WeCount is a citizen science research project funded by the H2020 SwafS-programme and aims to empower citizens to take a leading role in the production of data, evidence and knowledge around mobility in their own neighbourhoods. The project started in December 2019 and was designed to have lots of face-to-face engagement and interaction between the project team and citizens in five European cities and regions (Leuven in Belgium; Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Dublin in Ireland and Cardiff in the UK).
Just as the project started recruiting citizens and running workshops, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant restrictions on who we could meet and where we could meet them. Eventually, all WeCount countries went into lockdown, which placed additional challenges on delivering the project as it was originally planned.
Dr Margarida Sardo, from the Science Communication Unit conducted a short evaluation aimed at understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in running and delivering a large-scale, international citizen science project.
Main challenges faced by the WeCount team:
Reaching specific groups, such as senior citizens and low socio-economic groups
Fear of face-to-face
The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt created new challenges for some citizen science projects, but with hybrid approaches to participant recruitment and engagement, projects can still thrive. This study provides useful advice for creating the flexibility, adaptability, refocus required to overcome the challenges faced.
Based on the findings of this evaluation, Sophie Laggan has created a full infographic, highlighting both the challenges faced by the WeCount team, but also offering helpful approaches to counterbalance the impacts of the pandemic on delivering the project.
For a closer look at the infographic below or to download a copy, please click here.
I recently had the opportunity to produce a documentary about the concerning shortage of early career pollinator taxonomists in Europe. The film was made to complement a Science for Environment Policy (SfEP) report that I co-authored, about the important role of pollinators in the survival of the global ecosystem, and highlighting the vital role of monitoring them, to understand the causes of their declining numbers1. As a former TV documentary producer, and now science communicator, it is always enjoyable to revisit my filmmaking skills. But, for anyone contemplating making a film – whether it’s the first — or the twentieth they have made — it is always a little daunting and exciting to figure out where to start, and who will be your charismatic interviewees that compel your viewers to watch the film to the end?
The first task, after deciding on the outline of content for the pollinators report, was to come up with a list of topics for our client that the film could focus on. Our client, the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General, chose the decline in taxonomy — the classification of species — as a scientific discipline for the narrative focus of the film. Experts in this discipline are vital in monitoring pollinator populations in different habitats over time, to record the causes and effects of pollinator decline. This topic encompassed both professional and citizen science monitoring projects, as both are needed to understand the immense diversity of pollinators present in Europe, whilst collecting robust data over space and time to inform pollinator conservation measures.
On a budget
Budget constraints, coupled with a request from our client to feature scientists from across Europe set the parameters for the content of the film. Working within these constraints required careful consideration of how the film could be made — assessing content versus cost for each of the potential shoots we were planning.
For example, changing the logistics of a particular shoot, by asking an expert to travel to a more convenient location, saved a great deal of time and money. It is all too easy to become fixed on an approach when setting up a film, but sometimes, out of necessity and with flexibility, creative solutions can be found which end up working better.
To free up some additional budget I managed to negotiate a discounted rate with our camera hire company and due to the environmental nature of the films they part sponsored us to complete the project. Further savings were made when instead of hiring a sound operator to work alongside me on camera, I gave my colleague Michelle, a science writer on the report, on-the-job training on how to swing a boom. Michelle’s lesson, learned from one of our outdoor shoots, is to always wear long trousers when filming outdoors in a field to avoid biting insects! Similarly, I regretted my lack of hat on that shoot, as there was little shade. Preparation is key — always look at the weather forecast beforehand (and out of the window on the day) and bring all that you may need, including lots of water whatever the weather.
Securing the right interviewees for our film meant finding people who could tell the story of pollinator monitoring in Europe, covering both citizen science involvement and the need for professional career taxonomists. A longlist of potential experts had been recommended to us by our client, and this made the process somewhat quicker. However, we still needed to speak to these individuals and ascertain what they had to say on the topic, and how comfortable they might be at articulating their viewpoints for a non-specialist audience.
We were pleased to secure interviews with our scientific advisor for the written report, Adam Vanbergen, Director of Research, Agroecology, for the Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique, in Paris. In addition, we spoke to a pollinator expert based just outside Barcelona in Spain — Constanti Stefanescu, who manages a long-running citizen science butterfly monitoring programme. Constanti also helped us with another of the sequences on our wish list, filming a group of citizen scientists conducting a butterfly monitoring transect (a fixed-route walk on which butterflies are recorded). On this shoot we interviewed some of the dedicated citizen science volunteers, who, for a number of years, had been regularly monitoring butterfly populations near their homes across Spain. Their voices spoke of the joy of conducting butterfly transects, walking in the natural environment and contributing to a long-term scientific project.
The last two contributors we needed to secure for our film, were a late stage career bee taxonomist, and a new entrant scientist considering taxonomy. I focused my research on locating a female bee expert, to give balance to the film as both the other experts were male. These enquiries led me to Professor Concepción Ornosa Gallego, and her PhD student Daniel Romero in Madrid. I knew from my initial conversation with Concepción, that she was perfect for the film and keen to be involved — she preferred speaking in Spanish, so we recorded her interview in her native language, with Daniel kindly translating.
This was the first time I’d conducted an interview in this way, and it certainly made things a bit tougher in the edit. However, it worked well on location, and Concepción spoke eloquently about the current barriers discouraging young people viewing taxonomy as a good career choice, and how these might be overcome. She also showed us how difficult it can be to identify one species from another — when it comes to the thousands of bee species that exist, the anatomical differences can be tiny. This is in contrast to butterfly species, which are much easier to identify and lend themselves well to citizen science monitoring programmes.
We had a number of locations open to us at the University of Madrid — Concepción’s office, the ‘type’ collection of pollinators housed at the university and the botanical gardens. This gave us a range of filming options on the day, an important insurance for inclement weather when a recce trip prior to filming isn’t possible and there is only a limited time period for the shoot to take place.
Daniel’s interview gave the viewer the perspective of an early career scientist, who is currently choosing which path to take. Pollinator taxonomy was an option; however, he explained that the lack of jobs in this area, and difficulty in getting publications in this discipline in publications (which aid career development) put him off this choice. This is an issue he believes should be addressed to encourage more young people to enter this discipline. With many late career taxonomists set to retire, without more career entrants, we could be left with a dearth of expertise in identifying and monitoring pollinators, which are vital for the health of our ecosystems.
Having a balance of experts, early career scientists and volunteer citizen scientists, gives the viewer a range of relatable voices. It is important to reflect the diversity of the viewing public within your film as much as possible.
The interviews and actuality footage were secured, but the film still needed something to add visual interest and colour, which, when you are discussing pollinators, should be the critters themselves, pollinating in all their wondrous forms. The film was made with the available light and a standard camera, which is great for filming interviews in brightly lit rooms, or in a sunny garden or field, but not so good for filming small pollinators on the wing. Luckily, there is a plethora of amazing Creative Commons footage available on a number of websites, shot by members of the public or budding natural-history camera operators. This footage added the movement, colour and beauty of the pollinators to the narrative voices of the interviewees.
The editing and post production process are as important as all other aspects of making a film. I edited this film, but benefitted in doing so from the input of other members of the SfEP team, as well as several of the client’s team. These varied opinions help produce a good product. However, it is always good to remember the mantra of professional editors ‘that the client is always right’. This doesn’t mean that you cannot offer your perspective to them, but ultimately, they know their end aims and audience best.
The written facts that were chosen to appear over some parts of the film, were an important aspect of the finished product, as was the subtitling. The latter was the very last thing that was added, and it was rewarding to see the final subtitled product delivered to the client. The client and contributors were pleased with how the film conveyed the message about the import of monitoring of pollinators, and have distributed it amongst their networks, and at conferences.
The film highlighted the need for understanding and classifying pollinators whose enormous economic and social importance is crucial for raising awareness about the cascading effects that will ensue from their absence. However, it is worth noting that the current lack of evidence for some groups of pollinators should not delay the urgent work of putting in place solutions we know will help: creating and preserving bigger, higher-quality and better-connected habitat for pollinator species.
These are some of the questions that have emerged through Kitchen Cultures, a project that has been developed with the Eden Project’s Invisible World exhibition during lockdown as part of a remote residency. In collaboration with six migrant women+ of colour (all from formerly European-colonised nations) and no-waste chef Fatima Tarkleman (herself a first generation migrant of mixed Nigerian-Ugandan-Pakistani heritage), we created a process to gather existing recipes that referenced the diverse cultures, knowledge and experiences of our participants, and to develop new recipes that that could be used to reduce food waste in the home.
By creating new collaborative recipes that utilised preservation techniques to keep or extend the life of locally grown/available ingredients, this project seeks to:
Discover existing and create new recipes to address food waste;
Create cultural encounters that tell us something about food, migration and colonialism;
Include women who are often excluded from the conversations about sustainability;
Learn about different ways of thinking about sustainability from different cultures;
Create a relationship with the land in which we live now in order to take responsibility for its future.
As such this project does not intend to use these issues in order to justify the sticking plaster of reducing food waste in the home as an answer to systemic food inequality. It is possible to cheaply preserve foods at home if you have time, money, resources and knowledge to do so, and some of the outcomes from the project will enable you to do so more effectively. However, in order to properly address food poverty, we need agricultural and hospitality policy that supports a resilient food system, and the political will to create a more just and equitable society.
As a collective, what we feel is important is to think about ourselves and our food systems as implicated within an ecological system that is currently facing a major crisis. The primary aim of this project is to pluralise conversations about climate change and sustainability by drawing from the knowledge, experience and values of diverse cultural imaginaries. The practice developed thus sought to acknowledge and honour the ways in which ecological knowledge is held and communicated in families and communities through our food traditions, and to learn from them in order that we may find new ways to live ethically in a world that we share with multiple species.
Sustainability and colonialism
Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of climate change, contributing to emissions, fossil fuel extraction and deforestation. Global agricultural systems destroy biodiversity and create dependencies on industries such as GMO seeds and livestock, fertiliser and machinery which has created billions in farming debt. In the exchange value system, where fossil fuels were conceived as a direct replacement for slave labour on the plantation and in the factory, the bodies of black and brown people and land continue to be seen as cheap resources to be extracted for profit. Climate change as we currently understand it is implicitly constructed through the logics of colonialism, and explicitly maintained through the infrastructures of racial capitalism.
All of us involved in Kitchen Cultures are from countries that are living the legacy of colonisation in terms of the resources, people and land that have been extracted, and which formed the basis of the wealth that in the UK. Colonisation was an ideological project that reshaped the bodies, minds and lands of colonised people, and its legacy of globalised capital and cheap industrial labour is one of the main drivers of climate change today. The legacy of colonisation on the wealth, land and other resources in our countries of origin meant many migrant families moved to the UK to provide better opportunities for their children; we come from cultures that think intergenerationally, and as a result we tend to waste as little as possible (food or otherwise).
We know that there’s knowledge in diaspora communities that isn’t always visible to outsiders; our recipes tell the stories of who we are, of where we are from, where we have been, and where we live now; and the climates, resources and species we’ve encountered along the way. We wanted to create a space in which our participants could tell their stories, in their own words, or through their own practice(s) in a space in which they are the experts, their kitchens.
Over six weeks we worked remotely with our collaborators to develop recipes, and to tell stories, through poetry and through food. By working with diverse food preservation knowledge in partnership with holders of that knowledge from diaspora communities in the UK to develop recipes and processes, we wanted to invite ways of thinking sustainability and ecology from the perspective of different cultures (human, ecological, microbial). Starting as a simple recipe development exercise, it evolved into a community storytelling and recipe sharing project that, as a result of COVID-19, has predominantly run remotely on Zoom, Whatsapp, Instagram, and via discussions over the phone.
We were extremely lucky in this unprecedented time to get some funding from Eden Project to do this work, so we were able to facilitate access to the project through bursaries, and to cover all associated costs, including for home filming equipment. The recipes and stories that are the outcome from this stage will become a series of documents and workshops which will then be shared with communities around the UK via the Eden Project’s community outreach program. As they are shared, we expect that these recipes will evolve/adapt/respond to their context, and participant stories and recipes will be enriched through this network of cross-cultural sharing across the UK.
COVID-19 and connecting to others
We are living through extraordinary times; however, this moment offered us an opportunity: to address social isolation in marginalised communities; to think about and act differently towards nature; to learn from and value different ways of knowing the world; and to do all of this in solidarity with each other. By engaging communities (human and other) traditionally left out of debates about the future of science, technology and ecology, we might begin to address some of the systemic (racial, gendered, economic) inequalities in our society that have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through our experience of the collective grief, confusion and trauma, we felt that it was important to create connections between communities and people who might be experiencing isolation and disconnection. After the murder of George Floyd by police in the US, and the resulting wave of protests, there was also an increased awareness about the ongoing legacy of colonialism in the form of systemic and structural racism experienced by migrants daily. It was in this moment that it felt more important than ever to create a space in which PoC/BAME/global majority women+ could talk about their experiences of migration, colonialism and race in a way that was generative, healing and respectful.
Food is one of the ways in which we care for each other in our communities, and many of us come from cultural and cosmological traditions that consider nature (land, animals, rivers, trees) as part of these communities. By working collaboratively with each other, and by drawing attention to the organisms (bacteria, yeasts) in our environment and in/on our bodies who we also collaborate with through food preservation, I wanted to create conversations about what it means to care for each other when resources and opportunities globally are scarce for all species.
We’ve just completed the first stage of research with our participants, but the work is currently still in progress. We will be running the second stage of workshops with the Eden Project later in the year, with a view to developing a recipe kit that they can share as part of the Big Lunch next year. This is the first blog post introducing the project; in the future I hope to share some recipes and poetry that we are collecting from our participants, and to talk a bit more about the process we developed to conduct the research. We are also producing a short film, which will be available to watch on the Eden Project Invisible Worlds’ site as of December.
With just ten years left to change our carbon intensive lifestyles to mitigate climate chaos, urgent decisions need to be made about how we can reach net zero and clean air. Meanwhile, the Covid19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement show that citizen involvement in science communication has never been more critical to ensure a socially just transition.
At this critical moment, the ClairCity project has reached its final dissemination stage; Europe’s largest ever research project on citizen-led decision making for clean air and carbon reductions. Six cities and regions came together to share engagement methods to involve citizens in policymaking, namely, Amsterdam in The Netherlands, the Aveiro Region of Portugal, Bristol in the UK, the Liguria region of Italy, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Sosnowiec in Poland.
As a result of the project team’s efforts, 818,736 citizens were involved in some form or another. Of these, 8,302 were directly engaged through workshops, events, schools’ activities, mobile games and apps, and even videos, a number which far exceeded the expectations of the team.
Why was this significant? Because these 8,302 citizens all influenced clean air and climate change decisions in their local context.
Over four years, the project partners and Council officers made many collaborations with local community organisations and together with a strong social media presence, the project’s on- and offline presence grew. Through a variety of engagement tools, citizens were able to have their say on what mattered to them regarding transport and home heating and what they would like to see change to enable them to make greener choices. There were also candid discussions on the potential barriers to such changes to not only make these concerns known to decision makers, but to have a deeper understanding of the challenges and trade-offs that need to be made when taking policy decisions.
Equipped with this information, ClairCity was then able to consult policy makers about the policies proposed by citizens and discuss how to operationalise them. As a final step, the top citizen policies were modelled against current policy plans for each case study to assess whether citizens’ demands could affect future emissions and associated health impacts. In nearly every context, citizens were more ambitious than ‘business as usual’, with the exception of Amsterdam where the local government was in fact more ambitious than its citizens.
The aim of the evaluation was to see whether the project had fulfilled its aim of ‘raising awareness of environmental challenges and their solutions through proactive dissemination of the project outcomes’. To do this, we explored the demographics of participants and those less directly involved, examined indicators of awareness, attitudes, knowledge and enjoyment (so called Generic Learning Outcomes) and citizen’s intended behavioural changes. Additionally, we explored differences across countries, demographics and engagement tools, to understand perceptions in different contexts. Data collection was carried out through paper/online questionnaires, including pop-up windows in the game and app, as well as in-depth interviews with staff and social media analysis.
All tools exceeded their targets for audience reach, apart from the App which remained at BETA testing due to technical issues. The Delphi workshops were particularly impressive, with 4887 participants compared with 200 expected, and the ClairCity Skylines game, with 2,800 players worldwide compared with 1500 players expected. Both successes can be largely attributed to the on-the-ground outreach and marketing activities of our case study partners, who made connections with community organisations, produced flyers, spoke on the radio, attended events, and generally made lots of noise to attract people. The cities that spent less time and resources on this groundwork had fewer participants as a result.
Our social media platforms gained a lot of traction over the years, although they were again limited by time and resources available. Our Communication Coordinator in Bristol was able to orchestrate our main sites, resulting in (at the time of writing) 1,392 Twitter followers and 416 Facebook followers, and 36,482 website visitors. Sites managed by our partners – who weren’t dedicated science communicators – had considerably less traffic.
Data was collected for age, gender and educational attainment. Given the fact that ClairCity had targeted schools’ engagements, with several team members having direct connections to local schools, in addition to a mobile game, over 40% of participants were aged between 13-24. Working adults occupied around 50% of participants, and over 55+ represented less than 10%. This is quite an impressive finding considering most engagement projects fail to capture the full spectrum of ages.
63% of participants in the study identified as male. The biggest gender differential came from the game, with more than twice as many male players than female, which skewed the gender balance. Alongside this, many stakeholder workshop participants were senior men in regional organisations, which again skewed the gender balance.
Participants were asked about their education level in our workshops. 81% of respondents held a Bachelor’s degree or above. On the other hand, in the game, 79% ranked their level of knowledge on air quality as being low/none. In other words meaning, the game appealed to people with less expertise.
Both policy makers and teachers were asked about the usefulness of the tool relevant to them. An overwhelming percentage of policy makers found the policy workshop useful/very useful (95%), compared with a more modest percentage of teachers finding for the schools’ competition (61%). The schools’ activities have since been expanded following this feedback, and our Educator Pack (part one and two) is freely available online, and has been featured in the British Science Association Science Week pack, and through Sustainable Learning.
The majority of participants enjoyed or loved the activities in which they were involved. Both the Delphi and Stakeholder workshops greatly improved participants’ understanding of air quality (88% and 82% more understanding, respectively). 39% of game players left with more understanding, however for 45% their understanding stayed the same. The app mainly left people with the same understanding (47%), or feeling confused (18%).
Perhaps one of the biggest findings was in regards to behaviour change. At least half of all participants in the Delphi workshops, game, schools’ activities and stakeholder intended to change their behaviours as a result of their involvement (58%, 80%, 67% and 79%, respectively).
Upon cross-comparison, it was found that the more participants enjoyed the activity, the more they reported that their understanding of air quality had improved. Similarly, the more participants reported that their understanding had improved, the more they reported that they would change their behaviour. Younger people and those with lower education to start with were more likely to say they would change their behaviour. All of these relationships were highly statistically significant.
Ultimately, the more enjoyable the engagement activities, the more people gain understanding about the issues, and the more likely people are to make a change to their behaviour to reduce air pollution and carbon emissi0ns, and improve the health of our cities.
Reflections on the evaluation process
In future we would recommend other projects take additional time to target women’s groups, or develop ‘tools’ that appeal to women
While efforts were made to reach representivity through undertaking the Delphi process in low socio-economic status neighbourhoods, in hindsight we would have worked harder to amplify under represented voices. Recent Black Lives Matter protests have been a stark reminder of the need to make our work inclusive..
Working on an international project presented issues with translating the website and evaluation forms. More dedicated evaluation time, or expert science communicators in each country, would have helped researchers who were less experienced in social science research methods.
We benefitted from having evaluation embedded from the beginning (rather than an add-on), and as such designed our evaluation methods to work in different contexts and cultures
Most ClairCity staff found engaging with citizens challenging (due to not having experience in this) but highly rewarding. By the end of the project the vast majority stated they have enjoyed engaging with citizens. This was a rich experience in terms of new skills, with our staff reporting to have learned how to pitch their ideas, how to talk to citizens and how important is to listen to people as well.
If you are interested in our experiences, or in benefitting from our reports, please check out our website for a variety of resources and tools to aid future citizen-led decision making on climate change and air pollution.
and traffic congestion are among the main causes of poor urban living and have sparked
rising concerns about the negative impact that transport has on people’s health
and wellbeing in urban areas. According to the European Environment Agency, air
pollution caused 400,000 premature European deaths in 2016. As several European cities in Europe embark on
bold action to improve local transport and promote the use of alternative and
clean modes of transport, citizens are now mobilising to have their voice heard
and to actively participate in local transport policy development.
WeCount (Citizens Observing UrbaN Transport), a new
Horizon 2020 funded project, aims to empower citizens in five European cities
to take a leading role in the production of the data, evidence and knowledge
that is generated around mobility in their own communities. Five cities: Madrid, Ljubljana,
Dublin, Cardiff and Leuven are coming together to mobilise 1,500 citizens throughout
the coming year (2020) by following participatory citizen science methods to co-create
road traffic counting sensors based on the popular Telraam experience in Flanders.
A number of low-cost, automated, road traffic counting sensors (Telraams) will be mounted on each participating household’s window facing a road, which will allow authorities to determine the number and speeds of cars, large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Furthermore, it will generate scientific knowledge in the field of mobility and environmental pollution and encourage the development of co-designed, informed solutions to tackle a variety of road transport challenges.
intends to establish a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism to gather data in
these five pilot cities. Data will then be used to formulate informed solutions
to tackle a variety of road transport challenges, thus improving quality of life
at the neighborhood level. WeCount aims to break down technological and
societal silos, by putting citizens at the heart of the innovation process. The
project is the perfect vehicle to not only generate data but also promote and
support citizen advocacy to work towards cleaner and healthier cities.
UWE is one
of seven knowledge partners involved in the WeCount project, a list which
includes SMEs, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. UWE is participating
alongside Transport & Mobility Leuven, Ideas for Change, University College
Dublin, University of Ljubljana, Polis and Mobiel 21.
WeCount operates under the Research and Innovation Actions funding scheme, as facilitated by Horizon 2020 and the ‘Science with and for Society’ programme. WeCount will run until November 2021 and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 872743.
Details of the project were also featured in a recent UWE Bristol press release.
There are around 5,000 former metal mines in England and Wales, and many hundreds of thousands globally. Many of these mines have a legacy of highly polluted wastes, which can pose a risk to water quality and human health. As metal supplies diminish and new sources of metals are needed, especially for use in smart technologies, the potential to extract metals from these mine wastes is being examined. However, they often support important habitats and species assemblages, or are important for their historical significance. For example, around 20% of former metal mines are associated with Sites of Special Scientific Interest, around 14% are protected by European designations including in the lead mining areas in the Pennines and North Wales, and the tin-copper mines of Cornwall. Around 15% of former metal mines in England are in a World Heritage Site including the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (Sinnett, 2018).
Much of the research and policy concerned with the management of abandoned mine wastes is focussed on environmental protection, landscape quality and the need to balance this with the conservation of nature and, to a lesser extent, heritage. In recent years there have also be a number of studies examining the motivation and preferences of those visiting restored mineral extraction sites.
However, there has been very little research on how local residents value their mining heritage and their preferences for its long-term management. This is important as it is ultimately local people who are affected by both the positive and negative impacts of this legacy, as well as any changes to the status quo. It is also essential to ensure that local people are supportive of any plans for the management of the sites. Understanding their preferences and concerns can inform this process.
We undertook some research with residents of former mining areas to address this gap in our understanding. Specifically, we explored the following questions: how do those living in former metal mining landscapes value them in terms of aesthetic appearance, role in preserving cultural heritage, nature conservation and tourism? What are the preferred options for managing abandoned metal mines?
We used the Q Method to examine the preferences of those living in six areas of metal mining in England and Wales. Q Method allows participants to ‘sort’ a series of statements based on the degree to which the statement represents their perspective on a subject. We selected a set of statements from the academic literature, policy and articles in local press. They covered a range of opinions and options on the mining legacy and its management.
Our analysis revealed five perspectives:
Preservationists want to maintain the status quo, and recognise the value of the mining landscape for its industrial heritage and nature conservation. They want former mine sites to be left alone, and protected, primarily for their heritage value.
Environmentalists are more motivated by water quality and pollution mitigation. They feel that that mine wastes would benefit from vegetation establishment and recognise their contribution to nature conservation. They value the role of experts.
Industry supporters prioritise the local economy and are the most supportive of mineral extraction in general and the reworking of mine wastes, feeling that it would create jobs and bring in new people.
Nature enthusiasts prioritise vegetation establishment on mine sites. They recognise the contribution mine sites make, or could make, to nature conservation. They want to see the sites restored, feeling they should not be left as they are.
Landscape lovers are focussed on improving the aesthetic appearance of the mine wastes. They are most concerned with the impact of mines on the landscape, but are open to the idea of reworking the mines to aid the local economy.
There were also several areas of agreement:
All residents prioritised water quality to some degree, with environmentalists and landscape lovers in particular feeling very strongly that this should take precedence over heritage features and nature conservation.
They also felt that the preference of the people living locally should take be a priority in deciding the future of the post-mining landscape, with most disagreeing that the future management of mine waste should be expert-led.
In summary, we found that most residents view their mining heritage positively for the cultural and ecological benefits that it provides, but they are concerned about the adverse impact on water quality and the lack of vegetation on many sites. There may be some support for metal recovery from abandoned mines if it is combined with high quality restoration that mitigates water pollution and revegetates the sites, whilst preserving their cultural heritage. Residents must be part of the process – too many feel that landscape decisions are taken out of the hands of local communities and do not benefit them.
Sinnett, D. (2019) Going to waste? The potential impacts on nature conservation and cultural heritage from resource recovery on former mineral extraction sites in England and Wales. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 62(7), 1227-1248. Available from https://uwe-repository.worktribe.com/output/852458.
I’ve never decided the fate of a large slice of land before, fictional or otherwise. Stepping into the shoes of town planners and developers at Sci Comm South West 2019, participants in the workshop ‘Can you solve the city’s sustainability dilemma?’ were given the opportunity to explore the decisions that need to be made when considering urbanisation, city growth and the all-important sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Ruth Larbey, a Science Communication Unit (SCU) expert in communicating science to environmental decision-makers, gave us a simple brief. We had two minutes to make an elevator pitch (as in, the time it takes for a long elevator ride) to convince a representative of the fictional city, Swester, that our vision for a newly available two acres of inner-city land was most suitable for the needs of the city and its residents.
We were split into groups
and given an idea to pitch. I found myself in the camp proposing the building
of a new leisure center. However, we were up against fierce competition in the
forms of: a business incubator, a renewable energy company, a community farm,
and housing developers.
The UN’s SDGs had to be
considered and we had to pitch how our idea would best integrate ecosystem and
biodiversity values, contribute to sustainable urbanisation and best provide for the
local community. We were to use our powers of persuasion to convince the city
authorities that ours was the best use of the land for the sustainable growth
of the city and would best improve the health and welfare of its residents.
Before we started our pitches, we were also given the following information
about the city of Swester:
Developing IT and technology sector
Fast growing population
Need for more affordable housing
Lack of green space
Lack of facilities for exercise
High air pollution due to increased number of cars
High rates of medical conditions, such as asthma,
cardiovascular diseases and diabetes
Considering the above
problems, here are the pitches proposed by each stakeholder group:
As housing developers,
Orchard Housing unsurprisingly suggested a new local development. They promised
30% affordable housing to fill the gap in the market and suggested a shared
community allotment to maximise green space. The houses would incorporate renewable
designs and architecture in line with the SDG of integrating ecosystem and
biodiversity values into local planning.
suggested the land would be best used as a solar farm. They wanted to turn
industrial land into business space and work alongside Swester’s growing tech sector to
develop the city into a green business hub. Their aim was to move the city
towards being carbon neutral and providing local fuel discounts to help
alleviate fuel poverty.
Swestershire Sports were pitching the
idea of a new sport and leisure centre. Their argument was that a sports center
would improve the physical and mental health of the population of Swester, thereby relieving some
of the pressures of an unhealthy and increasing population on the local
hospital. They suggested school schemes and discounts for residents who would
not otherwise be able to afford membership.
Temple Seeds are a
community group interested in food growing. They proposed that the land would
be best developed into a community farm to address the lack of green space and
improve air quality, local food production and community isolation. The farm
would be a hub of growing knowledge and organise food swaps as well as
allotments and an education center to teach children about food.
West Country Innovation
The business hub wanted
to bring jobs to the local economy. They suggested a business park of remodelled
shipping containers, highlighting that it would bring more jobs within walking
distance, thus reducing residents’ reliance on cars for transport and alleviating
air pollution in the process. The park’s design would be in keeping with the
SDGs and would provide some, if not all, its power from green sources.
stakeholder group was also given the opportunity to choose one other group to
partner up with and share the development space. Given the city’s lack of green
space, most groups chose to pair with Temple Seeds, as they felt a community
garden could be the most easily incorporated into their design.
What I found most
interesting about this exercise was considering not just the immediate benefits
of each idea for the land, but also the benefits from every angle, and then
trying to cram all those benefits into just two minutes of talking.
We realised that the communication
of science and policy is what would make or break our pitches for the land, and
so had to really think hard about how to maximise all the ways in which
our ideas fitted the needs of the community and the requirements of the SDGs.
It made us appreciate how precious development land is, particularly with
increasing populations and scarcer resources.
Deciding a winner was
difficult. All pitches were made convincingly, and all had their own merits for
the community and for the environment. They also all had their own challenges
in implementation, but in the end the best pitch won – I’ll let you decide
which that one was.
words on the screen are drifting in and out of focus… lithium-ion and
sodium-ion, redox flow and redox couples… and, errrrrm, what does ‘roundtrip
April 2018. I have just returned to work
after a sleepless year on maternity leave and been tasked with writing a report
on battery technologies and their environmental impacts.
an honour to write about such an important topic – batteries are critical to
renewable energy systems and e-mobility – and I am excited about the job ahead.
faced with this seemingly insurmountable, not to mention impenetrable, pile of
scientific papers upon which to base the report, it’s also easy to feel a
pull myself together. I know that I can do this because I’ve been here before,
having successfully delivered reports on a
diverse set of topics, from green finance to fish farming – as baffling
as some of these topics may have seemed at first.
sure enough, six months later, Towards the Battery of the Future (as the finished report is now
titled) is being handed out to warm approval at high-level international
conferences and EU meetings, deemed worthy of attention by top-tier
policymakers and captains of industry.
a glow of satisfaction, I pat myself on the back for having mastered a topic
that, initially, I knew very little about. I’m also chuffed to have played a
role in sharing the science with wider society.
the Battery of the Future is one of a number of reports I have worked on for Science for Environment Policy over the past 8 years. It is an example of a research
synthesis – a publication which weaves together research, often from multiple
disciplines, to support or influence policy.
Science for Environment Policy’s case, we distill research to help policymakers
protect and enhance our environment.
can tell you from my time on these reports that producing a research synthesis
is a tricky business. I am just starting work on a new report which explores
the wonders of pollinators, and it feels a good time to reflect upon how best
to go about a research synthesis.
increasing body of scholarly work is assessing the role and impact of research
syntheses, and various techniques for creating them1. This has yielded
some interesting principles and frameworks, which provide valuable food for
thought and guidelines for action.
blog post is my nuts-and-bolts contribution to the discussion and, below, we
have a handful of pointers, drawn from personal experience. These helped me take
the batteries report, and those before it, on the journey from a mystifying
blur of pixels to a bona fide
publication, and one which may just make the world a better place.
1. Talk to real people
chat with a well-selected expert can clarify more about a topic than days of
scouring through research papers (and certainly more than could ever be gleaned
on the batteries report really got going after some enlightening conversations
with the commissioning policy officer in Brussels and my trusty scientific advisor in Germany. Both helped define
what we really need to focus on.
does the weight of evidence sit? What are the big debates and unknowns? And,
seriously, what does roundtrip efficiency actually mean?
these chats, the words on my screen start to snap into focus, and, armed with a
list of useful keywords, I feel ready to take on the research databases and
build this report.
turns out roundtrip efficiency is really a very simple concept. Need to know: you don’t want your
batteries to leak too much energy when recharging).
2. And talk to lots of different types of people
lost count of how many people contributed to and reviewed the batteries report.
These helpful souls not only offered useful details, but also balance with
their diverse backgrounds, from transport to chemicals.
it’s not just scientists and policymakers who can help. Businesses, consultants
and community groups, for example, are all a treasure trove of information and
have been transported from my desk in a grey suburb of Bristol to tropical
forests of Central America and windswept fish farms of the Baltic Sea, courtesy
of telephone conversations with astonishingly obliging contributors.
my tabula rasa outset for each
report, I do often feel a little ignorant during these chats. I’ve not quite forgiven the guy who actually shouted
at me for asking the wrong questions (owing to my ignorance on the particular topic
of the report at the time), but I did come out of that conversation much more
knowledgeable than when I went in.
the more people involved in a report, the longer it takes – and the risk of
missing publication in time for key policy events increases, diminishing the
report’s potential impact. In practice, synthesis writers are often faced with
the challenge of finding the best way to produce robust content within short
timeframes (see also: limited budgets).
3. Your reference manager is your best friend
seen many a writer get in a twist attempting to manually manage the reams of
references that make up a report. Problems often arise as a report continually
shifts in form throughout its development; citations get lost, bibliographies
adopted Mendeley to overcome these issues, and do all the awkward formatting
for me. It’s not perfect, and I’m always keen to know how others deal with
their references, but it sure makes life a lot easier.
4. Keep on truckin’
is the research that goes into developing a report, and not the actual writing,
that drains the most time and energy. A day spent filtering and reading papers
can amount to just two or three short paragraphs of text. Producing a research
synthesis report is, at times, frustratingly arduous.
as Towards the Battery of the Future gradually morphed into a rounded product, I
was reminded of why I went into science communication in the first place: it’s
the perfect excuse to learn new things. The process of translating between the
languages of science and the ‘lay person’ is also something I find undeniably
Indeed, as I submit the final draft, I’m wishing I could make my own efficient roundtrip – to go back and do it all again.
Michelle Kilfoyle, Science Writer, Science for Environment Policy
The early part of the summer of 2018 saw the UK facing a heatwave and a lack of rain affecting many parts of the country. In some areas dairy farmers hit by a lack of rain needed to supplement grass-fed cattle with silage (normally used in the winter months). Many UK residents however remained unaffected, and may have enjoyed the stretch of BBQ weather and the certainty of being able to leave the house in their shorts without a brolly or jacket to hand! There are those who find it hard to believe that the UK, which is perceived as a wet and rainy country, can be severely affected by drought and water scarcity.
The UK is reliant on rainfall to fill its reservoirs which provide water to homes and businesses across much of the country. Industries such as farming and horticulture as well as the environmental sector are effected by drought and water scarcity. Summer water shortage as a result of a lack of precipitation can also be accompanied by high temperatures – a heatwave – which affects many sectors including fire services and medical settings, as vulnerable people can be susceptible to dehydration or heatstroke. These phenomena are nothing new, with drought and water scarcity being evidenced in the UK for as long as records of precipitation and river flow have been kept – well into the early 1800s. Recent droughts in 1976 and 1990 are still alive in the memories of many. With climate change, extreme weather events are more likely in the future and, as such, drought and water scarcity awareness is important to encourage people to embrace water-saving behaviour changes, and understand that this is something that affects the UK.
‘About Drought’ is a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded project designed to maximise the impact of UK research on drought and water scarcity, and to engage diverse stakeholders and publics with the outputs from the UK Droughts and Water Scarcity Programme. As part of the project, a series of films will be produced aiming to debunk some common misconceptions about drought and water scarcity. This first film in the series introduces the viewer to people with expert knowledge on drought and water scarcity in the UK and the effects it can have.
A new UWE project is working with artists and community organisations to creatively engage the public on issues around healthy urban development. A team from the project has recently been in Barton Hill listening to local people’s ideas on how to improve the area.
Cities are fascinating places to live. And Bristol is no exception. It frequently makes the top-spot for ‘best place to live in the UK’, due to its ‘small city that feels like big city’ vibe, with beautiful scenery, green rolling hills and easy connections to the countryside. It is also overflowing with creativity, from its industries to its thriving arts scene. Most people you speak with say they love living here! Yet despite all the praise, Bristol has many inescapable health issues. Chronic air pollution, growing levels of inequality linked with malnutrition and obesity, fly tipping, drug use, crime, increasing rent and house prices… there is a lot these Top 10 lists forget to consider.
When talking about who should address these issues the response may be ‘it’s their responsibility’ – whoever ‘their’ is. In reality, we all have a part to play in the health of our city. We cannot blame any one person because the design of our cities often make it hard for us to make the healthy choices.
Take food. If you live in a poor household then statistically you are less likely to have access to fresh food in your area and have increased exposure to food high in fat, salt and sugar. In an average day, we are exposed to 100s of food adverts, from billboards to supermarket promotions and TV ads, and may walk or drive past dozens of fast food shops – if you live in a poor part of the city this number will often be higher. Clearly it’s not just free choice here, the design of our cities and regulations are important factors in determining our health.
For a growing number of Bristolians, they have to make daily trade-offs about what to prioritise for their health.
In a recent Bristol Mag article one person was quoted as saying: “Food has to come low on the list of priorities in my household, the same as it does for so many others. Rent has to be paid, or my family will be hungry and homeless, rather than just hungry…”
With the health challenges continuing to mount, especially among the poorest of society, it feels like we are almost at breaking point. Something has to give.
So what can we do about it?
This year UWE Bristol launched Our City Our Health (OCOH) to ask the public just that. Over the past year, they have been gathering public opinion to feed back to researchers and city decision makers so health is prioritised in cities.
Keen to think outside the box when having these conversations, they drew on Bristol’s creative talents. They commissioned Luke Jerram to create Inhale, a giant diesel-soot particle to visualise air pollution and commissioned a graffiti artist to paint a Park Replacement Service so we could imagine what life might be like without green space to roam. They even worked with residents and artist Andy Council to produce their Shape Our City consultation, which allows you to step inside the shoes of decision makers and trade-off health priorities with a limited city budget. There is still time to have your say. Head to: bit.ly/shapeourcity.
Sophie, the project coordinator says: “OCOH is not only influencing decision makers; it is a campaign to encourage the public to take a more active role in city decision making. Most of us are aware that our neighbourhoods are rough around the edges but there is a real sense in Bristol that we are prepared to pick up a sander and smooth out the diamonds. We’re here to offer the sanders!”
So in addition to gathering ideas for a better Bristol, the project is helping to put these ideas into action in Barton Hill and Lawrence Weston – two areas where poverty levels are higher than the Bristol average.
In July, OCOH together with Ellie Shipman, a Bristol-based participatory artist, organised a lunch at Barton Hill Settlement, with lunch provided by a local women’s group. Over 50 people came along to share food and recipe ideas and discuss their health priorities for change. Several eager children then led a banner walk around the neighbourhood, with their parents pointing out all of the things that make the area an unhealthy place to live. Based on these conversations, the project is now connecting local residents with UWE’s Hands On Bristol to address some of these health challenges. A similar event happened a month later at Blaise Weston Retirement home.
“Architecture students are being set a design challenge and must work with the residents to create an action that improves the health of the area based on their priorities. They’ll also create a toolkit for other residents in Bristol, showing them the steps they need to take to create their own action,” explains Sophie.
The challenge began this month and will end in late November with a party in each neighbourhood to celebrate. Keep an eye on their social media to find out when @ShapeOurCity
For more information about the project visit: bit.ly/OurCityOurHealth, or contact Sophie on Sophie.email@example.com