New funding for peat restoration is good news for biodiversity and people

Prof Mark Reed

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UK peatlands are wild, often remote places. These aren’t the fields and farms that many town dwellers associate with the British countryside, rather areas of bog and mire that may be seldom visited except, perhaps, by the committed enthusiast. Not all look as attractive as they might — all too often peat bogs have suffered extensive damage, either through extraction of material for gardening products or attempts to drain the land for agricultural purposes. But these are important places, providing not only iconic and beautiful habitats for other species, but also vital resources for our own survival.

What have peat bogs got to offer? Our supplies of clean drinking water depend on rainfall in peatlands and they can also be important in mitigating flooding , slowing down the flow of water on its way to urban areas. Highly specialised species that are often rare, threatened or declining live, feed and breed in peatland habitats.  From the bog hoverfly to the golden plover and greenshank, many species make their home here.

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Climate scientists and farmers working together to tackle water security in South Asia

Dr Lisa Bunclark

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World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis and ensuring adequate water for food production is another important aspect of water security. Researchers at Newcastle University are currently working on a project that will help to ensure that small holder farmers in South Asia have enough water for their crops into the future.

The work of Professor Hayley Fowler and Dr Nathan Forsythe, builds upon multiple collaborative initiatives with research institutes in South Asia, and focuses on finding grassroots-scale solutions to mitigate drought impacts on local communities and build resilience to climate change impacts. The project looks at ways to mainstream climate adaptation in three countries across South Asia with case study villages in contexts such as the rural areas of Nainital district in Uttarakhand state, India. Similar focus areas will be selected in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The project focuses on translation of sophisticated climate model outputs into pragmatically useful “climate services” that help communities prepare for climate change, and understand its effects on crop yields at the local level. Cropping simulations generated from large-scale regional climate models will be refined based on information generated by the smallholder farmers themselves.

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Sustainable wastewater treatment needs boost from biology

Dr Angela Sherry & Brett Cherry

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Bacteria that like to munch ammonia in wastewater. Removing ammonia is a major challenge for the wastewater industry. Credit: Russell Davenport/BE:WISE

If the world is to truly reach Target 3 of Goal 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030, improving water quality globally, it requires novel innovative ways for treating wastewater that may not be readily available or accessible in the developing or developed world. Many of these solutions for treating wastewater will likely come from cities as well as rural areas depending on the context.

Cities provide test beds for treating wastewater, demonstrating new methods outside of the lab using actual municipal sources of wastewater. Wastewater creates new opportunities for sustainable development. It is a resource for generating energy through anaerobic digestion or even directly from microbes in wastewater.

Newcastle University’s Biological Engineering: Wastewater Innovation at Scale (BE:WISE) research facility aims to help speed up credible wastewater treatment innovation by allowing scientifically rigorous experimentation with microbes at realistic scales. Microbes are key to creating sustainable pathways for clean water and sanitation.

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Partnerships essential for the UN SDGs to transform lives

Dr Alison Vipond & Brett Cherry

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“To successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must swiftly move from commitments to action. To do that, we need strong, inclusive and integrated partnerships at all levels”. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Partnerships are vital to making the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality for everyone across the world. This requires developed and developing nations working together on all 17 Goals, spanning environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development.  The Goals are universal applying to all countries, including the UK, which has provided leadership in helping to make the Goals an agreed global vision of what the future of our world should look like.

Newcastle University’s Institute for Sustainability recently joined the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, (UKSSD): a network of businesses, civil society and academic organisations who are working to advance sustainable development in the UK. UKSSD’s mission is to help transform the UK into a sustainable society, by generating new partnerships, innovative solutions and providing thought leadership to achieve the Goals. The UKSSD second annual conference on 1st March 2017, focussed on the question of how we translate the ambition of the Goals into transformative action in the UK. Dr Graham Long provided an insightful introduction to how the UK is faring on the Goals – there is still a long way to go.

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How to test policy interventions for sustainable food choices

Dr Luca Panzone, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University

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There is increasing policy attention on the choices we make as consumers, particularly the impact these choices make on the environment. Everyday choices such as what we buy in supermarkets can have a significant impact on the planet, as they determine what we cook, eat or waste.

The plastic bag charge in the UK, for example, resulted in a massive drop in plastic bag use at retailers, significantly reducing plastic waste. For food shopping, if we could understand what drives our choices better, we could then advise retailers on how to design the shopping experience to better facilitate the task of consumers who value protection of the environment.

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In the Anthropocene we are responsible for the planet’s future

Professor James (Jai) Syvitski & Brett Cherry

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On this planet humans are radically changing the land, air and water. In many cases this is unavoidable. All species have some degree of impact on the environment in which they live, but in the case of humans it is magnitudes greater. We are now the force driving environmental systems which has led to a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene.

During the preceding geological period (the Holocene) the planet’s climate was getting cooler but since human intervention it’s heating up at a faster rate than we have ever experienced before. We are releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere that it is intensifying the hydrological cycle, leading to more rainfall in some areas, and making others dryer. But it’s not only the climate we’re changing. Humans are moving around more sediment (silt, sand, gravel etc) than all the rivers, ice sheets and desert winds in the world combined. We are a geological force to be reckoned with. Continue reading