Monday, 21 July 2014

International Hydrology in UNESCO: recent developments and future plans

The Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme met in Paris for its 21st Session last month (June 2014). Professor Alan Jenkins and Dr Harry Dixon of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) were both in attendance. The Council meets every two years to consider the Programme’s current progress and future plans.

Representatives of more than 90 Member States were joined by representatives of UNESCO Water Centres, other UN organizations and NGOs to discuss progress with what is the only intergovernmental programme of the UN system devoted to water research, water resources management, and education and capacity building.

Prof Jenkins chairs the UK Committee for National and International Hydrology, which has its secretariat at CEH and which coordinates the UK contribution to UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme. As such, Prof Jenkins headed the UK delegation to the recent Council session, supported by Dr Dixon and the UK’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO. Prof. Geoffrey Gooch (University of Dundee) also attended representing the Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, a Category 2 Centre under the auspices of UNESCO, based at the University of Dundee.

As has been the case previously, this year’s Council session was scheduled to directly follow the IAHS/UNESCO 11th Kovacs Colloquium. This allows the Council’s debates to be informed by the science presented and discussed at the Colloquium - which this year focused on “Water Security: Past, Present and Future”.

With its eighth phase, ‘Water Security: Responses to Local, Regional, and Global Challenges’, due to run from 2014 to 2021, a large element of this year’s Council Session was devoted to the forward planning of the Programme. Plans for implementing activities under IHP-VIII’s six Themes were outlined and more details of these can be found on the UNESCO website.  A proposal to establish a ‘World’s Large Rivers Initiative’ was approved and the Council took steps to implement a review of all other IHP Programmes and initiatives over coming years to ensure they best meet the needs of Member States.

Infographic showing six main themes of IHP-VIII on water security
Main themes of IHP-VIII: Water security - responses to local, regional, and global challenges (2014-2021)

Discussions regarding the Post-2015 development agenda for water concluded with the adoption of a Resolution recommending that the IHP work with UN-Water partners to develop a monitoring and assessment framework to support the implementation of any water related goals and targets.

Further information about the IHP can be found on the UNESCO website.

Related CEH links

Staff page of Prof Alan Jenkins

Staff page of Dr Harry Dixon

CEH news: CEH plays key role in UK election to Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO's International Hydrological Programme 

Further information about the UK's involvement in the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme

Monday, 14 July 2014

Mapping natural capital

A presentation from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) on mapping natural capital. In the first section, Dr Lisa Norton talks about modelling approaches using site survey for national scale mapping, explaining why natural capital is mapped and how it is useful for land managers, with examples including Countryside Survey and the UK Soil Observatory.

In the second part of the talk, John Watkins of CEH focuses on the Ecomaps application, which will enable researchers to take such work forward.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Reflections on #BRC50

For those who couldn't attend the BRC 50th anniversary celebrations in June 2014, our Storify articles gather most of the tweets and photos from the event. Not quite the same as being there, but at least it gives a flavour of the atmosphere and talks! Many thanks to all who attended and who helped to make it such a memorable event.

Day One

Day Two

Day Three (Field Trip to Salisbury Plain)

And finally, some birthday wishes from the other side of the world!

More links

There are a few more #BRC50 photos in our Flickr album

You can freely download the PDF of the BRC50 booklet.

Posted by Paulette

Friday, 27 June 2014

50 years of the Biological Records Centre

You can see a complete version of this infographic in the booklet Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre, available as a PDF (6.6mb).

Read more about the history of BRC in our blog post, and news of its anniversary symposium in Bath.

The Biological Records Centre is 50 years old!

This year the Biological Records Centre (BRC), based within the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, celebrates its 50th anniversary. A celebratory symposium is being held in Bath this week, and birthday cake will be eaten by past and present staff members, as well as a wide range of people who have been associated with BRC over the last five decades.

It's a good time to look back at why the Biological Records Centre came into existence, and why it is still relevant today.

A rich history of biological recording

In the late 17th century the Catalogus Plantarum Angliae was published. Written by Essex
naturalist John Ray, it was effectively the first catalogue of English plants, drawing on observations from his friends. By the 18th century natural history societies had begun to form across the country which focused on species identification and documenting their distribution. These societies attracted a wide range of members ranging from the self-educated to the academically qualified, a mix that continues to this day.

Plants and data processing 

During the first half of the 20th century there were several attempts at creating a national overview of British species, particularly for plants. Plans for a national plant atlas were published in 1940 but delayed by World War Two. Post-war, both the British Association (in 1947) and the Botanical Society of the British Isles conference (in 1950) resolved to map British (and Irish) species and finally, in 1954, the BSBI’s Atlas of the British Flora project was launched with funding from the Nuffield Foundation, and later from the then recently established Nature Conservancy,

Former head of BRC Paul Harding commented recently:
“The atlas (of the British Flora) aimed to record, and map, each species of vascular plant in the 10km squares of the Ordnance Survey National Grid. Perhaps the most critical aspect of the project was the adoption of data processing equipment using punched cards. This enabled 1.5 million records to be sorted and mapped mechanically and the use of information technology became integral to biological recording.”
An international impact on biological recording

Building on the Plant atlas and the mapping skills developed, the Biological Records Centre was established at Monks Wood, Cambridgeshire in 1964, with Franklyn Perring as its head. Over the years BRC has grown, and moved (to Wallingford, Oxfordshire in 2008), and its work has had, and continues to have, an international impact on biological recording.

Professor William Sutherland, the Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge recently wrote:

“The BRC has been central to much of UK conservation practice and research. The work on climate change impacts on distribution patterns is especially well known. The detailed distribution information means the BRC is central to much of the routine conservation practice in determining priorities and assessing possible threats. The BRC has also been fundamental to the National Biodiversity Network Gateway, an ambitious plan to bring together the main sources of UK biodiversity information.”

Current priorities

Looking forward, Dr David Roy, the current head of BRC, told me that current BRC priorities include:

  • Maintaining existing capacity for recording species across a broad range of taxonomic groups to provide the evidence needed to tackle ongoing environmental issues.
  • Sustaining partnerships with expert naturalists to help this capacity to grow and adapt, thus increasing the value of biological recording for understanding environmental change.
  • Making innovative use of technology and analytical methods, plus integration with other data sources on the ecology of species and the physical environment to enhance the value of recording data.

Happy Birthday BRC. We look forward to your 100th anniversary celebration in 2064!

Barnaby Smith, Media Relations Manager 

Related links

Biological Records Centre website

CEH News: Biological Records Centre, pioneer of citizen science, celebrates 50th anniversary 

Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre [PDF, 6.62mb]

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Making a splash at Loch Leven 50 celebrations

One of Scotland's most popular national nature reserves (NNRs), Loch Leven, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Loch Leven is Scotland's largest lowland loch and one of the most important sites for waterfowl in Britain.

The Loch is one of CEH’s most important long-term monitoring sites and is part of the UK’s Environmental Change Network (ECN), which is co-ordinated by CEH. Our scientists have collected chemical and biological water quality data from the Loch since 1968. These data have provided the scientific basis for lake and catchment management strategies aimed at solving Loch Leven’s eutrophication problems. These problems are most visible as cyanobacterial blooms, which affect amenity value and have a marked impact on the local economy.

On Sunday 8th June CEH staff took part in the annual “Discovery Day” at the Loch. CEH’s Dr Linda May sent this report from the event:

“This year's Discovery Day at Loch Leven was a big hit with the local kids, who enjoyed scooping freshwater life at the CEH stall and looking at them under the microscope. CEH staff (Linda May, Alanna Moore, Iain Gunn and Laurence Carvalho), who were on hand to help the freshwater ecologists of the future, were kept extremely busy by almost 700 visitors.

Although this event celebrated the 50th anniversary of Loch Leven's designation as a National Nature Reserve, our younger visitors were more interested in the wee beasties that we had caught in the loch. 'Trending' on the day was (1) examining the 'bitey bits' of caddis fly larvae, (2) working out what eats what, (3) waiting for the stickleback to attack the tadpoles (no tadpoles were harmed!!) and (4) trying to catch waterboatmen with a pipette.

Discovery Day is an annual event organised by Scottish Natural Heritage to entertain and educate the local community about the biodiversity living in and around Loch Leven.
An addition to the CEH contribution this year was a survey of visitors’ perceptions of the value of Loch Leven. Data collected will feed into various projects that are attempting to quantify the ecosystem services provided by the loch.”

Additional information

CEH's long-term water quality monitoring at Loch Leven

Scottish Natural Heritage Press Release: Celebrate Loch Leven's 50th

More photos on Flickr

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Building a buzz around the Big Bumblebee Discovery

Viewers of Sky News Sunrise were given a buzz this morning when Dr Helen Roy of CEH took to the studio with science presenter Dallas Campbell to talk about the fantastic Big Bumblebee Discovery citizen science project. Helen and CEH colleague Dr Michael Pocock are helping to run the project, which will use the data collected to address the question of how bees are affected by their immediate surroundings and the wider landscape.

The Big Bumblebee Discovery is the first project in the Great EDF Energy experiment, a collaboration between the British Science Association and EDF Energy.

Watch a video of their appearance on Sunrise here (also featuring the superb tree bumblebee model first seen at last year’s Gardeners’ World show!).

Helen and Dallas are having a busy few days both in encouraging children, teachers and parents to sign up to what is a fun and interesting initiative, but also in explaining the scientific usefulness of this hypothesis-led project. The pair were at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday 8 June to talk to visitors to the EDF Energy Zone, where Big Bumblebee Discovery posters, games and other activities were available. (Michael had also visited a few days earlier to lend his encouragement to the hundreds of visiting school children, with many a budding citizen scientist among them).

Visitors to the Cheltenham Science Festival had a chance to learn about
the Big Bumblebee Discovery. Photo: Val Woods

And following their Sky News Sunrise appearance, expect to hear more from Helen and Dallas enthusing about the project on a local radio station near you.

Helen and Dallas record a BBC radio interview to explain more about getting
involved in the Big Bumblebee Discovery. Photo courtesy EDF Energy Comms

What’s it all about?

Bumblebees are prolific pollinators, but it’s believed that environmental changes are causing declines in some bumblebee populations.

The Big Bumblebee Discovery will provide an opportunity for school children through EDF Energy’s ‘The Pod’ programme to get involved in “real science”. Thousands of schools across the country are invited to observe and record colour groups of bumblebees visiting a standard-sized lavender plant. The CEH scientists, alongside the participants, will use the data to address the question: “how does landscape (at multiple scales) affect the diversity of bumblebees?”

  • The nationwide initiative involves children and parents counting the number and types of bumblebee they spot in their garden, school playground or local park.
  • Results will be used by CEH researchers to map bumblebee numbers across Britain and what impact the landscape has on bumblebee diversity.
  • The Big Bumblebee Discovery is the first project in the Great EDF Energy Experiment, a five-year programme launched in partnership with the British Science Association. The initiative is designed to inspire children to think differently about science, technology, engineering

Utilising a citizen science approach – the method of using a large number of researchers to each collect a sample of data – the Big Bumblebee Discovery is an exciting opportunity for thousands of young people to become scientists in their own back garden.

Don't forget to sign up by logging on to The first 3,000 schools to sign up to the experiment will receive a free lavender plant and engagement pack containing a range of fantastic resources to help them along the way – but anyone who signs up to The Pod to register interest in participating will be able to get their hands on a range of great tools to help them with the experiment.

Additional links

Bees and 'ologies at the Cheltenham Science Festival - CEH blog

The Pod programme from EDF Energy

Staff page of Dr Helen Roy

Staff page of Dr Michael Pocock