Second year Environmental Science Students investigate soil fertility and fertiliser inputs on local gardens and allotments

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


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 ( if you live in Earley and would like to take part in the survey.

National Student Survey Results

The NSS results for 2013 have now been published!

The results for Environmental Science are excellent, with 100% student satisfaction!

We also scored 93% for academic support, and 98% for organisation and management.

Here’s the breakdown of our Environmental Science BSc results:

and our Geography department scored very highly too. Here are the survey results:

Review on modelling climate impact on floods highlights large uncertainties in results

Road closed due to flooding

The UK has over £82 billion worth of assets at risk from river flooding and flooded homes cause misery to thousands of people.

The NERC programme Flood Risk from Extreme Events (FREE) is research to predict floods minutes to weeks and seasons to decades ahead.

Research by Dr Hannah Cloke, Reader in Hydrology, features in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society‘s Special Issue on Flooding from Extreme Events published  this month. The article underlines the challenges in using the current generation of Regional Climate Models for local climate impact studies on flooding.

Looking at the current best practice in modelling climate impact on floods with ensemble climate projections, the study highlights the stark differences in results when using different methods and also the strong assumptions made in using Model Output Statistics to produce the estimates of future river discharge.

Read the article on-line: Modelling climate impact on floods with ensemble climate projections

View the Special Issue: Flood Risk from Extreme Events FREE 

Read about the NERC FREE programme

Read about Dr Hannah Cloke



NERC Airborne Research and Survey Facility (ARSF) to assist with floodplain meadow research

Determination of radiance spectra (using a GER 3700 hyperspectral radiometer) on Yarnton Mead, an ancient floodplain meadow near Oxford.   PhD-student Suvarna Punalekar (Felix scholar, University of Reading). These data serve as calibration for the airborne remote sensing data.

Determination of radiance spectra (using a GER 3700 hyperspectral radiometer) on Yarnton Mead, an ancient floodplain meadow near Oxford. PhD-student Suvarna Punalekar (Felix scholar, University of Reading). These data serve as calibration for the airborne remote sensing data.

Anne Verhoef, Kevin White and Suvarna Punalekar a PhD student funded by the Felix Scholarship scheme, have been successful in an application to the NERC Airborne Research and Survey Facility (ARSF). The ARSF will fly the NERC -funded network of sensors project (FUSE) project site at least 3 times (weather permitting), possibly more often. Airborne remote sensing provides an efficient method for the rapid collection of data over a specified area.

The FUSE project is based at Yarnton mead an ancient hay meadow that is part of the Oxford Meadows Special Area of Conservation. The team are investigating the interactions between the hydrological, thermal and nutrient regime and the functioning of plant communities in this example of a floodplain meadow.
Some floodplain meadow ecosystems have evolved into highly bio-diverse plant communities due to the continuance of traditional management practices. These areas are important for flood storage and sediment retention. The UK now has less than 1500 ha of this unique habitat remaining and the habitat has been given protection under the European Habitats Directive. In order to conserve and better exploit the services provided by floodplain meadows, an improved understanding of its functioning is essential.

Anne Verhoef with the NERC Dornier 228 aircraft

Anne Verhoef with the NERC Dornier 228 aircraft

The NERC ARSF remote campaign with FUSE field observations gathered during 2013 will provide an important contribution to monitoring the biophysical properties as well as vegetation processes. The remote sensing and in-situ data will be used in conjunction with the SCOPE model, to ensure the derived information on the functioning of the floodplain ecosystem is mechanistically sound.

Read about the Fuse project

Hear the Naked Scientist’s interview with Anne Verhoef

See a video report on NERC’s scientific research plane, the Dornier 228 

Read about the SCOPE model

Read about ARSF