Geographical adventures in a high altitude desert

Morning view, Pensi La, Ladakh

Morning view, Pensi La, Ladakh

BSc Environmental Science course leader, Naomi Holmes, spent the summer of 2016 on a scientific expedition in the Indian Himalayas.  Naomi visited the Pensi La and Tso Kar areas of Ladakh and helped the expedition participants (aged 16-25 years old) to take part in a range of fieldwork projects aimed at increasing their understanding of the environments they were exploring.  Environmental changes are impacting the flora and fauna of the region, and influencing the availability of water resources for human populations.  Over a five week period the participants took part in geological, meteorological, botanical, geomorphological, palaeoecological and ornithological studies.  This summer (2017) Naomi is off to the Yukon.




Soil and pollination project


Geology project

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Nudibranch dissertation research

SHU BSc Environmental Science graduate, Niki Kilburn took part in a nine-month nudibranch (sea slug) survey in the coastal waters of Cambodia.  Niki used this research for her final year dissertation.  In this study, the most abundant species was Jorunna funebris (Kelaart, 1859) (“Figure 2” below – from Niki’s dissertation).  An interesting observation was made of the types of J. funebris, which are regarded as juvenile and adult forms (Debelius and Kuiter, 2007); ‘juveniles’ were twice observed mating.  This posed a taxonomic question: is there a new species, or is it a different phenotype, or even precocious young?  Niki and her SHU dissertation supervisor published a peer-reviewed paper on the implications.  Having a published paper impressed Niki’s recent job interviewers and may well have helped her secure a job of marine animal and bird image analyst.  That, and her natural talent and charm, of course!

See the paper at:


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First year field visit to the Lake District

In March the first year BSc Environmental Science students visited the Lake District for their residential field trip.  During the week students undertook orienteering challenges, vegetation surveys, stream measurements and ecological surveys.  They had talks from Lake District National Park Authority Officers and a talk on a local hydropower scheme.  The week provided students with the opportunity to develop their field skills, analyse the data they collected, and get to know each other better.

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Environmental Education and Communication students visit Totley Primary School

This week saw four groups of Level 5 Environmental Science and Geography students visit Totley Primary School to lead a half day educational activity with pupils from Years 4 and 5.  The students had carefully planned activities in order to teach the students about different topics: Ancient Egypt; ecological succession; energy; and rainforests.  The students planned a variety of activities including treasure hunts, drama activities, arts and crafts, comic book writing, and wordsearches.  Both students and pupils learned a lot and had an enjoyable experience.

EEC school activity

‘Rainforest in a box’ (Photo credit: S. Beswick)

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Module Elective Choice Fairs

Students at the module elective choice fair

Students at the module elective choice fair

On Wednesday 1st March 2017 all Level 4 and Level 5 BSc Environmental Science, BSc Geography, BSc Human Geography and BSc Planning and Geography were invited along to sessions where they could learn about the elective modules on offer to them in their next year of study.  Staff produced posters providing information about the modules, and following course specific introductory sessions, all students gathered in Cantor to find out more about the modules.

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Studying among mountains and fjords

Location of Sogndal

Location of Sogndal

Naomi Holmes, BSc Environmental Science Course Leader, recently visited one of Sheffield Hallam’s partner universities in Norway, Sogn go Fjordane University College (which will become part of the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences in January 2017).  Naomi spoke to two course leaders about the courses they offer which may be of interest to SHU students:

If you’re interested in studying either of these (as part of the Erasmus scheme in your placement year) please do contact Naomi.  One of SHU’s BSc Geography students spent the 2016 Fall semester (August – December 2016) studying on the Mountain to Fjord course.  She’s had a great time, undertaken fieldwork in some fantastic locations, and is happy to tell you all about it! Just ask Naomi for details.

Presentation schedule

While there Naomi listened to the From Mountain to Fjord students present their findings from a science project they had carried out during the From Mountain to Fjord course.  The project examined the ‘Effects of human impact on the Aurlandsfjord’.  The audience included a number of people who worked in companies/industries related to the topic and who were very interested in the students’ work.

The University is located in a beautiful part of Norway and is surrounded by mountains and fjord; a walk up Stedjeåsen begins about 5-10 minutes away from the campus and provides great views over Sogndal.

View over Sogndal

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Coring in the Peak District

IMG_3295As part of the Level 6 module Quaternary Environmental Change students visited the Peak District to learn about palaeoenvironmental reconstruction and obtain peat cores.  The cores contain a record of environmental change and can be analysed to provide information about what the area was like in the past. Before the visit the students had been told that coring could sometimes be muddy and cold (which they believed) but that it was always fun (which they seemed unsure about).  All of these proved to be correct during the trip!

Once the cores were back at SHU the students spent time in the warm, dry lab describing the peat.  They then learnt about pollen and testate amoebae – these are palaeoecological indicators that can be used to provide information about the past environmental conditions.

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Environmental Science in a Finnish Forest

Dr Mike Heath

Among the department’s Erasmus partners is the Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) in Finland, where students studying Environmental Science and Geography at SHU have the opportunity to spend a study abroad semester during their placement year. Unless you want to study the Finnish language, all courses at TAMK are taught in English, including the Environmental Engineering and Energy Degree Programme which a number of SHU students have joined for a semester in Tampere. The TAMK campus is backed by the Kauppi Forest, a perfect location for fieldwork in things like soil science. Here, students are seen excavating a soil profile in the forest during a visit by SHU’s Mike Heath in September 2016. These thick black peaty histosols rest on laminated lacustrine clays that help maintain the boggy environment, the reducing conditions within which contribute to a distinctive sulphurous smell that accompanies the excavation!

Excavating a trial pit by hand. The blue-grey material at the bottom of the pit is laminated lacustrine clay overlain here by about a metre of peaty histosol.

Excavating a trial pit by hand. The blue-grey material at the bottom of the pit is laminated lacustrine clay overlain here by about a metre of peaty histosol.

The excavation fills with water very quickly, the water table lying very close to the surface in this boggy part of the Kauppi Forest.

The excavation fills with water very quickly, the water table lying very close to the surface in this boggy part of the Kauppi Forest.

Filling in and tidying up!

Filling in and tidying up!

For more information on study opportunities at TAMK, feel free to contact Mike Heath (

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EUROPARC Conference 2016

Prof. Lynn Crowe

EuroparcOne of my research interests is the management of protected landscapes, particularly national parks – and I have been lucky to visit and study national parks and other protected areas around the world. I was also a government appointed Member of the Peak District National Park Authority for ten years between 1995 and 2006.

The EUROPARC Federation ( is the network for Europe’s natural and cultural heritage managers – all those authorities set up to protect and manage these special landscapes. The Federation works to improve the management of protected areas through international cooperation, exchange of ideas and experience, and by influencing policy. As a Member of the Peak District National Park Authority, I have attended many of their annual conferences previously, and it was therefore with great delight that I attended their 2016 conference, although now just as an independent academic.

Delegates at EUROPARC 2016

Delegates at EUROPARC 2016

Read more about Lynn’s EUROPARC conference visit here

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Final year Tenerife field course

by Abbie Townsley, Final Year Student

On Monday 31st October, a very foggy and cold Birmingham was exchanged for the sunny Canary Island of Tenerife. After a 4 hour and 20-minute flight we all looked at each other in shock as we walked out of the terminal, realising how warm Tenerife could actually be in October/November. Thrilled in contrast to the temperate climate we left behind. The reading regarding the all year around resort and sub-tropical climate was sinking in, I understood instantly why tourists visited Tenerife in the winter months. However, we weren’t there to holiday, we had a job to do, to discover the island from a number of different perspectives, keeping a detailed notebook along the way, all leading up to a project to be completed in the last few days. We travelled towards Costa Adeje, where the highway met the tourist area, it was a perfect base for our activities.

Every night we went out in the evening to do our own thing and quickly found what Costa Adeje had to offer: restaurants, bars, shopping outlets, karaoke and mini golf! We know exactly where to visit if we go back for a holiday!

The main attraction on the second day was Mount Teide, one of the highest volcanoes in the world, and the heart of Tenerife. It is a shame we couldn’t get to the top but walking around the caldera you could see the geological events unfold before your eyes. This was a huge contrast to the tourist area we called our home for 5 days.

Travelling around the island you could see the distinct differences between the North and the South of the island, especially in the weather. You could be wearing a bikini and be warm in the south but needed leggings and a hoodie in the north. This was mainly due to the thicker cloud cover and our altitudinal position.

All the information that we had been given while travelling around the island was useful to inform our projects. We were to investigate whether pine tree needle size changed with altitude. We quickly realised that temperature changed massively with altitude, once again experiencing the various micro climates the island had to offer.

Projects were completed with groups we chose ourselves. I only knew 2 girls well that I worked with – the others were practically strangers, but we seemed to gel quickly and work really well together, to measure 400 pine needles in 4 different locations in around 5 hours to gain an impressive set of results ready to analyse at home. I didn’t know measuring pine needles while you were so high you could see clouds in front of your face could be so fun! But I had a great time and learnt to use new equipment.

Abbie collecting pine needle data

Abbie collecting pine needle data

After an exhausting day of collecting data the last day was upon us, and the hottest day yet. Everyone had collected their data so we ventured out to a small town near the harbour. The town showed us a different side to Tenerife in contrast to the pine forests we had seen and was a chance for our last meal with our field trip family.

The difference between learning on a fieldtrip and learning in a lecture theatre at university is astonishing. I don’t think I have ever been more focused or intrigued in the information I had to retrieve. In 5 days, I learnt so much and made new friends who share similar interests to me. I would recommend this field trip to anyone, I was dreading going but I had an amazing week, that benefited me both personally and professionally.

Thank you to the lecturers for making the trip unforgettable :)

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