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, 25 July 2016

Celebrating student success

On Thursday 21st July we celebrated students' success at our Graduation ceremony.

Lots of opportunities for group photos!

Geographers posing for yet another group photo

The traditional throw-your-hat-in-the-air photo
Ram Sarpal Singh was awarded the Dr Ken Sherwood prize for best Geography dissertation.
The Dean (John Sinclair) gives the prize for best Geography dissertation to Ram Singh Sarpal

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Research into wellbeing and mental health

Recently Dr Melanie Limb has given a presentation at a number of University conferences and meetings about wellbeing and mental health.  Called ‘One in Four’, the presentation referred to the recent NHS Task ForceReport  (Feb 2016) indicating that One in Four of the people surveyed had suffered mental illness in the last year.  Of those who suffered 75% received no support and those with serious problems could expect to live 15 to 20 years less than those without the illness.  The same study showed that 19% of those surveyed believed that one of the main causes of mental illness was a lack of self-discipline and will-power.  Melanie used two poems she had written about depression to give some insight into what depression is like.  She drew on a strand of academic research leading from the ‘emotional turn’ in Geography that recognises the value of non-traditional methods of writing to the academy.  Melanie pointed to evidence that the Academy suffers from a lack of communication about mental illness and an atmosphere of non-disclosure (see Horton and Tucker, 2014) and ‘suffering in silence’.  By talking to people about her poetry, Melanie finds that people sometimes overcome their reticence and find ways to make connections that can support them better when the condition is at its worst.

Dr Melanie Limb
Dr Melanie Limb also gave a poetry reading at the Story Tellers Event held at the University in March.  The event provided an opportunity for members of staff to read their own original work. Melanie has performed at a number of Open Microphone events in and around Northamptonshire, with the purpose of raising awareness of the devastating effects of depression and anxiety, while challenging stereotypes of, and prejudice against, those who suffer.   

Two workshops using the poetry and statistics on mental illness and well-being are already scheduled for October 2016.  In these presentations a greater number of poems will be used to explore certain aspects of mental illness and recovery and talk about strategies that we can all use to look after our mental well-being.  This will provide opportunities to explore the project’s application in respect of the Health and Well-being ChangeMaker Challenge.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Student receives letter from Sir David Attenborough

There can’t be many people currently working or studying in ecology, conservation, or the environmental sciences who were not in some way inspired by the programmes presented by Sir David Attenborough during his long career.

One of our undergraduate students recently received a hand-written letter from Sir David.
Saadia's letter from Sir David Attenborough

Saadia Khan, a BSc (Hons) in Wildlife Conservation student, was part of the audience for a special recording of the BBC's Inspiring Attenborough at 90.  Saadia took the opportunity to pass on a letter to Sir David, explaining how he inspired her.  The full story can be read in full on the University of Northampton’s website.

Monday, 4 July 2016

What does Brexit mean for British biodiversity?

Prof Jeff Ollerton muses on what Brexit means for British biodiversity


Friday 24th June 2016.  What a surreal day.  I spent it trying to understand why a small majority of the voting public had committed us to leaving the European Union, an organisation that has had a demonstrably positive impact upon our lives, our society, our economy, and our environment.  That dream-like state was not helped by the fact that I’d stayed up most of the night with my youngest son James, watching the results roll in.

Saturday 25th June 2016.  Twenty four hours later, after a good night’s sleep, I feel less dislocated but no less confused and disappointed.  It is what it is, let’s get on with it.

It’s much too early to properly answer the question of what this all means for British biodiversity, of course.  But as I pointed out in my post about the environmental arguments for remaining in the EU, there’s a whole raft of policies, legislation, agreements and initiatives that the government and NGOs need to consider.  Just to give a couple of examples, what will happen to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, or the Special Protected Area status of places such as the Upper Nene Valley?

What I really hope is that we can continue as before, building on the current situation rather than tearing up the whole thing.  To some extent I’m optimistic that we can for the near future, because the government will have (as it sees it) bigger things to worry about.  But I do worry that eventually we will get left behind as EU environmental legislation evolves.  That’s something we have to be mindful of in the coming years.

The ecological internet is already starting to discuss these issues; here are links to a few pieces that I’ve seen:

  • Adventuresinbeeland has discussed what leaving the EU means for British bees and beekeepers, pointing out that EU funding has enabled bee inspectors to carry out apiary inspections and work with beekeepers on issues such as bee pests and diseases.
  •  The Wildlife Trusts are trying to look positively at the future, with Brian Eversham, Chief Executive for the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, summing it up very well:  “Many of those who disagreed over the Referendum agree strongly that wildlife, our countryside and the natural environment matter, now and for the future. We need their voices loud and clear in the coming months. As we are now responsible for our own, independent future, it is up to all of us to make sure that we keep the environment firmly on the national agenda.”
  •  Mark Avery has also summed up the current situation very succinctly on his blog – one cartoon says an awful lot.
  •  Finally, here’s Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, writing on how can we make Brexit work for the environment?

No doubt there will be more coming soon and I’ll try to provide updates on the blog.

In terms of my day job as an academic at the University of Northampton, things will also change across the whole British Higher Education sector, of course.  On one level that’s a different set of issues to what I’ve been discussing, but there are also links: a great deal of ecological research activity is being funded by the European Union and involves cross-border collaborations.  Scientists across Europe have to continue to make that work.

This article was first published on 25th June 2016, https://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/