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/.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Geography students raise money for Wells for India

First year Geography students organised a Christmas Fair on campus to raise money for Wells for India. They learned about the work of the charity as part of their Sustainable Development module. Classes  helped the students to understand about various ways of enhancing water access and water quality in dryland environments, and to think critically about the sustainability of development projects.

The event included festive games, such as ‘pin the nose on Rudolph’ and ‘where in the world is Santa’. There was also a bottle tombola, guess the name of the teddy, guess the number of sweets in a jar, and home-made Christmas cards for sale.
Festive games included 'pin the nose on Rudolph'
Guess the name of the teddy was a popular game

Students and staff had an opportunity to get a selfie with Santa too!

The students raised £136.19.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Classes on poverty inspire students to donate to local good causes

Second year Human Geography students have been learning about issues relating to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion in the UK. Alongside lectures on geographies of homelessness, food poverty, and mobility deprivation, students have had the chance to meet a range of guest speakers from local front-line organisations, charities and services. Guest speakers have included:
Lots of craft materials, puzzles, games and warm clothing  for Age UK day centres in Northamptonshire
Students have also been active in collecting donations for these organisations. In a fantastic effort this term, students have so far collected:

  • 70 items of toiletries and 20 cartons of UHT milk (all items urgently needed by local food banks)
  • 12 scarves, and several bags full of puzzles and craft materials for day centres for isolated elderly people;
  • several car boots full of food and clothing donations for local food banks.
Lots of items donated for the foodbank!
Providing some of the most-needed items for Spencer Bridge Foodbank

I have a feeling there will be another car boot full of items next week!...

Prof John Horton

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Engaging students with the fundamentals of biodiversity

This term we have started refreshing and reformatting our first year undergraduate modules, partly in preparation for the move to our new Waterside Campus, but also because they were beginning to feel a bit tired and jaded.  We have begun with ENV1012  Biodiversity: an Introduction, a 20 CATS module which mainly services our BSc Environmental Science and BSc Biology programmes.
One of the changes has been to go from a “long-thin” delivery of 2 class hours per week over two terms, to a “short-fat” delivery of 4 hours per week in one term.  The advantages of this, we think, are two-fold: (1) it provides students with a richer, more immersive experience because they are not mind-flitting between different topics; (2) it frees up longer blocks of time for academic staff to focus on programme development, research activities, etc.

For now we have opted to deliver the 4 hours in a single session.  That’s quite a long time for the students (and staff) to be taught (teaching) but it’s punctuated by short breaks and includes a lot of practical work in the field, lab, and computer suite.

One of the aims of ENV1012  Biodiversity: an Introduction is to engage the students with the use of taxonomic names of species and higher groups, familiarise them with the principles of biological classification, why this is important (and why it underpins the rest of biology and much of the environmental sciences), and so forth.  Building confidence in how scientific names are used, and the diversity of species that all of us encounter on a day-to-day basis, are important aspects of this, and I developed a couple of new exercises that we are trialling this term which are focused on these areas.
The first one is called “The Taxonomy of Gastronomy” and was partly inspired by a conversation I had with Steve Heard when he posted about The Plant Gastrodiversity Game.  It works like this. I begin with an interactive lecture that sets out the basic ideas behind taxonomic classification and its importance.  After a short break the students then begin the hands-on part of the exercise.  Working in groups of three they use a work sheet that lists 10 culinary dishes, including:  fried cod, chips, and mushy peas; spotted dick; spaghetti bolognese; Thai green curry with tofu & okra; chocolate brownies, etc. (this can easily be varied and adapted according to needs).

The students’ first task is to find a recipe online for each dish.  For each biological ingredient in that dish, they list its common name and find its taxonomic family, genus, and species (italicising the latter two, as per taxonomic conventions).  I emphasise that it is important to be accurate with names as they will be doing something similar in a later assessed exercise.

This takes a couple of hours and then they feedback their results in a debriefing session, including finding out who had the longest list of species in a meal – the winner was 17 species in a moussaka recipe, with a Jamie Oliver fish and chips recipe coming a credible second with 12!  We also discuss particularly common taxa that turn up frequently, for example plant families such as Solanaceae – the relatedness of tomatoes, chillies, peppers, potatoes, and aubergine, the students found very intriguing.
By the end of this exercise the students will have gained familiarity with researching, understanding, handling, and writing scientific names of species and higher taxonomic groups.  In addition they will have a better understanding of the taxonomic diversity of organisms that we consume, and their relatedness.  It may also have encouraged them to try out some new recipes!

If anyone wishes to comment or add suggestions for improvements, please do.  If you’d like to try this yourself with your own students feel free to adapt it to your own needs, though an acknowledgement somewhere would be polite.

Prof Jeff Ollerton

This article was first published on Jeff's blog here

Friday, 25 November 2016

Department staff assess biodiversity impact of new Waterside Campus

The University of Northampton is building a new campus, in the heart of Northampton. The Waterside Campus will open in September 2018.

Researchers within the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences have been monitoring the effects of the building work on biodiversity. You can read more about this research here.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Game helps Geography students understand the impacts of climate change

We welcomed Frank Sudlow from the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) to our 'Geography and Development' session last week and he led a simulation exercise on the effects of climate change on poor families from around the Global South.
Students worked in 'family' groups to produce materials for market
Students were divided into six teams of five, each representing a family producing a commodity whose livelihood is being affected by climate change. The families included the Chenge growing coffee in Tanzania affected by increasingly irregular rainfall, the Mendez family from Ecuador suffering from the effects of deforestation and the Chukwa family from Niger producing goat hides. The problem they faced was desertification.
Goods produced by the families
Families took their bundles of coffee, latex, goat hides or other commodities to a market over which they had no control and had to accept whatever the market decided to give them. Poor produce was rejected. As the game proceeded, families often fell below the poverty line and all production stopped until they had completed a set task. At regular intervals a radio message was broadcast impacting on the livelihoods of a particular family.
A big queue at the marketplace
The price paid for each good varied throughout the game, according to different climate conditions

A spreadsheet helped to keep a tally of how families were managing and, after several ‘years’, a plenary session helped us to understand the lessons learned. It was clear that climate change is proving to be a major problem for poor families living in the Global South and is seriously limiting their livelihood development. Only one family, through very careful organisation and a certain amount of ‘luck’ managed to progress out of poverty. Most ended up poorer than when they started.

  The quality of goods produced was checked by Dr Kevin Cook and Frank Sudlow
Kevin keeps a close eye on the figures

Everyone agreed that this was an excellent way to be made to think about some of the major effects of climate change.  Thanks Frank for a stimulating and enjoyable session. We hope Frank will be able to join us again next year.
Frank provides a summary at the end of the session

Dr Kevin Cook, Senior Lecturer in Geography

Monday, 31 October 2016

Geography fieldwork in central London

At the end of October three groups of geography students travelled down to central London for a day of fieldwork.
An early start

First year students have been exploring representations of place in their GEO1006 Introducing Human Geographies class.  They have been reflecting on what type of information is presented on maps - and what missing.  To examine this themselves in the field, they worked in groups to develop a walking trail for visitors to central London, including themes and locations not usually covered in a tourist trail.
Meeting outside Newton building

The coaches await!

An opportunity for students of different year groups to get to know each other

Second year students taking GEO2030 Transport travelled across the city using various types of public transport, to better understand connectivity in transport networks.

Dr Chris Holt took third year students doing GEO3124 Water Resource Management on a tour of rivers in London.  They considered how water is managed in the capital.
Dr Chris Holt enjoying the banter on the bus!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Learning about the social construction of childhood

Third year Geography students recently spent a day in London, looking at the social construction of childhood.
Getting ready for the trip

Meeting at Northampton train station - an early start to the day

The students - all of whom are studying GEO3007 Children's Geographies - visited the Museum of Childhood and the National Portrait Gallery.

At the Museum of Childhood they looked at how experiences of childhood have varied over time.  There were also opportunities for us to critically reflect on our own childhood experiences - and to play with some toys!
Learning about how childhood has changed over time

Learning about the development of board games (or auditioning for a role as a game show host?)

Trying out some of the games
After a lunch break near Trafalgar Square, the group visited the National Portrait Gallery.  This provided opportunities to critically reflect on representations of childhood - and to consider how these have changed over time.
Taking a break to explore some of the National Portrait Gallery's collections online
A bit tired after a busy day!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Students visit Natural History Museum

This week second year Geography and Environmental Science students taking GEO2114 Earth Science visited the Natural History Museum in London.

Meeting outside Newton building at 8.00am
Lots of enthusiasm for an early start!
The group explored a number of galleries.  They focused on rocks and minerals, and examined fossils - and dinosaurs! - too.
The minibus awaits!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Conference on interdisciplinary research with children, young people and families

A conference on interdisciplinary research with children, young people and families was hosted by Prof John Horton and Dr Faith Tucker on 7th September. 

Prof John Horton

Dr Faith Tucker
The conference, which was attended by academics from places as diverse as New Zealand, Sweden and Cumbria, provided an opportunity for people to share their research.  The audience comprised geographers, social workers, youth workers, educationalists, planners, sociologists, nurses and those working in local authorities.

A key note speech was delivered by Prof Claire Freeman of the University of Otago.  She spoke about the joys, confrontations and challenges of interdisciplinary working.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Planning field trips

As the new academic year looms, we are planning field trips for the autumn term.

More information about field trips will be provided to students in due course, but in the meantime, here's some photos of our Grand Day Out to Stonehenge and Avebury at the end of last term...

Environmental Science students at Avebury

Visiting Stonehenge

Monday, 8 August 2016

Nuffield Student joins Geography team for summer placement

This summer the Geography department is hosting a Nuffield student. Nuffield studentships give sixth form students the chance to work in a university for several weeks in the summer helping with a research project and learning what conducting university research is really like.

Alexandra Asvestapoulou will be working with Dr Joanna Wright and Dr Janet Jackson on the quality and connectedness of cycling facilities in Northampton.

This pilot study will focus on cycle routes to and from the station, town centre and university campuses, and ties in to other research on cycling commuting being carried out in the department this summer. Alex will be mapping these features using new GPS units the department acquired this year, and drawing a map of the facilities and routes using ArcGIS, the industry standard for mapping software.  This is the same software that Northampton students learn to use in Geography and Environmental science sources, which is part of improving their career opportunities and employability skills.

Sustainable transport is a very important part of planning for the new Waterside campus, and for the future as part of carbon reduction strategies, and this research will compile information to help improve cycling facilities in Northampton and the rest of the UK.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Climate KIC Pioneer Placement in Poland for Dr Joanna Wright

Dr Joanna Wright is heading to Poland in August to work at the Centre for Systems Solutions in Wrocław.

The Centre designs serious games; these are games which work both as games and which also educate people about different issues. They have designed online games, board games and role playing games for businesses, schools and environmental management professionals.

Jo will be working on games about water resources and energy, using her experience as an environmental consultant, and a sustainability advocate and academic.

Gamification is a big current research topic, and elements of gamification are used in many areas including public policy and education. Jo hopes to also learn about their game design process and bring back useful tools for my university teaching, as well as develop research contacts for the future.