Giuseppe Feola spent three weeks in February and March 2016 doing fieldwork in south-east Kazakhstan. He was accompanied by postdoctoral researcher Tristam Barrett and worked in close cooperation with colleagues at the Institute of Geography in Almaty. The team also benefitted from the support of the Local Community Fund, an NGO which runs an agribusiness centre in Shelek, near one of the research sites. The research team set out to collet data for the project “Climate change, water resources and food security in Kazakhstan“.

 

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

Moment of group discussion during the multi-stakeholder workshop in Koram

The first phase of the field work involved organising and conducting two multi-stakeholder workshops in the villages of Koram and Karaoi. Both villages have experienced serious water management issues in recent years, and the workshops allowed the research team and the participants to identify the major challenges faced by the water management system in the each location. The workshops enabled productive discussions across the boundaries that traditionally separate farmers, local authorities, NGOs and local scientists, and therefore helped unravel the complex relations between the challenges faced by different actors in dealing with water use in agriculture. For example, the workshops clearly showed that, while climate change affects water availability in this region, infrastructural inadequacies and financial and organisational issues play an important role in limiting the adaptive capacity of the farming system to climate change.

 

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

Map of the challenges faced by different actors in the local farming system in Karaoi

The second phase of the field work involved field visits and semi-structured interviews with 21 participants . With the aid of a mental mapping technique, the interviews allowed us to grasp the interviewee’s understanding of the water management system, in its infrastructural, environmental, and institutional dimensions. Moreover, the interviews also focussed on ongoing adaptation strategies. These include, for example, spontaneous rescheduling of water supply rotations among farmers and farmer self-organisation to clean some of the main irrigation canals and fill the gap let by the inability of the responsible state organisation to maintain the irrigation infrastructure.

 

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

Example of a mental map of the water system in Koram

This research will improve understanding of agricultural adaptation to climate change in south-east Kazakhstan, but it also sheds light on the still ongoing post-Soviet transformation of agriculture in this country.

 

You can read more about Giuseppe at his staff profile and personal webpage.

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By Georgina Smith, Rhys Bolt, Robyn Plummer, Alan Monk and Eleanor Wright

students

A group of five second year students have been set the task of investigating how people use fertilisers and pesticides in their gardens and allotments and the impact on soil fertility as part of a 20 credit real-life environmental consultancy module on the BSc Environmental Science and Geography degree programmes. This study will focus on the Earley area, which is located within the Loddon catchment.

How will this research help the wider community? This is an ideal opportunity for residents to get their soil tested for free. Phosphorus, nitrogen, pH and organic matter will be measured.  All factors are important for plant growth, and therefore knowing these soil properties will help residents understand their current soil fertility to inform their choices about the amount of fertiliser to apply.

How will students use the data?  The data obtained from the door-to-door survey and the analysis of soil samples will provide the students with information to produce quality analysis of soil in gardens in Earley and further information on the level of fertiliser and pesticide use.  Soil fertility will be compared to soil samples collected from the University of Reading farm at Arborfield to see if gardens are more or less fertile than farmers’ fields used for crop production. It is important to stress that all data will be anonymised and presented as aggregated values for the area, as strict data protection procedures in place.

“This is an exciting project as we know almost nothing about soil fertility, fertiliser and pesticide use within people’s gardens and allotments” says Dr Joanna Clark, module convenor.  Many urban areas were not mapped when the Soil Survey produced soil maps for England and Wales. Gardens and allotments are not subject to the same regulatory controls as agricultural land.

The project is being run in collaboration with Hampshire and Isle of Weight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) who host the Loddon Catchment Partnership (LCP).  The LCP is part of a national network of Catchment Partnerships established to enable communities to take action to improve the quality of their water environment.

Please get in touch with Dr Joanna Clark (j.m.clark@reading.ac.uk) if you live in Earley and would like to take part in the survey.

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sarah_neal_thumbnailWe are pleased to welcome Dr Sarah Neal (University of Surrey) as this week’s speaker in the Human Geography Research Cluster seminar series.  She is a Reader in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey, and has researched and published widely in the fields of race, ethnicity, multiculture, community, belonging, place and policy-making.  She will be speaking about ‘Elective conviviality and community imaginings: the social and ethnic dynamics of social leisure organizations in diverse urban places’.

In this she notes that there has been something of a ‘convivial turn’ in the research approaches to understanding contemporary urban social life and everyday social relations. In its early formulations conviviality emphasised the social processes of multicultural populations getting along in an unstable, adapted, contingent living together and recognized the contradiction of both resentment and resilience around ethnic tensions and conflicts. However, conviviality has more recently drifted towards a focus on passing civilities, light socialites and ‘low social demand’ interactions of disconnected, diverse but proximate populations. In turn this thinking has been questioned for overstating these interactions and their connective possibilities. In this critique conviviality is defined more as an urban etiquette or civility for managing and masking older hostilities and racialised anxieties.

Her paper asks how then might it be possible to go beyond these positions and argue for the revival and relevance of the concepts of community to conviviality thinking?  The paper uses qualitative data from Living Multiculture, a two year, ESRC funded research project (2012-2014) to explore how membership of, and relationships within, a variety of social leisure groups in three different English urban geographies can throw light on the dynamics of sustained encounters of cultural difference and social care over time, within localized and affective geographies, emphasizing a collaborative doing and social exchange within a variety of (semi-formal) social leisure groups.

She will be speaking in the Sorby Room, Wager Building from 13.00-14.00 on the 4th February.

 

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In the latter part of November 2015, one of the SAGES doctoral researchers, Saeed Abdul-Razak, had the immense privilege to deliver a presentation to kids of the Fulham Preparatory School in London. The presentation was on the ethical dimensions of climate change and sustainable development with over 120 students in attendance. The talk employed interactive approaches including videos (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRLJscAlk1M), pictures and questions to the audience.

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

Harvey Glover presents fair trade chocolates to Saaed

The kids were introduced to the causes of climate change, development problems around the globe, the new 2015 -2030 sustainable development goals and the role of climate change in achieving these goals. There were case studies from Ghana on climate change mitigation (precisely REDD+) and climate change adaptation (for coastal communities) to explain the ethical implications of climate action.

 

The ethical dimensions aspect of the topic was treated in light of decision making and processes between developed and developing countries at the international level; elites/authorities and citizens at national level; and for the community level, it focused on the vulnerable such as women, children, the poor, etcetera. The presentation concluded on a positive note by encouraging the students to go green, to think globally but act locally as the earth’s resources are finite and human action/inaction are important factors that impact everyone.

Letters from kids of FPS

Letters from kids of FPS

In appreciation for the talk, the school’s current head boy, Harvey Glover, presented Saeed with a jug of fair trade chocolates. A couple of weeks after the talk, the kids wrote lovely letters appreciating the talk and Saeed’s time; some expressed their new inspiration to be green; others had follow-up questions and the remaining expressed how informative the presentation was and how they shared the new knowledge on sustainable actions with their parents, families and friends in order to ‘save the future’.

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Professor Danny Dorling

Professor Danny Dorling

Our first speaker is Professor Danny Dorling who is a social geographer well known for his popular social science texts on injustice, inequality and population. He is currently the Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford and has previously worked in Newcastle, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and New Zealand. With a group of colleagues he helped create the website www.worldmapper.org, which shows who has most and least in the world. Much of Danny’s work, which concerns issues of housing, health, employment, education and poverty, is available open access (see www.dannydorling.org), and his recent books include “Population Ten Billion”, “The Social Atlas of Europe” (with Dimitris Ballas and Ben Hennig), and, in 2015, “Injustice: why social inequality still persists”.

His talk – “Cohesion, sustainability, equality and education… is geography the missing link?” – is about ideas inspired by pictures, graphs and world maps. Through trying to answer the question – what is it in the differing nature of the economy of cities and regions which results in different outcomes? – he explores why social cohesion and trust is higher in Japan than in the UK and questions how we can make cities more sustainable in general.
His presentation will look at some summary statistics for 25 affluent countries and thus for the largely urbanized populations within them. The UK and Japan are very different states in that household income inequality is very low in Japan and very high in the UK. An updated version of these statistics are presented and then the relationships between economic inequality and over consumption of goods, of meat, of food in general, of water, of clothes, or air flights and of gasoline is considered.

Finally, he compares the education outcomes of countries and argues that it is hard not to conclude that, at least statistically, the UK comes out of any comparison poorly when it comes to cohesion, sustainability, regional inequalities, and city planning, and general educational ability. Japan (again as a comparator) appears similar to other more efficient and more equitable countries. However, even in Japan people consume too much and do not trust each other enough. If everyone in the world behaved like an average citizen of Tokyo we would still need two planets to live on. If they behaved like an average citizen in London we would need nearer four planets.

He will be speaking in the Sorby Room, Wager Building from 13.00-14.00 on Thursday 21 January.

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studentsBSc Environmental Science students Valentin Meneveau and Jennifer Lam present posters at the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) conference.

Jennifer’s research worked to improve the resistance and resilience of soils to extreme flooding events. She discovered that by diversifying farming practices, soils could resist disturbances to a greater extent.

Valentin’s project investigated the genetic basis for arsenic accumulation in the leaves of vegetable plants and was able to identify specific genes that allowed the vegetables to resist elevated levels of arsenic in the soil.

UROP provides exciting opportunities for undergraduates to work with staff on research projects across the University, contributing directly to the creation of knowledge, building new skills and strengthening the link between teaching and research.

The UROP scheme gives undergraduate students in the middle years of their degree* the chance to work on real research projects alongside academic researchers, contributing to the creation of knowledge. UROP placements last six weeks over the summer break and are paid- students receive a bursary of £1,320.

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Congratulations to Jumpei Fukumasu for winning the 2015 BSSS MSc Dissertation Award for his dissertation on ‘Is there a stronger relationship between N-acquiring extracellular enzyme activity and nitrogen mineralization in disaggregated soils than in aggregated soils?’, supervised by Dr Liz Shaw (presenting the award).

Excellent work, Jumpei!  Competition this year was particularly tough, with many excellent nominations from students who achieved a distinction in their dissertation module.  Well done to all our students for their fantastic research.  We wish all of them the best of luck with their future career and thank them for their hard work and dedicated whilst at Reading.

BSSS-dissprize-2015

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Congratulations to the winners of the annual Soil Research Centre Photo Competition! We had a fantastic range of entries this year, which you can view at the album here.

First Prize

Jackie Stroud: Earthworm in action!  Earthworm feeding at night on surface organic matter (crop residues)

First Prize - Jackie Stroud

First Prize – Jackie Stroud

Second Prize

Ian Davenport: In arid and semi-arid regions, cyanobacteria use light and water to grow filaments that bind soil particles together, forming a crust that helps to prevent erosion.  Photo from Diamantina, Australia.

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Ian Davenport, Second Prize

Highly Commended

Rob Jackson: Banana plantation: Reading, Medellin and UMass Dartmouth student team sampling soil along a transect in a Colombian banana plantation to discover novel biocontrol bacteria

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Rob Jackson, Highly Commended

Erika Degani: Sampling earthworms at UoR Sonning Farm as part of a PhD project assessing the relationships between crop rotations, biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Erika Degani, Highly Commended

Well done to all!

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#iwill Ambassador Blog

Abrey5On the 24th November 2015, I travelled to the Wayra Academy in Central London for the #iwill announcement event – where my new role as an ambassador officially began.

So, what is the #iwill campaign?

“#iwill is a national campaign that aims to make social action part of life for as many 10 to 20 year-olds as possible by the year 2020. Through collaboration and partnership it is spreading the word about the benefits of youth social action, working to embed it in the journey of young people and create fresh opportunities for participation.” –Step Up To Serve

The campaign is all about harnessing the energy and talents of the UK’s young people and using that energy to undertake positive social action, be it locally, nationally or internationally. It recognises the dual benefit of social action: you help others and in doing so, you help yourself! Be it personal satisfaction, skills development, employability etc. social action truly is a dual benefit activity. I believe EVERYONE should get involved from helping to break the wholly unacceptable stigma surrounding mental health (especially in young people), fighting for clean water and sanitation globally, to reducing social isolation in those living with Dementia – the opportunities and possibilities are endless. Find your cause and get cracking!

Abrey3

During the event I had the honour to meet and chat social action with none other than HRH The Prince of Wales (a patron of the campaign). He is a true believer in the power of young people and has invested hugely in ensuring our media image improves – we’re not all ‘yobs’ despite being referred to as such 591 times in national newspapers in 2011.

Change affects our generation in a big way. But we’re going to be the generation that affects change in an even bigger way.

#iwill, will you?!

 

Jack Abrey, Geography (Human and Physical) 1st Year

If you want to read more about why I’m an ambassador you can follow this link to my Ambassador profile.

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Somerset Field Class

Students happy to see some autumn sunshine!

Students happy to see some autumn sunshine!

145 Geography & Environmental Science students visited Somerset during Enhancement Week for their first field class! Dr Steve Musson gives the details below…

Students often tell us that field classes are one of the most memorable and enjoyable parts of their University experience. At the University of Reading, we are always looking for ways to get beyond the lecture theatre, where we can put research skills into practice. Our first year students have just come back from Somerset, on a brand new three-night field class that developed new skills and left plenty of time for students to get to know one another – and our teaching staff – better.

We travelled to Kilve Court Field Centre, near Bridgewater in Somerset, during the mid-term Enhancement Week, in which students take a break from their normal teaching routine and develop new skills. Somerset is an ideal place to encounter a wide range of geographical and environmental processes and our research activities covered cultural and social geography, biogeography and quaternary science.

Reaching the top of Glastonbury Tor

Reaching the top of Glastonbury Tor

We arrived at Kilve Court in dramatic fog, which made it difficult to get a sense of the surrounding landscape that included the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. After dropping off our bags and checking in to the accommodation, we made the short climb up to Quantock Common and were delighted when the fog cleared above 180 metres. We emerged onto warm, sunny heath land, while the fog remained in the valleys below us. Students discussed the vegetation change we had seen during the short climb and the cultural significance of this special place.

Over the next two days, we divided into smaller groups, with each rotating through four half-day fieldwork activities. In Glastonbury, Dr Steve Musson led a climb up the famous Tor and students spoke to local people about the myth and legend associated with the area. Professor Hannah Cloke shared her expertise in hydrology to explain the recent flooding of the Somerset Levels and the special role water plays in the local culture of the Isle of Avalon.

At nearby Shapwick Heath, Dr Nick Branch and Dr Hazel McGoff gave students their first experience of sediment core sampling. Analysis has continued back in our labs at Reading, to reconstruct the environmental history of the area over tens of thousands of years. Dr Geoff Griffiths introduced students to landscape ecology, modelling the impacts of woodland planting on flooding. Again, we are using sophisticated spatial analysis software to interpret our results back in Reading.

The Somerset Field Class is the first part of the Research Training Pathway that runs through our degrees in Geography and Environmental Science. There are more field class opportunities in the Second and Third Years, to places like Berlin, Crete, Naples and Almeria. These develop advanced-level skills that build on the work we did in Somerset and allow students to plan and carry out their own fieldwork as part of their Third Year dissertation.

 

Check out the Storify of the trip for the best tweets & photos!

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