Friday, 31 May 2013

All well in Puffindom? Reflections on the 2013 Isle of May NNR puffin census results

Earlier this morning the results of the 2013 census of the puffin population on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve were made public.
As regular readers of the blog will know there has been much concern over the state of the puffin population on the East coast of Scotland and England following severe weather events over the 2012-2013 winter. Several commentators speculated that the overall population on the Isle of May NNR could have taken a severe hit with numbers likely to be significantly down on the last count (which took place in 2008/2009 and recorded a 30% decline in population from 2003).
Slightly to our surprise the 2013 figure (46,000 burrows showed signs of use this spring) is an almost identical total to that recorded in the 2008/2009 count. There are a number of possible reasons for this and more detail can be found in the news story on our main website.

Puffins on the Isle of May. Photo by Liz Mackley.

Prof Mike Harris, who led the mainly volunteer group who carried out the puffin census, is also the author of The Puffin’, a standard reference book on puffins,  indeed some might say it is THE book on puffins.
In the first edition of ‘The Puffin’, published nearly 30 years ago in 1984, Mike wrote I am optimistic about the Puffin’s future and the general state of Puffindom is far better than at any time this century.
However, by the time of the second edition of ‘The Puffin’, co-authored with Prof Sarah Wanless, and published in 2011, a number of new issues were affecting the UK’s puffin populations, including the loss of sandeels and changes to the temperature of the North Sea.
This latest census result from the Isle of May, whilst the same as 2009 in total numbers, reflects some of these new issues which have had impacts on puffin populations around the UK. Without the long-term research and monitoring carried out on the Isle of May and other key seabird locations such as the Farne Islands and Craigleith, we would be unable to assess the impact of these changes in our environment.
Whilst new technologies have their place, and are regularly used in CEH’s seabird research, there is still much to be discovered by applying traditional ecological techniques, and carefully using them over many years.
As Graham Appleton wrote on the BTO website in his review of the second edition of ‘The Puffin’: Long-term studies – you cannot beat them”. We agree!

Related CEH links

CEH News: Puffin count on the Isle of May NNR gives surprising result

Slideshow of images from the puffin count

Puffin gallery on Flickr (includes images from 2013 wreck)

Isle of May links

Isle of May NNR

Isle of May NNR blog

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

International Day of Biodiversity - Water & Biodiversity

Today is the International Day of Biological Diversity and this year's theme is Water & Biodiversity. CEH undertakes a huge amount of research and monitoring to understand the pressures on freshwater biodiversity and its crucial role in delivering benefits to nature, society and the economy. These benefits are not always obvious, but one of our most significant long-term monitoring sites, Loch Leven, at Kinross in Scotland, provides some interesting examples, including a case just this month when the largest brown trout ever recorded as being caught on the loch was landed, beating a record that had stood for more than 100 years.

The historic event coincided perfectly with an international meeting at the site to discuss the benefits of biodiversity in delivering ecosystem services.

News of improved angling at Loch Leven has been spreading across the world in recent years and this record catch is likely to attract even more visitors to the area, with consequent economic benefits both to the fishery and other businesses such as local hotels.

Importantly, this record catch reflects wider improvements in the biological health of the lake as a result of reductions in phosphorus pollution from surrounding industry, sewage and agriculture. Other improvements includes fewer algal blooms, the return of sensitive plant species and an increase in aquatic birds that feed on the plants, such as the pochard. 

A swan at Loch Leven - photo by Laurence Carvalho

CEH has collected data at Loch Leven since 1968 - it is one of more than 30 lake and river sites contributing biodiversity data to the UK Environmental Change Network, managed by CEH. Scientists at CEH have used this information to help identify the main causes of water quality problems at the site. Loch Leven is an excellent example of a lake that supplies a wide range of ecosystem services, including water supply, tourism and the fishery, as well as being an important wetland biodiversity site, supporting nationally and internationally important populations of wildfowl.

The benefits of managing ecosystem services better is precisely what the meeting in Kinross was focused on. Project teams from two major EU-funded research projects on this topic, OpenNESS and OPERAs, were there to discuss how to ensure that scientific knowledge on ecosystem services and natural capital is used by land managers, businessmen and policymakers to generate sustained benefits for nature, society and for the economy. One area of collaboration between the projects will be a joint pool of 35 case studies across the globe. CEH are leading two case studies in the OpenNESS project, one at Loch Leven and one examining the Cairngorms National Park.

What you can do to help our freshwater biodiversity research:

  • Get involved in the recording of freshwater biodiversity via the online recording website iRecord, which is being developed by the Biological Records Centre
  • Track invasive freshwater plants using the mobile phone app PlantTracker, which is integrated with iRecord


Further information

International Day of Biological Diversity

CEH research on freshwater biodiversity at Loch Leven

CEH research in the Cairngorms National Park

UK Lake Restoration research at CEH

Environmental Change Network


Loch Leven Fisheries Blog:  Loch Leven record smashed

CEH News (July 2012): Loch Leven water quality quality is best for 20 years

Monday, 20 May 2013

Citizen Science at the 2013 Science Communication Conference

Dr Michael Pocock, along with many scientists at CEH, regularly works with members of the public on what are often termed 'citizen science' projects, broadly defined as projects which involved volunteers in science. It's a strength of CEH's work, and one which builds heavily on many decades of coordination of biological recording across the UK.

Last week Michael and CEH colleague Dr Helen Roy took their places on the panel at the citizen science session at the UK's major Science Communication Conference which took place at Kings Place in London on the 16th and 17th May.

As well as four talks from citizen science practioners, the session included much discussion over the future directions that citizen science could take in this country, and globally. Many of the topics discussed were explored in more detail in a major report that CEH staff worked in 2012 which reviewed more than 200 citizen science projects from around the world.

Michael and I have created a Storify of the session here. It was a communication conference so there were plenty of tweets to choose from for the storify, including several comments from the Chief Executive of the British Science Association, Imran Khan.

Read more details or download a copy of the 2012 citizen science review and accompanying practical guide here.

The next big 'citizen science' project led by CEH is the 2nd annual National Farm Pollinator Survey, taking place on Open Farm Sunday on 9 June.

Barnaby Smith

Additional information

Research interests of Dr Michael Pocock

Friday, 10 May 2013

A revolution in ladybird recording

iRecord Ladybirds app
Ladybirds are charismatic insects and so it is perhaps not surprising that people in Britain have enthusiastically recorded them for centuries. With the launch today of a new ladybird recording app for mobile phones and iPads,  Dr Helen Roy from the UK Ladybird Survey updates us on how ladybird recording has changed over time. 

Tens of thousands of people have contributed to ladybird recording in Britain since the first record more than two centuries ago.  At that time it would have been difficult to imagine the technologies that now prevail in the world of biological recording.  Notebook and pencil and perhaps an entomological net have been, and remain, the essential tools of ladybird recording.  However, new technologies  provide opportunities to support this pursuit. 

Ladybird records span more than two centuries: the record cards above are
from the 1970s and 1980s.

Since the launch of the online UK Ladybird Survey in 2005, interest in ladybird recording has grown beyond expectation.  Indeed it has been inspirational.  The smartphone app launched today links to the new ladybird recording form within iRecord, allowing recorders to manage their own records and benefit from rapid verification by an expert behind the scenes.
Helen Roy and Barnaby Smith of CEH using the new ladybird app


Over the years the UK Ladybird Survey in its many guises (Coccinellidae Recording Scheme and Cambridge Ladybird Survey) has benefitted from rich and fruitful collaborations.  The project to develop the app was no exception.  The app was developed through the Biological Records Centre at CEH in partnership with the fabulous NatureLocator team at Bristol University and John van Breda at Biodiverse IT.  It is the latest in a line of apps from this team which to date include Leaf Watch and Plant Tracker and, in the near future, butterflies and orthoptera.
The new app and iRecord are set to revolutionise ladybird recording in Britain and the UK Ladybird Survey will take advantage of new technologies for biological recording with the aim of increasing participation even further while retaining the high quality data available for all to share.  However, nothing will detract from the pleasure of being in the field with a net, notebook and pen on a quest for ladybirds!
Dr Helen Roy

Additional information

Dr Helen Roy is an ecological entomologist at the Biological Records Centre within CEH

iRecord is a web-based tool for managing and sharing wildlife records
The iRecord Ladybirds app is currently available via the Apple store and will soon be available for Android devices through the Google store.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Contaminants research collaboration with China

We've highlighted in recent blog posts the importance of international collaboration in scientific research and some of the steps taken by CEH to develop new relationships with researchers abroad. The recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between environmental researchers in China and the UK [news story] resulted in a visit to China between 14-18 April of two groups of researchers from CEH and the James Hutton Institute. We've already heard from the team of lake ecologists about the links they forged on the trip. Now, in this new post by Professor Ed Tipping of CEH, he tells us about the visit of a group of contaminants researchers:

I was one of a group of scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster University and the James Hutton Institute who took part in a five-day visit to the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences in Beijing to discuss collaborative research on environmental contamination by heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. The other members of the group were Dr Stephen Lofts (CEH), Dr Andrew Sweetman (CEH and Lancaster University) and Dr Zulin Zhang (JHI) and we met Professor Yonglong Lu and his team of Associate Researchers, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students.

Visitors and hosts at CAS / RCEES April 2013.
Back row (L to R): Ed Tipping, Zulin Zhang, Yonglong Lu, Andy Sweetman, Steve Lofts.
Front row (L to R): Shijie Liu, Yajuan Shi, Li Xu

We arrived in Beijing on Sunday 14 April with enough time to allow visits to the Forbidden City and a hutong area (a relic of the old, low-rise Beijing). The business part of the visit began in earnest on Monday 15 April, with presentations from both our group of visiting researchers and the host scientists:

  • Regional ecological risk of persistent toxic substances - Prof Yonglong Lu (RCEES, CAS)
  • Research on metals in CEH - Prof Ed Tipping (CEH)
  • Metal contamination and potential risks in drinking-water source sites of Beijing and industrial areas of Northern Yellow and Bohai Seas, China - Dr Wei Luo (RCEES, CAS)
  • Intermediate dynamic model for metals - Dr Steve Lofts (CEH)
  • International regulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs): How to use measurements and fate modelling to inform policy? - Dr Andy Sweetman (CEH / Lancaster University)
  • Environmental behaviour of metals around a typical watershed - Mr Li Xu (RCEES, CAS)
  • Organic contaminants in the environment - Dr Zulin Zhang (James Hutton Institute)
  • Simulation of spatial explicit multimedia fate of POPs in Bohai Rim - Mr Shijie Liu (RCEES, CAS)

The presentations were followed by an in-depth discussion session, before a special welcome dinner arranged for us by our hosts.

Zhang, Sweetman, Yonglong Lu and Lofts awaiting dinner at the Blue Whale Hotel, Zhangjiakou

On Tuesday 16 April, we set out with our hosts on a field trip to the Guanting Reservoir and Yanghe River, during which we learned about the contamination status and associated problems of the reservoir, pollution sources to the river, and the competing demands for river and groundwater within the catchment.

Future collaboration

We stayed the night in the city of Zhangjiakou and on the following morning made a tour of the city and its river, before returning to Beijing, taking in the remarkable Great Wall of China en route. On Thursday morning we were able to visit the exquisite Summer Palace, before returning to CAS / RCEES for a tour of their excellent and comprehensive analytical facilities. This was followed by discussions about future collaborative possibilities, during which firm plans were made for the visit of a Chinese PhD student (Li Xu) to CEH's Lancaster site in July, to carry out metal chemistry modelling. Plans were also made for the extension of collaborative work on persistent organic pollutants with Lancaster University, and a risk assessment of pesticides in the Yanghe River catchment with James Hutton Institute. There was also more general discussion about the possibilities of larger-scale integrated work in the future.

Zhang, Lofts, Tipping and Sweetman hearing about the Guanting Reservoir from Prof Yonglong Lu

Yonglong Lu and his colleagues were terrific hosts. They made our visit both interesting and enjoyable, and we very much look forward to working with them in the future to try to understand and predict how China's natural environment will develop in the coming years and decades.

Additional information

Professor Ed Tipping, based at CEH's Lancaster site, is an environmental chemist focusing on acidity, metals, natural organic matter and nutrients in soils and waters, with an emphasis on modelling.

Dr Steve Lofts is a soil and aquatic chemist at Lancaster, with expertise in the chemistry of metals in soils and waters, particularly in relation to speciation and its consequences for metal transport, fate, bioavailability and toxicity.

CEH News: CEH and James Hutton Institute build research links in China   

CEH Blog: Building environmental research links in Beijing

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

New horizons for CEH research

Research Councils UK, which is the strategic partnership of the UK’s seven research councils (including CEH’s parent body, NERC), opened an office in India in 2008 with the aim of making it easier for the best researchers in the UK and India to develop high impact partnerships in the region.  Last month CEH’s Director, Professor Mark Bailey, and Deputy Director, Professor Alan Jenkins, were able to spend an intensive few days in India with the RCUK India team to explore new opportunities for CEH; these include the possibility of establishing partnerships with high quality Indian researchers in the fields of hydrology and water resource management, ecosystem services and landscape ecology.
Water scarcity is a big problem in India and, along with energy, has been identified as one of the two critical issues that need to be addressed in the country’s current five-year plan. CEH’s expertise in water resources was therefore high on the agenda...