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.

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