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Case studies

Discovering our rocky shores

The coastal environments of the UK are biologically rich areas which have long been explored by the general public and studied by scientists.

Through Capturing Our Coast – the largest UK-wide project of its kind – we invite people to get involved in the coastal environments on their doorstep and use hands-on science to collect robust marine data. This year, a further 917 volunteers signed up to take part in Capturing Our Coast, which has now engaged over 4,500 people since it began in 2016.

The new data captured by volunteers is filling knowledge gaps on key species, movement of species, occurrences of invasive species and effects of climate change, as well as informing future policy and conservation strategies. A recently-launched Capturing Our Coast campaign 'Marine Invaders' has already found over 28 recordings of invasive species on UK shorelines.

Volunteers spot water pollution

Numerous Rivers Trusts in the UK have been using FreshWater Watch with their volunteers to monitor water quality. Lincolnshire Rivers Trust volunteers taking water samples in partnership with Earthwatch noticed potential pollution entering the Prial Drain in Lincoln, which is close to industrial units and businesses.

The volunteers helped identify a specific type of pollution and where it was coming from. This enabled the Environment Agency and Anglian Water, which owns the surface water system, to quickly target and visit certain businesses to offer pollution-prevention advice and solutions. During these visits, three sources of pollution were identified and remedied.

Dr Lauren Vickers, CEO of Lincolnshire Rivers Trust, said: "Working with our water quality monitoring volunteers has meant that we were able to identify a problem that would otherwise be missed, and by working with our partners within the Witham Catchment Partnership, action could be taken swiftly to remove this source of pollution."

Employees test carbon dioxide in forests

Employees are gathering data at new experimental facility BIFoR FACE to help us investigate how a forest will respond to the future conditions of an enriched carbon dioxide atmosphere.

Set up by the University of Birmingham in a mature oak forest in Staffordshire, BIFoR FACE is the only experiment of its kind in Europe.

A ring of 30-metre-high steel towers emit a computer-controlled stream of carbon dioxide to enrich the forest atmosphere by 150 parts per million. This places the forest 50 years into the future, according to current emissions rates.

We have deployed equipment to study tree growth rates, leaf development and leaf litter decomposition rates. The data we are collecting is essential for determining if the forest is growing faster with more carbon dioxide, and whether this additional carbon pumped into the ecosystem is actually driving more rapid losses via decomposition.

Our first HSBC field team on the project has collected measurements from over 200 dendrometer growth bands fitted to our trees, together with assessing canopy leaf development with hemispherical cameras. Participants also recovered the first set of leaf litter bag decomposition data from the experiment.

Inspiring a wonder for wildlife

Jessica Edmonds, a Year 6 teacher at Slater School, Leicester, was one of 145 teachers who took part in Discover Earth over the past year. The programme aims to increase teacher confidence in outdoor learning, and provides structured and robust, real-science activities teachers can share with their students. 

Jessica said: "I felt really motivated that I would be able to do the research activities even though my school has very little natural outside space.

"Having Earthwatch come into the school and join us doing science in the local park inspired the children and the teachers. Year 6 students really explored what the global goals meant to them and what actions they could take to protect the planet."

Ninety-seven percent of teachers who took part in Discover Earth said their awareness of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), outdoor learning and science had significantly increased.

All the teachers involved spoke of an increased confidence in taking learning outside and believed that taking part in hands-on scientific activities is a fantastic way to help people understand their environment, as well as contribute to protecting it.

Images: Rory Mackinnon, John Hunt, Tim Bearder

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