Monthly Archives: November 2023

Bees on Campus

Bees provide a range of important services that help maintain the health and vibrancy of our natural environment in both rural and urban settings. In our beautiful city-centre campus, for instance, urban bees assist our Grounds Team in caring for greenery from the wildflower meadows in Claremont Court to the tulip beds outside King’s Gate. To learn more about these fascinating creatures and their role in creating our sustainable campus, I had a chat with the lovely people at Newcastle University’s Bee Society.

Image: Members of the University community walk through the greenery of the Old Quad. Credit: Chris Bishop
How many beehives does the Society have and how long has the University had bees?

“At present there are 2 beehives, although the number fluctuates between 2-4 depending on how the years go – our hives are called Mary and Delilah! We’ve had bees since the mid-2010s.” 

I see! Do you know if there are any other urban beehives in or around the University?  

“While I haven’t interacted with them, I’m aware that other university staff have beehives for the sake of research. Newcastle is also home to a chapter of the BBKA (British Beekeeping Association) so it’s safe to assume that there are a few beekeepers knocking around locally.” 

So, what sort of thing does the society do to care for the bees?  

“The nature of beekeeping changes depending on the season – understanding the calendar and how to respond to it is vital to successful care. In the summer we check on the hives once a week (weather permitting), as the time between April-July is prime for swarms. In early spring and the autumn, we check on them far less frequently, once a fortnight or so. In the winter we don’t go in the hives at all. 

How long our checks take is also dependent on the time of year. In the summer it often runs up into the 2-hour mark! We use an acronym to remember what needs to be looked for: D.E.F.R.A, which stands for Disease, Eggs, Food, Room, and Anything Else. The presence of food and eggs are often my main concern, and after a certain point the observations become second nature. 

We always wear suits and gloves for the sake of our members. Stings do occur from time to time, but to a significant extent the victims are members of committee who have to engage with the bees when they are at their most defensive. While this is scary at first it is something you get used to over time; I have been known to scold the hives when they’re acting up!” 

And do the honey and wax get used for anything?  

“When there is surplus honey, we collect it. Last year we involved our members in the processing of the comb and this went down very well, but it isn’t a priority for us. Excess wax has been used by a few of the University’s fine art undergraduates in the production of candles.” 

That’s super interesting! How can people get involved?  

“The primary way that people can get involved is to join the society! While the hives are now being left alone for the winter, we have talks running throughout the colder months and are always happy to share our knowledge and experience.” 

Image: a bed of tulips on campus. Credit: John Donoghue
How do the bees help with local biodiversity?  

“Bees are vital to the healthy functioning of plant life and our bees can often be seen collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers on campus. They roam quite widely – up to a distance of around 5 miles – but with so many options on show in our green spaces I imagine that they don’t have to go far for food. Most of the time they’ll travel less than a mile – pollinating a variety of species in and around campus.” 

What sort of role can urban bee keeping play in a sustainable future?  

“Urban beekeeping has a place alongside the protection of other bee species, but I believe that the awareness it brings is one of the most valuable things it has to offer. The honeybee is not in any danger at the moment, but our native bee populations of bumblebees and solitary bees are in serious decline, and no one pollinator can fill the role of all these individual species. By encouraging informed beekeeping practices and the support of wildflowers/bee-friendly spaces, urban beekeepers can provide both the efficient pollination efforts of their bees and the knowledge and care that we desperately need to protect our pollinators on a wider scale.” 

So, there you have it! A huge thank you to our wonderful Bee Society, please go check out the amazing work that they do and next time you’re enjoying our beautiful urban green spaces – spare a thought for the hardworking creatures who keep them looking lush! 

Planning sustainably at Newcastle University

Image: Members of the University community walk through the greenery-framed arches of King’s Gate. Credit: John Donoghue.

The University’s lovely Planning Team are responsible for designing and delivering our campus’s impressive variety of beautiful and cutting-edge spaces, both indoor and outdoor. This work has a major role to play in the environmental commitments of our institution and so we decided to have a chat with our friends in Planning to see how they’re incorporating sustainability into their practice. Here’s what we learnt.  

How Planning works

One of the main functions of the Planning Team is to receive and solve Space and Project Requests (SPRs) which are sent to them by colleagues all across the University. These requests might involve the creation of a new teaching space for a growing department, for instance, or perhaps the conversion of a room to provide specialist resources. For each request, the Planning Team devises solutions to provide for the requester’s varied needs and maximise the potential of the spaces involved. As part of this process, our planners pay close attention to the sustainability of each project throughout its conception and delivery in a number of impactful ways. 

Image: the newly renovated Herschel Learning Lab in the Herschel Building. Credit: John Donoghue.

Sustainable practice

Importantly, following the Carbon Literacy Training that some members of the team undertook, the Planning Team have developed a “carbon conscious methodology” for their work which incorporates a range of sustainable approaches and complements the environmental guidance written into the University’s procurement framework. These methods range from limiting hard landscaping and protecting green areas where possible, to considering how spaces can be designed in a versatile manner to accommodate several uses at different times. Additionally, when delivering on SPRs, the team considers sustainability from the very outset by conducting their own research to ensure the necessity of each request. This evaluation is then followed by a consideration of how existing spaces and features can be reused to lengthen their life – similar to repairing clothes instead of buying new! 

Where items are no longer needed or replaced, however, the team puts the responsibility for dealing with the unwanted furnishings on the requester, to ensure that simply throwing items away is never the easiest option. Thanks to this, these items are then either reused somewhere else in the University (via our furniture reuse list, for example!) or are disposed of responsibly by contractors such as the wonderful people at RightGreen. As if this wasn’t enough already, the team are also full of ideas for how their planning can become even more sustainable in future! 

Image: Flowers and greenery in the Old Quad. Credit: Charlotte Robson.

Sustainable futures

Core to these aspirations is a holistic view of the planning process. This involves taking moments to pause and consider the sustainability of each aspect of a project, for instance, and considering the full lifecycle of each space including how it can be reused and/or returned to nature at the end of its lifespan. One of their ideas for putting this into practice is adapting University College London’s Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), which Newcastle University uses, to allow those submitting SPRs for a variety of spaces to gain accreditation for environmentally friendly reuse and refurbishment. These ideas build on the amazing suite of sustainable policies our planning team already utilises to offer an exciting vision of what the future of Planning could look like at Newcastle University. 

So, next time you’re on our brilliant campus, whether you’re enjoying our labs, lecture theatres, historic buildings, or green spaces, take a moment to appreciate the hard work our amazing planners do to bring these high-quality spaces to us in as sustainable a manner as possible. Finally, if you want to learn more, please do check out the information on their blog also! 

PGRs explore how sustainability relates to research and professional development

SustainaWHAT?! is a multi-disciplinary, cross-faculty and now cross-institutional collaborative project which encourages PGRs to explore the relationship between the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their research, with a focus on their professional and personal development.

Building on the success of the 2021 event, in Spring 2023, PGRs from three institutions (Newcastle, Bournemouth and Cardiff) worked with academic leads to create SustainaWHAT?! 2023 – a series of four events which aimed to:

  • provide an opportunity to bring a sustainability lens (via the UNSDGs) to their prospective research with a view to informing the rationale and potential impact of their current and future research;
  • develop a range of competencies applicable to their contexts;
  • develop a network of PGRs (+PGTs and ECRs) interested in sustainability within and across the three institutions.

‘The Gathering’ (March) was an introductory workshop which saw over 60 students (predominantly PGRs, with some ECR, PGT and UG students) exploring the UNSDGs in relation to their own lives and research through a range of activities.

At Newcastle, this event gave 26 postgraduate students from HaSS, FMS, and SAgE faculties a vital opportunity to collaborate across schools and research interests. This hybrid, part in-person, part over zoom, event between Newcastle University, Bournemouth University, and Cardiff University provided a space for whole university thinking on how research can be related to the UNSDGs.

A powerful keynote speech was given by sustainable development expert and Insights North East Fellow Jecel Censoro, and discussion panel members Dr Elisa Lopez-Capel (SAgE), Dr Jenny Davidson (HaSS/ School X) and Mx Jan Deckers (FMS) answered attendee questions on sustainability.

This opportunity to work across schools was deem important by attendees, with one Newcastle PGR stating after the event, ‘The climate crisis requires interdisciplinary solutions and collaboration’. Of the 52 survey responses (from all three institutions), 95% of students reported that they are rarely or never given the opportunity to work across disciplines on sustainability projects, so we believe this Sustaina-WHAT?! work fills a vital niche.

SustainaWHAT?!’s work draws on UNESCO’s Learning Competencies for Education for Sustainable Development, including overarching ways of thinking (e.g. critical thinking), of practicing (e.g. collaboration), and of being (e.g. reflection), when planning events. As demonstrated by attendee responses below, our work continues to be successful in developing attendee ESD competencies which prepare and support student work not only in their research projects but also their ongoing professional development.

Critical Thinking: Through the individual and group activities during the March event the percentage of students who stated they were able to link the SDGs to their research increased from 43% before the event to 76% after the event.

Collaboration: Cooperation between students with disparate research interests during a group activity led attendees to make clearer links between each other’s work through the SDGs, with students commenting that ‘SDGs are interconnected’ and ‘I became more aware of SDGs in my domain of research’.

Reflection: After being invited to review their existing awareness of sustainability during the March event, 84% of students leaving the event reported they intended to explore sustainability as part of their future career, and 82% stating that they planned to adopt sustainable actions in their daily lives.

What did the students across the three institutions learn? When asked what their biggest take away from the March event was, the students commented:

  • ‘More exposure on SDGs and their relation to communities, societies, and countries.’ (Bournemouth)
  • ‘Connection and motivation.’ (Cardiff)
  • ‘Develop potential connections between sustainable development and my research.’ (Newcastle)

In ‘The Challenge’ (April), three multi-disciplinary and cross-institutional PGR teams worked closely online and under time constraints over two events to explore and respond to country-based briefs, drawing on the UNSDGs. ​Each team (supported by a PGR facilitator) produced a proposal which was judged by a panel of academics from 3 institutions and an external NGO. In addition to prizes being awarded for 1st-3rd place, teams received individualised feedback on their proposal strengths ​and developmental suggestions. First prize was awarded for a proposal on “Improving Sustainability Through UK Manufacturing Law”, which was developed and presented by Callum Thompson (PGR in Engineering, Cardiff) and Tushar Somkumar (PGR in Law, Newcastle). Their work illustrated the value of creating opportunities for students to come together from different disciplines and institutions to work effectively to respond to global challenges.

Finally, there was an online event, ‘The Celebration’ (May) to announce ‘The Challenge’ winners, and to celebrate the achievements of all involved – the project team and student attendees. 

The initial findings from the project’s evaluation work were also shared. Understanding the student attendee experience of the project and the impact on people’s learning and views on sustainability have been a core element of the work undertaken by a dedicated evaluation team. We’ve not only been interested in attendee experiences, but the team have been keen to observe and explore the cross-disciplinary and institutional project team (some self-reflection was required too) in terms of what working practices are needed for successful collaborative working across disciplines and institutions. The team are now working on finalising an evaluation report to share across our institution.

Moving forward – get involved! Colleagues from Bournemouth, Newcastle and Cardiff are scoping out a student-led sector-wide sustainability network which brings together Early Career Researchers (ECRs) and Postgraduate Research Students (PGRs) who are working on bringing sustainability into their research. The network seeks to connect its members across institutions and facilitate cross-disciplinary interactions and collaborations. To find out more/ get involved contact:

Co-authored by Charlie Osborne (PGR, SNES) and Rosalind Beaumont (Senior Lecturer, School X)