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/.

Friday, 28 November 2014

So what do your lecturers do when they are not teaching classes?

Outside of the classroom, your lecturers are engaged in all sorts of activities – researching new teaching methods, managing courses and modules, supervising research students, recruiting new students and / or doing blue skies or applied research; or just writing papers and applications for new research grants. So what happens when you get some funding for research? Here, Ian Foster tells you about a recent research grant made to a consortium of Universities and research-led organisations funded by the UK Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The grant (in excess of £200,000) employs participants to work on a project officially called: SP1318; Scaling up the benefits of field scale protection measures to understand their impact at the landscape scale (April 2014 - 2016) (Figure 1). OK - not a very sexy title and it is a really difficult project to deliver upon so this brief introduction tells you what we are trying to do (and a bit about how) and where we have got to so far in this early stage of the project.

We have up until this post (28/11/14) had several meetings, Skype meetings and telecom conference meetings to work out what we are trying to achieve and how we will get there and have just completed our first workshop at the ADAS headquarters in Wolverhampton with a panel of experts on erosion in the UK. However, what surprised us all is that we know so little about the magnitude of the problem and the most efficient way(s) of solving it.

Figure 1  The Defra – funded project SP1318

Our funder is Defra but the consortium of researchers comes from Cranfield University, ADAS, Rothamsted Research, Anglia Ruskin University and, of course, the University of Northampton.

We are trying to establish the natural and management-based risk factors and build tools that tell us what background erosion rates should be and how we might reduce current rates to these levels. One problem we have is that there is ‘no one size fits all’ in terms of background rates in the UK so we must accept, for example, that background erosion rates in Cornwall may be very different from those in Yorkshire but that both are perfectly normal for the region. We are working with a range of databases to establish baseline soil erosion risk.

Whatever measures we (as a consortium) recommend for adoption must be suitable, applicable, compatible, implementable and, of course, be evidence based. That is a stupendously big ask. But that is what makes research so much fun and very challenging. You can judge how we have done 2 years from now as our report on project SP1318 will be made available to anyone who wants to read it on the Defra web site.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Representative of CAFOD leads workshop on the Millennium Development Goals

Have you ever considered how voting takes place at the United Nations? Have you ever envisaged being the President of Malawi for two hours? How would you allocate 1 billion dollars to achieving just one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in your country? Can you argue a case for a single goal to be given priority?

These and many other issues were the central topics of a session in the GEO1010 Geography and Development module delivered on Wednesday 12th November by Frank Sudlow, representing the UK NGO, CAFOD. Student groups were each given a country to represent at the United Nations and had to argue for major funding for one of the MDGs. Several rounds of voting took place with the Presidents of countries being given the opportunity to persuade their counterparts to vote in a particular way. 

At the end of a very enjoyable session in which delegates adopted their roles with much enthusiasm, two of the eight MDGs were selected. One was MDG 2 dealing with universal primary education and the other MDG8 dealing with global partnerships. 

It was pointed out to the ‘delegates’ that a similar exercise is currently being undertaken by representatives of over 180 countries, each having a single vote at the General Assembly. They are trying to agree a set of Goals for the next 15 years; goals that will hopefully continue and develop the many positive gains made since 2000.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Seminar on healthcare waste management

The Healthcare Waste and Resources Group, which is hosted within the School of Science and Technology at the University of Northampton, recently held a one day seminar on healthcare waste management.

The event was attended by delegates from the NHS, and the waste and environmental sectors.
The event, which was attended by around 55 delegates from the National Health Service (NHS), the waste industry, environmental consultancies and academia, was held at the Bywaters recycling facility in East London.  In the morning, delegates heard from a range of speakers including Andrew Hartley from the Green Investment Bank, Scott Crossett from ICERMS, Matt Wormsley from the Environment Agency, Anne Woolridge from ISSL, Peter Selkirk from Pyropure and Anna Sliwinska from the University of Northampton. The afternoon was dedicated to a site tour.

One delegate noted that:

“Not only did I enjoy the presentations and tour of the plant, I also made a number of NHS contacts whom I have arranged to visit, with a view to comparing good waste practices at different hospitals”

The seminar was approved by the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) and sponsored by Frontier Medical Group and Sharpsmart, as well as SRCL, GV Health, ISSL and MITIE.

Dr Terry Tudor discusses resource efficiency in the healthcare sector

Dr Terry Tudor, a senior lecturer in Waste Management in the School of Science and Technology, was recently part of a panel examining challenges and opportunities for enhancing the resource efficiency within the healthcare sector. The discussion took place in the ‘Circular Economy Connect’ theatre, at the RWM recycling and waste management event, at the Birmingham NEC. RWM is considered to be the biggest such exhibition and seminar event in Europe.

In addition to Terry, the panel was comprised of James Dixon, waste manager and sustainability lead, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Alexandra Hammond, associate director, sustainability, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. The session was chaired by Rob Holdway from Giraffe Innovation.

James and Alexandra outlined various strategies that are being employed within their trusts, while Terry gave a more overarching view of the state of the sector. There were also opportunities for the audience to participate through the usual questions, as well as voting.

With the Health and Social Care sector in the UK coming under increasing pressures to meet financial and environmental targets, examining options for minimising wastage is both crucial and timely.

Dr Terry Tudor and colleagues

Monday, 10 November 2014

Second year Geography students learn about experiences of homelessness

‘Geographies of homelessness’ is a key topic within the second year module GEO2028 Issues in Human Geography. We had already spent some time reading, researching and debating about homelessness… But actually meeting people with first-hand experiences was a very different, eye-opening experience.

On Monday 10th November, second year Human Geographers met two guest speakers with first-hand experiences of working with homeless people:

  • Sarah Passam – Day Centre manager at the Hope Centre: a leading source of support for homeless people in Northamptonshire;
  • Brian Hinton – a final year Geographer who is currently conducting dissertation research with homeless young people in Worcestershire.

Across a really interesting Q&A session we heard about:

  • some of the significant everyday challenges and risks encountered by local homeless people (including some upsetting facts about mortality rates and violence against homeless people);
  • impacts of drug and alcohol misuse, including some emerging issues associated with ‘illegal highs’;
  • experiences of young homeless people;
  • limitations of official statistics about homelessness (according to Local Authority data there are ‘15’ homeless people in Northampton… but the Hope Centre is used by 140+ people each day, and has 10,000 people on its books!)

Sarah Passam receives donations from some of the students

Human Geography students and staff brought in donations of food and clothing to be used by Hope Centre users. In an excellent display of generosity, more than 100 items were donated to the Centre. A number of students have also expressed interest in volunteering at the Centre in future.

Geography staff and students donated food and clothing to the Hope Centre