Rewilding Sussex redesigns Brighton

Since moving to Brighton I’ve got involved with helping to lead the Rewilding Sussex community group – a really energetic group of people who want to see more wild places, relax the tight human control over much of the British countryside and hopefully restore some of the species and ecological processes we’ve lost.

For most of the winter we were meeting in the pub every couple of weeks, to brainstorm urban rewilding ideas, plan stalls for science festivals and update each other on exciting places to see or wildlife news. As the days have got longer and warmer we’ve been able to go outside more, to try and find the wilder places and species near to where we live. Trips have gone to the Knepp Estate, a wild safari park with deer, horses and cattle recreating lost ecosystems, and Brede High woods, to find the wild boar that live there.

I have a strong interest in how science and art can be combined, and visual art was already something Rewilding Sussex had embraced. So at the end of last year I suggested that we contact ONCA (One Network for Conservation and the Arts) to host a rewilding exhibition. The idea was greeted very warmly and our plan to put together an exhibition to “Reimagine British Nature” has expanded to become a full programme of activities uniting the skills and enthusiasm of young ecologists and young artists and designers.

We are planning to have the full exhibition in September – but Chris Sandom (who founded Rewilding Sussex and generally loves all things wild) saw an opportunity to have an early trial run of the process. Four keen students from the Design Futures course at the University of Brighton took on the challenge of visualising how a wilder urban space could work. After a series of workshops, and expert guidance from their course coordinator, Carlos Peralta, they put together individual presentations for us, as the “client”, to see.

The work was really brilliant. Each student had taken a wonderfully unique approach to creating a wilder space, considering not only the physical spaces that people would move through, but how that experience would make them feel and behave. The discussion of their work became an exploration not just of biodiversity conservation issues, but of much wider social problems that rewilding will need to face and hopefully, in some places, solve.

Here is a taste of what the students really impressed us with:

Francesca’s idea to put pedestrians up in the trees. The gardens would be a wild space, with no human access. Instead, people would interact with it via canopy walkways and remote controlled drones operated from above the tree tops.

Francesca 1

Francesca 2

Francesca 3

Marco’s green roof revolution. In a community driven movement, the rooftops of Brighton become a network of grasslands, interconnected with bridges and ropeways to maintain native populations and provide habitat to bring more species into urban areas.

Marco 1

Chloe 1Chloe’s wild homes for all. The gardens at the centre of Brighton are transformed into a more complex habitat, with banks of trees, caves and waterways. In amongst this, shelter and facilities are provided for the homeless.

Chloe 2

Keenan’s new rewilding traditions. Focussing on the Keenan 2importance of community centres and shared practices, new wild temples will provide the space for people to learn about native wild species, plant trees to mark life events, and be part of a group placing a high value on nature and natural processes.

Keenan 1

I am really excited to see what is developed for the full exhibition!

Biofresh Blog

Recently I’ve been asking lots of friends what they know about riparian zone legislation in their own countries. This lead to a conversation with Rob St. John (one of the many people it was brilliant to meet through my MSc course) about why I’m interested in riparian legislation, and he’s done a great job of publishing my response on the Biofresh blog.  The Biofresh platform aims to provide a global database on freshwater systems and is compiling hydrological data and ecological data for a wide range of taxa. The Biofresh blog covers a range of issues related to the biofresh platform and the people making it happen.

biofresh p

Biofresh is part of the MARS project (Managing Aquatic Ecosystems and Water Resources) – a pan-european effort to improve our understanding of what we are doing to our waterways.  Looks like some really great work studies will come out of these projects over the next few years.

Rob has also done some really beautiful work exploring the freshwater habitats of Edinburgh, and the diversity of sights and sounds they create, through the project WaterofLife. I thoroughly recommend taking a look. It is a really unique and memorable way to engage with urban freshwater systems.

You can read my piece on the biofresh blog here:


Stop Motion PhD

During the write-up of my PhD, I was thinking about how many (or few!) people would actually end up reading it. In addition to publishing the contents in peer-reviewed journals, I wanted a way to make all that work accessible to more people. I was tempted to create a graphic novel version, but that would still require people to sit down and read from cover to cover. So instead, I made a 3 minute stop motion animation – something I’d never done before but greatly enjoyed.

So, if you’d like to know a bit more about oil palm plantations and the importance of protecting natural habitat next to rivers, take a look.


What is the equivalent of a post-doc in other countries?

So, if you’ve decided that you really did love doing your PhD, and want to carry on doing research, there are pretty much two options open to you.

Option one: you are included in new grant application either with your PhD supervisor or a new research group.

Option two: you get on every mailing list you can, and scour university vacancy pages for an exciting advert.

In ecology and conservation, there are going to be a lot of interesting positions in other countries. However, its not necessarily clear what level these positions refer to, and unless you happen to know someone who has navigated the system in that country, it can be tricky to find out. I don’t remember having the UK academic career system formally explained to me at any point in my PhD, let alone the system of another country.

I just came across the European University Institute webpages, and they have a brilliant break down of the academic career paths in a wide number of different countries. Seems to me that this is a key resource for navigating job adverts in a field where people are generally very mobile and keen to work all over the world. I thought it was well worth highlighting. Enjoy.


New Website for Oxford Community Ecology Group!

The research group where I did my PhD now has an excellent new website, with up to date information on research projects, recent publications and PhD/Post Doc opportunities.  Definitely worth looking at it you are interested in tropical ecology, insects (particularly dung beetles!), conservation, and the processes that sustain the incredible species richness of the rainforests:


looking for riparian buffer zone legislation!

So far, ecological research on riparian zones (the land next to rivers, streams and lakes) gives a lot of different recommendations for management of these areas – a real challenge for setting up good environmental policies!

One of the most important guidelines refers to the width of riparian buffer zones. These are the corridors of natural habitat that are protected along rivers. They are crucial for maintaining water quality and biodiversity within the water and on the river banks. However, the required width for riparian buffer zones, which you’d think might be simple to specify, is pretty tricky to pin down.

riparian reserve river

River with healthy riparian buffer!

In spite of this, lot of countries do have pretty good legislation on how wide riparian buffers should be. As I’ve been talking to more people about my PhD research on riparian zones in oil palm plantations, and their role in biodiversity conservation, its become clear that there is quite a lot of variation in what different countries require by law.

I’m really interested in finding out how well the laws in place in different countries match up to the ecological recommendations. In particular, I’m looking for a description of how many meters of natural habitat have to be kept by the side of water bodies (rivers, lakes, or streams) – in the UK, for example, we only have to have 20m of vegetation on each side of a river (  Where I was working in malaysia for my PhD, the requirement varies between 5 and 50 m depending on the width of the river.

Theres lots of countries that it is hard to find the legislation for, so I’m now looking for help!

If you know where to find these requirements for your country, or the place where you do your research, and you might be able to help out, that would be great!  Either comment on this blog below or email me.

Thanks very much!

Data is art

I’ve recently been to some pretty inspiring events on data visualisation. Seeing information presented in striking, unusual and engaging ways is really exciting. There is a lot of detailed data out in the world, and a lot of different ways to make it accessible, beautiful and fun. Data visualisation skills are essential in conservation biology, a field in which communicating results to a wide audience effectively is really important.  There are a lot of info-graphics out there that immediately look exciting and then actually turn out to be confusing, or complicated and over-enthusiastically multicoloured, but luckily there’s a good number of really excellent graphics too.

Here are some of the things I’ve recently found and enjoyed looking at…

Carbon emissions by Stanford Kay, a pretty classic infographic:

Carbon Footprint

An infographic history of the world by valentinadefilippo highlighting how much of life is made up of single-celled organisms:

A reimagined periodic table by stefanie posavec showing similarities between different elements:


OneZoom is an impressive (although occasionally nauseating) fractal zooming tour of the history of the natural world:

The field of commemoration and listen-to-wikipedia-being-created-in-real-time are stunning entries into last years information is beautiful awards:

And if enjoying the images isnt enough… there are some big pots of money out there for the winners of data-vis challenges: