingford meteorological station

December started dry, with only 2mm of rainfall recorded in the first two weeks. However, following the first storm on the 15th, rainfall was recorded on all but one day for the rest of the month and the most notable storm, on the 23rd, recorded a daily rainfall total of 35.5mm (36% of the monthly total). This made it the wettest day of the year, and also the wettest day since 22 August 2010. Due to the dry start to the month, December 2013 rainfall was not record-breaking, but it was the fifth wettest in the station’s history, with a monthly total of 97.9mm.

The persistent rain continued into January; only two days recorded no rainfall. As a result, January was the wettest of the winter months; the monthly total of 148.4mm broke the previous January record by 30mm (~25%). January 2014 was also the third wettest of any month at the station in the record from 1962, behind August 1977 and October 1966.

February is normally the driest month of the year with an average monthly total of 37.5mm. However, with rain falling every day in February 2014, yet another record was broken. The monthly total of 112.9mm is 302% (i.e. three times) the average, making it the wettest February in the station’s history (beating the previous record of 103.3mm in 1990).

*Previous records are quoted based on data for January 1962 - November 2013

While the individual monthly totals and records are impressive in themselves, the accumulation of rainfall across the winter season also produces some record-breaking figures. The rainfall total of 246.3mm in December 2013 and January 2014 set a record for the wettest two-month accumulation of any in the station's history, only to be broken by the rainfall in January and February 2014, which totalled 261.3mm. On 13 February, with 15 days of winter remaining, the record for the wettest winter set in 1989/1990 (311.5mm) had already been broken. Rain continued throughout the rest of the month, giving a 2013/2014 winter total of 359.2mm, breaking the previous record by 47.7mm.

Winter rainfall totals (mm) at CEH's Wallingford Meteorological Station

Katie Muchan

Additional information

More information on CEH's Wallingford meteorological station

Hydrological Summaries published during winter 2013/14, including the February 2014 Hydrological Summary

A joint Met Office and CEH report on the winter storms and floods was published in February.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Pollution & Environmental Risk science area at CEH

CEH's new Science Strategy identifies three interdependent, major societal and environmental challenges: Securing the Value of Nature, Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards, and Managing Environmental Change. We're delivering our strategy by Science Areas and underpinning activities, and over the next few weeks we are profiling these on our blog.

This post focuses on our Pollution & Environmental Risk Science Area led by Professor Richard Shore. Through this area, CEH will provide scientific evidence and risk assessment for sustainable management of chemicals while protecting people and the environment.

Chemicals include pharmaceuticals, radionuclides, macronutrients, trace elements and organic and inorganic pollutants. The development, manufacture and use of chemicals contributes billions of pounds to the UK economy per annum, yet they can have hazardous properties that pose risks to human health, food production and the environment.

Solardomes at CEH's Bangor research site: state-of-the-art exposure
facilities to study the impacts of ozone on a range of plant species.

CEH research objectives include short and long-term monitoring to quantify concentrations, pools, fluxes and impacts of key environmental pollutants.

We study pollutant transport, fate, exposure, effects to discover or predict impact on organisms, human health, ecosystems and their services. We aim to reduce uncertainty with which we predict environmental dynamics, bioavailability and impacts of environmental pollutants, improve hazard screening and risk assessment processes for current and emerging technologies and provide training, tools and approaches for the more realistic assessment of environmental exposure concentrations and risks from manufactured nanomaterials.

CEH runs the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme, a long-term, national monitoring scheme that quantifies the concentrations of contaminants in the livers and eggs of selected species of predatory and fish-eating birds in Britain. We monitor the levels of contaminants to determine how and why they vary between species and regions, how they are changing over time, and the effects that they may have on individual birds and on their populations.

The Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme is also a part of the WILDCOMS collaborative network, formed between the various UK surveillance schemes that monitor disease and contaminants in vertebrate wildlife.

CEH also has a well-established international reputation in radioecology research, the study of the behaviour of radioactive elements in the environment and measuring exposure to radiation of humans and other organisms.

Temporary storage site for radioactive waste at Kawauchi, Japan. In October 2013 Dr Brenda Howard
of CEH was part of an International Atomic Energy Agency international expert mission to
review remediation efforts in areas affected by the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Read more about our Pollution & Environmental Risk Science Area, including a Science Area Summary [PDF], on the CEH website.

Additional information

CEH Science Strategy 2014-2019

Staff page of Professor Richard Shore, Pollution & Environmental Risk Science Area Lead

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

UK Science Minister champions citizen science and Big Bumblebee Discovery project

Speaking at Jodrell Bank earlier today the Science Minister, David Willetts, announced a new UK Charter for Science and Society*. During his speech the Minister made several references to citizen science projects and CEH stating,

“Indeed one of the secrets of our success is what we now call citizen science, which delivers large volumes of research quality scientific data, fast...”

... and then adding...

“Citizen scientists don’t just do astronomy; they have been observing the natural world for centuries...scientists at NERC’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology are involving 3,000 schools across the country in monitoring bumblebees to see if they are indeed declining and why. This project is especially exciting as young people can develop and test their own hypotheses.”

The schools project referred to by the Minister is the Big Bumblebee Discovery, running this year and involving CEH, the British Science Association, EDF Energy, and thousands of school children around the country.

During his speech Mr Willetts also referred to CEH’s longer-term work on getting more members of the public involved in science, saying,

“Much of the resurgence of citizen science has been driven by academic and scientific institutions. We hope more research teams will consider whether they can outsource some of their data gathering to the public. Some fantastic guides have been produced to help researchers explore this option, including one by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Natural History Museum.”

You can read our Citizen Science Guide, and the accompanying review of citizen science, here.

And finally, in even better news for citizen scientists of all ages, the Minister has announced that BIS will be running a new Science and Society Challenge grant scheme saying,

“We would be delighted to see some exciting new citizen science projects amongst the applicants.” 

Additional information

Great Britain: the best place in the world world to do Science - speech by UK Science Minister David Willetts

Introducing the Charter for UK Science and Society (BIS blog post)

Charter for UK Science and Society

*The charter aims to enhance debate on science policy, to increase transparency in the sector and to empower young people of all backgrounds to become engineers and pioneering scientists of the future.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Natural Hazards Science Area

CEH's new Science Strategy identifies three interdependent, major societal and environmental challenges: Securing the Value of Nature, Building Resilience to Environmental Hazards, and Managing Environmental Change. We're delivering our strategy by Science Areas and underpinning activities, and over the next few weeks we are profiling these on our blog.

In this post we focus on our Natural Hazards Science Area, which includes some of our work on floods and droughts. Natural hazards also include threats from parasites, pathogens and invasive species, and threats from natural air pollution incidents.

Natural hazards are of increasing concern for humanity because of population growth and increased societal vulnerability due to trends in urbanisation and land-use change. They have been identified by the National Security Review as some of the most significant risks to the UK in terms of economic, social and environmental consequences.

A key demand is to improve our prediction and estimation of natural hazards and develop knowledge to better manage and minimise their impacts on our society, economy and environment.

Hydro-meteorological science is an important element of our research. Within CEH we have teams of scientists working on furthering our understanding of hydrological processes, water resources, water information management, hydrological status and reporting, the climate system, hydrological modelling and risk, and hydrological modelling and forecasting. Our science and data played a key role in informing UK operational agencies during the recent flooding events.

Our future research objectives include the development of physical and statistical models to better quantify the current and future risks from extreme rainfall and floods at multiple temporal and spatial scales. We are also developing web-based tools for seasonal forecasting of river flows to support flood and drought management in the UK and overseas.

What is a drought? - read more on the CEH website

CEH also has an important research role in helping to develop solutions to tackle problems caused by biological invasions.

We are working on methods to supply predictions of their arrival and spread, underpinned by rigorous risk assessment. We will deliver new systems to predict the arrival of invasive non-native species with particular focus on their pathways of arrival, spread and associated disease pathogens.

Find out more about our Natural Hazards Science Area, including a Science Area Summary [PDF], on the CEH website.

Additional information

CEH Science Strategy 2014-2019

Staff page of Nick Reynard, Natural Hazards Science Area Lead

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Dr Chris Huntingford, climate modeller, comments on new climate sensitivity report

A new report, published today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation*, examines how sensitive global climate is to greenhouse gases by examining evidence from observations and outputs from climate models. The report discusses scientific research referred to in the recently published Fifth Assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Dr Chris Huntingford, a climate modeller from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology whose work is referenced in AR5, provided the following quotes in reaction to the report's publication:

“One persistent frustration is this belief that climate research is undertaken without any attention paid to the economic consequences of major emissions reductions. We are all acutely aware that to keep global warming constrained to two-degrees since pre-industrial times will most likely need a major alteration to energy policy. This is even for lower climate sensitivities. We definitely do worry about what reductions are possible and without causing financial damage.

“Socio-economists already collaborate with climate researchers, but this needs to be taken much further. If only those of incredibly sharp economic understanding and who contribute to the Global Warming Policy Foundation would, instead of continuously attacking efforts by the climate modelling community, collaborate with us. Much progress could then occur. They could tell us precisely what reductions in emissions they believe to be feasible, from which we can then calculate climate implications based on the remaining emissions. These calculations would include the factoring in of the, and we’ve always agreed, large, climate sensitivity uncertainty.”

Dr Huntingford's quote has also been published on the Science Media Centre website together with quotes from a number of other climate scientists.

Additional information

Staff page of Dr Chris Huntingford, CEH

Global Warming Policy Foundation report 

Global Warming Policy Foundation

Science Media Centre expert reaction to new report

*The Global Warming Policy Foundation is a think tank that contests current science on global warming.