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Over the Easter break more than 100 students and staff from the Geography & Environmental Science department set off to explore Berlin, Naples or Crete for their annual field classes. Topics discussed ranged from the social production of history, contested urban space and the ‘transition’ movement in Berlin; exploring the volcanic activity near Mount Vesuvius; and the interaction between humans and the environment, tourism and biogeography in Crete.

Our staff and students documented their adventures on social media, so check out the Storify posts below for a real taste of what they got up to!

Berlin

Crete

Naples

Naples

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UK Scout Jack Abrey, a first-year Geography student at Reading University, has recently embarked on an adventure with a difference – travelling to Madagascar with international charity WaterAid to help improve access to clean water and safe toilets across the country.

WaterAid works with the Scout Movement in Madagascar to campaign for water and toilets for all, and increase understanding of the importance of good hygiene among communities.

UK Scout Jack Abrey helps build a tippy tap at Kiadin'i Madagasikara Scout camp in Mantasoa, Madagascar. Credit to WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

UK Scout Jack Abrey helps build a tippy tap at Kiadin’i Madagasikara Scout camp in Mantasoa, Madagascar. Credit to WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Jack, 19, and fellow Scouts Hannah Kentish and Becky Alexander, took the trip in conjunction with the ‘A Million Hands’ campaign to link with their Malagasy counterparts and see first-hand the impact of life without access to clean water and sanitation.

They will share their eye-opening experiences with 65,000 Scouts from across the UK, who have committed to ensuring everyone everywhere has access to clean water and sanitation as part of A Million Hands.

The trio camped with their fellow Malagasy Scouts, rising early for sports and ending the days around the campfire. They joined sessions on the importance of clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, and helped to build facilities at the camp, such as ‘tippy taps’ – a cheap way to wash hands where there is no tapped water. They also worked towards breaking down the taboos that shroud periods by joining discussions on menstrual hygiene and ways to educate others, even incorporating the subject into their campfire songs.

The participants will use these activities with Scouts back in the UK to help them gain an understanding of these important issues.

The young Brits also helped pass on the lifesaving messages to the wider community through performances and demonstrations at a ‘Dobodoboka’ – a type of festival organised by the Scouts with WaterAid on a busy market day.

Jack Abrey, 19, is Chair of the Community Impact Group at the Scouts Association, which is leading on the partnership. He said: “It was great to see how Scouts are working with WaterAid in Madagascar to transform lives by educating people about good sanitation and hygiene, as well as advocating for more investment in these basic facilities. I’ve been energised to take action on this important issue in the UK the ‘A Million Hands’.”

Jack saw why the work of WaterAid and the Scouts is so important when they visited Ambonidobo, a village that relies on dirty unsafe collected from a dirty pond. Lalasoa, 13, explained how she has to collect water twice a day, carrying 20 litres at a time up a treacherous hill.

Lalasoa said: “Fetching water is really tough because we have to climb up a very steep slope, and carrying the water gives me neck and head pain. The water is muddy and dirty.” 

WaterAid is set to start work imminently in the community to introduce clean water, toilets and good hygiene practices. 

The UK Scouts saw the difference these basic resources can make when they visited Manakasina, a community where WaterAid has worked to help transform lives

Jack added: “It was mind-blowing to see the changes clean water and good sanitation can bring. These basic resources are vital for a healthy and prosperous life, and I’m so proud that Scouts in the UK have chosen to take action on this important issue. Even by taking small actions, together we really can make a difference in poor communities in Madagascar and across the world.

UK Scouts Jack, Hannah and Becky join Tatiana, Tendry and Dylan to collect clean water from a new water point in their village, Manakasina, Madagascar. Credit to WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

UK Scouts Jack, Hannah and Becky join Tatiana, Tendry and Dylan to collect clean water from a new water point in their village, Manakasina, Madagascar. Credit to WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

“We learned so much about how we can join together with our Scout family in Madagascar, and across the world, to help get clean water and toilets for everyone everywhere.”   

A Million Hands gives half a million Scouts the opportunity to keep their promise to help other people and take action on four social issues they feel strongly about.

Keith Dunmall, Youth Engagement Manager at WaterAid, said: “It’s easy for us to take clean water and toilets for granted, but far too many young people in developing countries live without these basics, impacting on their health, dignity, and education.

“The UK Scouts visit to Madagascar demonstrated how young people really can drive change by uniting across the world.”

You can view a short video about their experiences here.

 

About A Million Hands campaign:

The A Million Hands campaign is enlisting half a million Scouts to work with some of the UK’s biggest charities – Mind, The Alzheimer’s Society (Dementia Friends), WaterAid, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust – over the next four years.

The charities were chosen by Scouts themselves:

  • Ensuring everyone everywhere has access to clean water and sanitation.
  • Improving the lives of those affected by dementia.
  • Improving the lives of those disabled by society.
  • Improving the mental wellbeing and resilience of families.

A total of 209,000 young people have signed up to support A Million Hands; 34% selected water and sanitation as their issue, meaning around 65,000 will take action for WaterAid.  
For further information, visit: https://www.amillionhands.org.uk/
WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.  The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities.  Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation.  For more information, visit www.wateraid.org, follow @WaterAidUK on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • Around 900 children die every day from diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.
  • Over 650 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
  • Over 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
  • Just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water.

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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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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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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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#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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Out and about!

quantocksThe Department is planning a 4-day field class to Somerset and the Quantocks in the middle of the Autumn term for all first year students in Geography & Environmental Science. The focus will be on flooding – prediction, monitoring, social and economic impacts etc. with lots of opportunities to get out into the field to observe and record. There will also be plenty of opportunity  for students to work together in groups and to get to know each other and  staff during an interesting and varied week in  the beautiful landscapes of this part of part of Somerset.

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Private Sector Resilience

Photo Peter McMannersPeter Mcmanners, who is a member of the HERG Resilience Research Cluster, presented a seminar to geography students on private sector resilience. He outlined the significance of sustainability in the context of a business response. The underlying rationale for the private sector to engage with sustainability was explained. He also pointed out the limitations on business to apply their capabilities to fashion significant change to the way they operate. Business is constrained by investors with short time horizons and an overall expectation placed on business to focus on bottom-line performance. Many of the changes required in society and the economy, to deliver sustainability and resilience, have the characteristics of long-term systemic change. This is something we are not very good at. The culture of short-term results is not conducive to the long-term strategic planning required to deliver a resilient economy alongside a sustainable society.

Current research into sustainability in aviation was used to discuss private sector resilience within a particular case study. This exposed a policy stalemate where the aviation industry is held back and unable to advance towards a low emissions future. There is the potential for a bright future for aviation but it requires radical change. In a global highly regulated industry with substantial sunk costs there is little appetite for transformational change. Current research into a new model for aviation was outlined and discussed with different passenger segments based on the premise that flying slower could be the catalyst to develop a new generation of low-carbon air vehicle.

Finally, the seminar returned to the big picture of the global economy and an examination of the macroeconomic policy which sets the context within which business operates. Discussion was around whether economic globalisation will continue of whether the imperative of resilience will be the driver towards a more proximized economy. The seminar did not arrive at a definitive conclusion but raised the possibility of a transformation in macroeconomics to provide business with a different macroeconomic framework within which to operate.  As sustainability and resilience rise up the policy agenda, we are likely to see much more consideration of transformational change as policy makers accept that the current state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely. If the private sector is to play an active role in such a transformation, it will have to be part of a wider initiative orchestrated by politicians and policy makers.

The seminar was a thought provoking session which produced lively discussion and debate.

For further information: McManners, P. (2014) ‘Reframing economic policy towards sustainability’, Int. J. Green Economics, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.288–305.

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