Landscape Institute Conference

Kaeren van Vliet

The theme of this year’s Landscape Institute Conference was ‘Landscape as Infrastructure’. Delegates from practice and academia, including environmentalists, ecologists, landscape planners, civil engineers and landscape architects, from across the UK and the globe met in Manchester in June discuss a wide range of contemporary global issues and best practice. Kaeren van Vliet from Sheffield Hallam University attended talks on contemporary issues including: Urban parks as landscape infrastructure, Developing and connecting natural infrastructure, How landscape meets the challenges of carbon creation, habitat destruction and public health; The importance of liveable towns and cities; Landscape approaches and the HS2 rail scheme; Approaches to putting a value on landscape capital and Landscape for Children.

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Wax Caps and Mushroom Snares

Dr Douglas Fraser

Inspired by the Eco-science & History in the Park day (with the BES, NT and colleagues from SHU) on Saturday, I spent Sunday looking for wax-cap mushrooms.  They are very specific about where they appear.  There are two reasons why records might show that an organism is absent from an area: 1. it is really not there; or 2. no one has found it there (maybe not even looked).

Wax-caps are in a group of mushrooms that is regarded as an indicator of long-term grazed pastures.  They are taken as suggestions that the fields in which they grow have been grazed for hundreds of years and certainly never fertilized by modern agriculture.  This is quite exiting to those with an interest in ancient landscapes.  What is it that makes these fungi only grow in the short swards of grazed fields and not in longer grass?  Could it be that they are simply more difficult to see in longer grass?  Perhaps; although the many wax-cap enthusiasts are unlikely to have missed them if they are there.  Musing on this, whilst sitting in a field surrounded by wax-caps, I was presented with another possible explanation.  Short, grazed swards tend to have a vertical structure, with fewer horizontal stolons or tough side shoots.  Whereas, ungrazed, rank swards tend to have layers of matted thatch of old vegetation debris and tussocks, which present a tough barrier for young plants and mushrooms to push through.  It is obvious that wax-caps are not very robust; they are so often malformed as they get ensnared under a trip-wire or tight rope of vegetation.

Two mushrooms of the golden wax-cap (Hygrocybe chlorophana) badly distorted by surrounding vegetation acting like nooses and snares.

If they cannot successfully distribute their spores across the grassland, there is likely not to be any new, vigorous fungal mycelium to replace the old.  Over many years this might lead to local extinction.  So next time you see a bright yellow or red or orange or green (or all of these) mushroom, looking like a jewel in the grass, there is good reason to assume that you might be walking on ancient turf.

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The challenge (and pleasure) of fieldwork in remote places: researching glaciers in the High Arctic

Dr Rob Storrar

This summer I travelled to Svalbard: an archipelago of Islands associated with Norway but sitting on their own way out in the Arctic Ocean. I was there on a project that aimed to investigate how liquid water travels beneath glaciers, which becomes increasingly important as the climate warms. The project is called TREBLE (TRacing Eskers Beneath gLaciErs) and was jointly funded by the EU, Sheffield Hallam University, Queens University Belfast, and Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland. This post is an account of the challenges faced whilst doing fieldwork in remote places.

The contrivances of airline timings meant that it took us two whole days to get to Svalbard, despite the fact that it is only ~4.5 hours of flying from the UK. Nevertheless, we landed in Longyearbyen excited to make our way to camp and get on with the project. It turns out this excitement was rather premature. Our project relied on two pieces of equipment: a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to survey underneath the glacier, and a drone to survey the glacier surface. Our first job was to find the GPR which had been shipped over separately. Having located it at the port we went back to the hotel. Being conscientious scientists, we planned to test the equipment before travelling on to camp. That is where the fun began.

The first test was the drone. It got up into the air with no problem, but very soon we encountered the first challenge with working at this location. We were about 78° north: 1,250 km from the geographic North Pole, 1,700 km from the magnetic North Pole and 1,700 km from the Geomagnetic North Pole (actually almost due west of us!). Confusing to anybody, let alone a drone. Relative to where we were, these different measures of north were quite a long way from each other. This meant that the drone’s on-board compass and GPS were sometimes, well, confused. Our first glimpse of this came when testing the drone. When not touching the controller, the drone should hover. Instead, the first thing it did was start flying, at speed, straight towards a mountain! Fortunately this was intermittent but it gave us our first glimpse into the difficulties that one can come across in these environments.

Hørbyebreen (pronounced Herby Brain), the glacier we studied on Svalbard. Note the locations of the magnetic, geographic and geomagnetic North Poles, which played havoc with our drone.

The next piece of kit to test was the GPR, which we hadn’t seen for a few weeks since shipping it out ahead of us. On unpacking it we soon found another challenge. The GPR consists of a long antenna, which is dragged along the ground behind you, and a control unit that is strapped to your chest. The control unit has two buttons: an on-off button, and a button that controls everything else. It was, of course, the second button that had been sheared off completely in transit. Due to go out to the site the following day, with no GPR and a temperamental drone, these were beginning to feel like desperate times. After some consideration, we tried gluing the switch back on. Obviously, this didn’t work. The next idea was to carefully remove the switch, so that we could operate it manually from a loose wire. This took some persuasion: first with a large kitchen knife, then a Swiss Army knife, then, finally, a hacksaw blade. Sawing into several thousand pounds worth of radar equipment is not something I had envisaged, but can now add to my CV. Somehow, this bodge job actually worked, and so we were able to go to bed relieved and with the prospect of at least doing some science.

Attacking the radar unit with a hacksaw blade (having previously attacked it with knives).

So the next day we boarded a tourist boat that would take us near to camp. En route we saw a Polar Bear and two cubs, across the fjord from our camp. Fortunately this turned out to be our only bear sighting; nevertheless we still had to lug round Second World War rifles wherever we went. Slightly heavy but very awkward to carry. From the tourist boat we were met by some Czech colleagues who took us over to their camp, situated in Petuniabukta (Petunia Bay), an incredible setting on the beach in a calm fjord, surrounded by mountains and glaciers, where we were to spend the next six nights.

Home from home

Actually, nights is something of a misnomer, as it never actually got dark. The first evening we were treated to an impromptu party courtesy of the Poles whose camp was next door. Piwo and wodka meant that our planned 4am start the following day was not realised. Czech-Polish-English guitar sing-alongs on the beach at midnight was an unexpected, surreal, but very pleasant start to the trip. We learned that in Svalbard, time is irrelevant. People were leaving to do a day’s work at 9pm, returning in the morning and going to sleep. For a brief 6 day trip, this was a strange way of life to adjust to.

First night celebrations

We got up bright and early at noon the following day to start to our research on the first day in the field. Unfortunately the weather was rather grim – persistent mizzle is close to the technical term. It is a hard 3-4 hour walk over rough terrain to the glacier, which was made all the more difficult by the heavy kit we were transporting, and the infernally uncomfortable rifles. Finally arriving at the glacier was a good feeling, and we got straight to work with the radar. The bodged fix to the switch worked fine for a couple of hours, allowing us to gather some useful data, but (perhaps inevitably), the mizzle got into the control unit and it didn’t work again for the rest of the trip. We returned at midnight, utterly exhausted, slightly downhearted that the GPR had given up, but happy to have some data. We were extremely pleased to return to find freshly made pizza and freshly baked cake! Utterly remarkable given the situation.

A soggy and gruelling walk in to the glacier (which is hiding in the cloud)

Using the GPR to survey beneath the glacier

The next day was glorious, but we were broken. Typical that if we had waited until this day to go out, the GPR probably wouldn’t have broken, but there you go – you can’t predict these things. An amble up the mountain near to camp was all we could manage.

The next two days were rained off, allowing us time to recover and devise a plan for the rest of the research, which was to collect a large amount of drone imagery that we could stitch together into a 3D model. The resident Czech meteorologist suggested that there may be a weather window one morning, but that rain would be coming in at lunchtime. We decided to aim for a 4am start. This may sound familiar, but I am pleased to report that this time we were away by 5am! We got to the glacier in perfect conditions at 8.30, gathered a large amount of excellent data, and left at lunchtime, just as it started to rain. Success!

3D model of the glacier. The blue squares show where the drone images were taken from.

Preparing to leave on the last morning, the weather took a turn for the worse and it started to snow, with a brisk wind coming in from the NE. An exciting Zodiac ride to a research boat later, we were on the way back. Feeling a mixture of exhaustion, elation at returning with some data, and regret at having to leave such a beautiful place, we arrived back to Longyearbyen for the long journey home.

The Arctic has just experienced two extremely warm summers and is changing dramatically before our eyes. Its glaciers are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for climate change: a particularly appropriate analogy for Svalbard, which has been extensively mined for coal. The future looks like it will hold even more change.

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Department of the Natural and Built Environment Annual Research Review 2016-17

We have just published our Annual Review of all the research activity undertaken in our department in the last academic year.  You can read it here.

It’s often easy to forget when you are studying in one subject area, that you are part of a much wider department with degree courses in Architecture, Construction, Environment, Geography, Housing, Planning, Real Estate and Surveying. We may be broad, but all the subjects are about trying to understand, design and shape our world.

As a University, Hallam also has a research focus which aims to make real social, economic and cultural impacts. It may sound a bit grand – but we are trying to make the world a better place. Our department is in a prime position to do this, because of our strong links with industry and our professional sectors. So our research is often focused on practical solutions to real world problems.

You will also be able to see how much all the different subject areas in our department often have an environmental component. Environmental Science is relevant to all the different professions.

Do have a look at some of the research undertaken by different staff over the last year. I’m sure you will hear about some of the projects and initiatives during your degree courses. It may also provide ideas for your own research or dissertations, or be useful if you intend to undertake further study at postgraduate level.

Lynn Crowe

 

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‘A very adventurous year’

by Sasha Beswick, BSc Environmental Science student currently on placement in Nicaragua!

In my third semester, I was offered the opportunity to move to London and work on the National Clean Air Day campaign with environmental behaviour change charity Global Action Plan.

I was on the front line of the campaign and as well as help pull a national campaign together in a very small team, I also got involved on the day and travelled to Derby where I gave information and ran activities about air pollution.

Members from the GAP office wearing no idling vests for National Clean Air Day

The campaign was a huge success. We were #1 trending on Twitter, we had huge names such as Jeremy Corbyn involved and we are now as a result seeing real action being taken by our Government on air quality, for example the diesel and petrol ban put in to place. And within this time I managed to pass my second year with a 2:1!

After my contract had ended, I was offered a year long placement from RSK in Manchester, the second largest environmental consultancy in the UK. However, I was also offered another interview with Raleigh International a few weeks before I was due to move to Manchester.

I decided to take the risk and declined my offer at RSK and went for the interview at Raleigh. I was very happy that I got accepted, and I will be moving to Nicaragua at the end of September for three months to volunteer with communities who’ve lost their livelihoods due to climate change and social injustice. During my time I will help develop sustainable business plans and transfer applicable skills.

Raising money for Raleigh!

Between my placement for National Clean Air Day and volunteering in Nicaragua, I have been kept on by Global Action Plan and have been working in the retail team. I have assisted in the creation of behaviour change strategies for saving energy and reducing waste in Sainsbury’s stores. Aside from this I’ve been involved in assisting in setting up a behaviour change unit in Singapore and creating the energy reports for Tesco’s hot counters and bakeries.

I have had a very adventurous year, with many emotional and personal barriers. I hope to continue the excitement and success I have had within the beginning on my sandwich year. When I return from Nicaragua, I hope to volunteer further with young people in the UK and aspire them to meet positive goals.

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First year students visit Blacka Moor

On Thursday 21st September 2017 the new first year BSc Environmental Science students visited Blacka Moor Nature Reserve as part of the Induction Week activities.  Nabil Abbas from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust gave the students a tour of the nature reserve.  After lunch the students got involved with some practical conservation work, helping the Land Management team with a heathland restoration task.

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DNBE Geography Graduate, Michael Overton, discusses his plans to research `re-wilding` in Yellowstone National Park, U.S.

Michael graduated from Sheffield Hallam in 2014 with an honours degree in Geography and the Winford Rosser prize for highest overall mark in that subject. His dissertation was on nationalism among an Arab sect in the Middle East. Michael worked in the Middle East following graduation but returned to university two years later to follow his passion for study, receiving a scholarship to Utrecht University where he is undertaking a Research Master’s in Cultural Anthropology.

This article discusses the research Michael intends to undertake  in Yellowstone National Park, in the U.S.

Rewilding, as with anything if you dig deep enough, means different things to different people. It seems to be at once: an idea or imagination; a social construct; and a thing with material effects. You can’t quite put your finger on it, yet somehow it manages to radically change landscapes and even determines the everyday stuff people do.

So… what is it? Ok, here is the ‘textbook’ summary: Rewilding is the ‘managed letting go’ of nature. It’s the sit back and see what happens approach to conservation. It’s also about reintroductions of the big stuff, bison, wolves  … mammoths (but seriously – geneticists have got pretty far on the mammoth front). Rewilding is not all about wilderness – some argue that you can rewild your garden or even your mind (this second one we will leave for now). Rewilding aims for ‘wildness’ – which ecologists used to claim was what the Earth looked like before humans came and built all over it. Nowadays the more accepted meaning of wildness is a self-willed, self-sustaining state of nature.

Nik Lopoukhine (IUCM)

In Europe, rewilding tends to be carried out by introducing herbivores such as bison, ponies and cattle, which are then expected to munch their way through enough of the shoots so that forest doesn’t take over, but not too many as to make the land a farmer’s field. It creates, as rewilding advocates see it, a natural mosaic.

In America, things are a little different. The munching activities of the herbivores (generally wild natives such as elk) are controlled by wolves, bears and cougars. Predators are introduced to chase the herbivores around, stopping them eating too many shoots in the same place and picking off the young and the weak. This all increases ‘trophic diversity’ or ecological complexity which, it’s argued, is generally a good thing.

Pixabay (2017)

My research is all about reintroductions of wolves and bison into Yellowstone National Park – hence my mini-introduction to rewilding in America. I’m going there for 6 months next month, travelling around, living in a van with my laptop and a couple of good books.

I’m not so interested in the science of which predator eats which prey, changing which ecological indicator (although it is fascinating). I am interested in WHY people rewild. Really WHY, as in deep motivations, and for that matter why people don’t, or even why they fight this kind of thing. This is a question of love, fear, enchantment and anger, which are totally mixed up in what’s going on in wider society. Think of identity, religion, capitalist flows, the state, politics, media, tradition versus modernity versus whatever this chaos is now.

How will it be studied? I mentioned ‘travelling around in a van’ but of course conducting ethnographic research requires serious planning. The data must reflect reality for those that you interview and observe. It must be good enough to help make sense of the topic and ground it in the real world. Here are three ways of doing this.

Ethnography allows the data to speak for itself. What’s important to those I interview (the interlocutors), becomes important to my analysis as a researcher. I won’t be sticking doggedly to a hypothesis but rather my questions will be adapted as rewilding begins to make more sense as a social phenomenon. If I enter an interview in the way some journalists do, determined to extract one specific fact, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. It’s easy to miss what really matters.

Interviews are crucial. I will interview 130 people connected to rewilding through reintroductions of wolves and bison in the Yellowstone region. They may be hunters, park staff, First Nation peoples or other groups. They will be chosen because of their connection to the annual bison cull, the transfer of live animals, public lectures and other events revolving around reintroductions and ongoing operations.

Observation can give you even better data then interviews. This is because what people do does not always match what people say they do. I will join people at work, on weekend excursions, on trips and observe how they interact with wolves and bison, and with each other. I will organise focus groups and ‘photo forays’ to get a better understanding of what is going through their minds and whether this offers up shared values which can explain rewilding as a social phenomenon. What leads to the millions of dollars spent, hours given, acres transformed and lives changed.

‘Science’ is not some magic connection to objective fact (that would be too easy). It is not empty of values, and rewilding scientists are people too so they have complex motivations. Anyhow, rewilding has recently drawn in all sorts of people, from the ecologist to the tourist to the hunter whether for or against. That’s why it’s high time to study rewilding as a social phenomenon and to see what it is about wolf and bison reintroductions that makes some people tick, and ticks others off.

Rewilding as a social phenomenon – further references.

  • Cronon, William. 1996. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.”  Environmental History 1 (1): 7. doi:10.2307/3985059.
  • Deliège, G. 2016. “Contact! contact! Nature preservation as the preservation of meaning.”  Environmental Values 25 (4): 409-425.
  • Hintz, John. 2007. “Some Political Problems for Rewilding Nature.” Ethics, Place &  Environment 10 (2): 177–216. doi:10.1080/13668790701344774.
  • Monbiot, George. 2013. Feral : Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding. London:Allen Lane.
  • Youatt, Rafi. 2015. Counting Species: Biodiversity in Global Environmental Politics.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [esp. Ch. 4]
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An Afternoon with a Crop of Bumble Bees

Dr Douglas Fraser

The last four, frantic weeks of bumble bee activity has calmed. The ground is peppered with carcasses of drones, which until last week were still jumping on queens as they emerged from the many holes in our flat-roof facia boards. Famously, bumble bees are said to defy the physics of flight, but somehow they do, until, that is, a drone latches onto the back of the rather bigger queen. The pair often falls to the ground with an audible thud. Then they co-ordinate their talents to confound Newton’s laws, once more. Presumably, having done their business, the matriarchal society has decided that their continuance is as useful as is the bicycle for fish. There’s a lesson for us all.

Now the queens are flying less (presumably laying eggs more) and the familiar feeding grounds are full of the relatively smaller workers. Currently they are gorging on nectar from geraniums (especially the blue ones) and Cotoneaster.

B hypnorum

B. hypnorum

The Cotoneaster is in full flower and is seething with bees. Rather like when watching faint stars, it is better to look slightly off and see the glimmer with your peripheral vision, it is not quite possible to see all the bees except as a shimmer across your whole field of view. It certainly does not work in a still photograph.

B hypnorum

B. hypnorum

The most common bee in our garden is the tree bumble bee (Bombus hypnorum). This is a newcomer, having apparently crossed the Channel and was first seen in the UK in 1981. It is pretty common across the UK, now. If it is any measure of familiarity, it is this bee that is enjoying the blue Allium flower in the BBC Gardeners’ World opening sequence. It has pale-rusty brown hairs all over its thorax and a white tail (last few segments of the abdomen). In our population, the queens can be as large as 20 mm, whilst the workers are up to 15 mm. This makes it quite a large bee.

Here is an older tree bumble bee worker. Her thorax hairs are wearing off, giving a tonsure, showing her shiny black exoskeleton.

B hypnorum

B. hypnorum

By contrast, the smaller red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius) workers are only about 9 or 10 mm, although this year’s queens did measure around 15 – 18 mm in length. The drones are all black.

B. lapidarius

B. lapidarius

Highlighting my poor photography skills (for such fast fliers in blinding sunshine), here is the only evidence I captured of the buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus pratorum). After the tree bumble and the red-tailed bumble, these are the next most common in our garden, but most of my photographs are of Cotoneaster flowers, 1/10th of a second after a bee had left! It is a dreadful photo, but as a field sketch portrait, it works better! On this queen, it is clear to see the single orangey-yellow ‘stole’, a band of yellow at the front of the thorax, +or- a smaller yellow band on the abdomen, and the orangey-buff final segments of the abdomen. Workers have a yellow ‘stole’, whiter tail, with only a hint of buff.

B. pratorum

B. pratorum

The least common bee this week has been the white-tailed bumble bee (Bombus leucorum), which is the classic picture-book stripy bee. Here a fuzzy shot shows the two yellow bands (one on front of thorax and one about one third of the way down the abdomen) and the pure white abdominal tip. The queens have been as large as 25 mm and the workers up to 18 mm. The drone is about the same size as a worker, but has a yellow face and no pollen on his legs.

B. leucorum

B. leucorum

There are also honey bees (Apis melifera), which I suspect are totally wild, as I know of no hives within a couple of miles (the usual range).

Apis melifera

Apis melifera

Now the Cotoneaster flowers are becoming berries (bird food) and the worker bees have moved on to other sources of nectar and pollen. The necessary succession of sources has to be planned and enabled in human-dominated environments. Thankfully, most keen gardeners like flowers for as long as possible. Bees require simple flowers, with easy access to the nectaries and anthers – not always possible in “over-engineered” cultivars. But that is a subject for another virtual field trip, soon.

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Student-staff research projects: landscape history of the Peak District

IMG_4861Two BSc Environmental Science students, Joe and Saul, were successful in their recent applications for research funding for Department of the Natural and Built Environment Student-Staff Research Projects (SSRPs) with Prof Ian Rotherham and Dr Naomi Holmes.  The SSRP scheme will allow Saul and Joe to undertake short research projects working in collaboration with SHU academics.

The two projects focus on the landscape history of the eastern Peak District.  A site reccie has been carried out and soon cores will be obtained for the study.  Once cores are collected they will undergo a variety of analyses, both at SHU and elsewhere.

IMG_4863

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Day 7 – Czech Republic Field Trip (14th May 2017)

Hayley Doyle, 2nd year BSc Environmental Science student

H7

On Sunday, even though my legs and feet were hurting from all the walking the previous day, we returned to Prague and visited the John Lennon Wall and Prague Castle which has amazing views of the cities red rooftops. The John Lennon Wall has become a tourist attraction after young Czech people rebelled against the communist regime by drawing on and painting the wall in bright colours, the communist regime would try and paint it over but new drawings would appear overnight and today it is one of Prague’s major tourist attractions. It is easy to see why it is so popular. The messages on the wall are filled with hope and it made me slightly emotional, it’s a visit I will never forget.

H8

The trip taught us there is more to life than our own culture and there is a world out there waiting to be explored. I want to return and see different parts of the country as it taught me so much. I would advise people to stay away from Prague and more English speaking areas and challenge yourself to learn some Czech and visit more traditional areas. In the traditional areas you can learn so much more about the country and it’s way of life while also learning and practising a new language.

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