Welcome to the blog of the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences at the University of Northampton. This will keep you up to date with both student and staff activities.

The Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences includes staff with interests in biological sciences, conservation, ecology, environmental sciences, environmental statistics, geography and waste management. We offer a range of degree programmes and have a number of postgraduate research students. For more information about studying with us please visit http://www.northampton.ac.uk/.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Prof. Jeff Ollerton filming for BBC2 'Plant Odyssey' series

Making a rose perfume
Prof. Jeff Ollerton has been in Chester filming for one episode of a four-part BBC2 series provisionally called “Plant Odyssey”, fronted by Gardeners' World presenter (and Honorary Fellow of the University) Carol Klein. The series is being produced by Oxford Scientific Films and will be broadcast in the spring. In the scene shown in the photograph Carol and Jeff were making a rose perfume based on an ancient Roman recipe in Pliny’s writings.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A PhD student’s tale by Jennine Evans: A new and muddy beginning

After enrolling as a Geomorphology PhD student on the 30th May 2014 I was whisked away on the 2nd June to perform field work for four days… into the deep end I go! Only knowing a vague amount about the project from the job description and the research I’d performed for the interview, I found myself stumbling though the South Downs National Park in search of the River Rother. The river is suffering sediment accumulation and my job is to assess the source of erosion and then to help solve this problem through the suggestion of mitigation options. The first site we visited was in fact, not the River Rother itself but Furnace Pond which is part of a tributary stream called the Hammer Stream. These are so named due to the historical purpose of the man-made lake to build iron goods such as cannons.

The flapjack-stealing fiend!
As we set up ready for our sampling I was introduced to some interesting, some basic and some ancient (but effective!) equipment to take aboard our inflatable boats. Our voyages of the first day were very successful, gaining five substantial cores (yes substantial - I’m now finding out how much lab work these create!) which will be valuable in determining the historical sedimentation rate of the lake. I also learnt a very valuable lesson in not trusting strange farm dogs who easily befriend you. This particular red furred beauty charmed his way into the group only to steal our lovely flap jacks! The fiend!

Recording the location before coring
Anyway back to more professional matters… The rest of the trip was a success and could not have gone any better! We had fantastic weather which allowed us to gain more cores from the dried up Mill Pond, whose dam broke in the winter floods, took sediment samples from strategic locations along the Hammer Stream and Lod Stream, and sediment from nearby fields and roads. These samples are now giving me plenty to be getting on with in the lab and soon we will know what valuable information our venture has brought!

So ultimately the field trip has been the best start to this PhD that I could wish for. I have visited all the areas I will be studying, have seen the land use issues for myself and have now been left pondering over many questions which will hopefully begin to be answered by my muddy samples in the labs! Although to be honest I think they may just raise more questions… But more than all of that, I’ve been able to work closely with my new team and built up some good working relationships already… over a cheeky pint or three!

Successful coring team with the cores
Jennine’s PhD is funded jointly by the South Downs National Park and the University of Northampton.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Immersive technology devices and fieldwork: Oculus Rift

Scott Turner (Department of Computing and Immersive Technologies), Naomi Holmes (Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences) and Adel Gordon (Learning Technology Team) have been working on a small project with the aim of 'investigating the potential use and the student experiences of using virtual reality (Oculus Rift) devices for fieldwork'. The project, which was funded by the University of Northampton Innovation Fund, involved a group of students from the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences testing the Oculus Rifts. Once they had finished using the Oculus Rift the students completed a questionnaire about their experience of using the Oculus Rift, whether they thought the technology was useful for field trips, and how else they think it might be used to support their learning. The students all saw the Virtual Reality as beneficial only if used alongside or in addition to actual field trip experiences. Nausea/motion sickness was a common problem of using the devices.
The project was disseminated at the University of Northampton Innovation Fund Event in June 2014.

Friday, 13 June 2014

MApping: integrating mobile technology into geography fieldwork learning and teaching

Naomi Holmes (Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences) and Adel Gordon (Learning Technology Team) have been working on a small project with the aim of 'enhancing the student experience through the integration of mobile technology into geography fieldwork teaching and learning'. The project, which was funded by the University of Northampton Innovation Fund, involved using iPad minis to collect habitat survey data. Students used the Fieldtrip GB app (http://fieldtripgb.blogs.edina.ac.uk/) to collect data which they then used for an assignment.  The iPad minis also proved popular when used in class in a number of other modules. Students worked in groups to create iMovie trailers and group presentations which were then presented via Apple TV.

The project was disseminated at the University of Northampton Innovation Fund Event in June 2014. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Fire and water in Tenerife!

Students who attended the 13th annual Department field trip to Tenerife in early May were greeted with a stunning example of the power of nature to recover following devastating natural events.

When the previous cohort of students, led by Professor Jeff Ollerton, were on the island in 2013, the native pine forest on the mountain slopes south of Las CaƱadas looked black and bare, having burned a few months previously in one of the frequent fires which naturally occur in this environment.

As you can see in these first two photographs from April 2013, trunks of the endemic Canary Island Pine Tree (Pinus canariensis) were blackened, most of the foliage had burned off, and the shrubs growing in this habitat were mostly destroyed.

Twelve months later, following one of the wettest winters that Tenerife has experienced, the field course was greeted with a sight of rejuvenation. The pine trees are re-sprouting and the landscape is full of colour as plants such as Erysimum scoparium, Echium wildpretii and Argyranthemum tenerifae flower in abundance. There are also more butterflies than have previously been seen in these habitats.

From fire and rain comes new life and new beginnings, a positive environmental stimulus for the endemic biodiversity of Tenerife. The fire has opened up the vegetation, allowing seeds to germinate, and the winter rain has stimulated growth and flowering in these summer-drought habitats. It provided the students with a great example of how the ecology of such dry, subtropical habitats is affected by both climate and fire.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Health care waste management in Nigeria

Chinedum Okezie, postgraduate researcher

My research Investigates Health care waste management systems in Abuja Nigeria, using the World Health Organization’s best practice guidance as a catalyst for sustainable development. This research aims to examine the factors that might contribute to public health risks, their pathways and identify strategies to reduce the health implications in the case study area, to critically analyse current policies and practices for managing health care waste and develop a governance framework for improved practice in Abuja, Nigeria in the management of healthcare waste. Health care wastes (HCW) are ‘by-products of health care that include sharp non-sharps, blood, body parts, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and radioactive materials’ (WHO, 2011).

According to WHO (2011) HCW is divided into two, namely the healthcare general waste which is 75% of healthcare waste, this includes plastic packaging, paper and food waste etc; and the healthcare risk waste which is 25% of HCW. These two types of health care waste should be separated properly to avoid any form of contamination, the whole health care wastes are considered infectious as a precautionary measure. HCW like sharps produced in lesser quantities are highly infectious. When poorly managed they expose waste scavengers, waste handlers, health care workers and the community at large to infections. An important threat is contaminated needles and syringes which may be scavenged from open dump sites and waste areas and re-used (Ogbonna, 2011). A fact sheet published by WHO (2011) in developing countries stated that injections with contaminated syringes caused 21 million hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections (32% of all new infections), 21 million hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections (40% of all new infections), and 260 000 HIV infections (5% of all new infections).