UCL Department of Geography
Recent Environmental Change and Biodiversity (RECB)
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Recent Environmental Change and Biodiversity (RECB)


Our central challenge is to develop methods to disentangle the influences of stressors that operate singly and collectively in driving environmental and biodiversity change and, increasingly, to identify the role of climate change in modifying ecosystem behaviour on both spatial and temporal scales, and especially over the Anthropocene.

The aims of the RECB research cluster are:
  • to develop methods to determine drivers of environmental change and ecosystem behaviour;
  • to assess environmental change over decadal to centennial timescales using long-term chemical and biological measurements and natural archives such as sediment records;
  • to understand the role of biodiversity in ecosystem functioning and in moderating biogeochemical cycles, especially of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus;
  • to assess the threats to biodiversity in both terrestrial and aquatic systems and its importance in providing resilience to external stressors;
  • to inform appropriate conservation and policy responses to ecosystem change and biodiversity loss.

The RECB form part of the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) and runs the UCL Environmental Radiometric Facility.

    For further information on the work of the RECB contact Neil Rose: n.rose@ucl.ac.uk

Research Themes

Our research falls under the following main themes:




Recent Projects


In addition to scholarly outputs (highlighted under our research themes and on individual staff pages) the research of the RECB has influenced public policy both nationally and internationally and been applied in the practice of public engagement and translational activities.

The RECB provided two of the Department of Geography's Impact Case Studies for REF 2014. More details can be found here.

RECB's Dr Carl Sayer (right) has recently been awarded the "UCL Engager of the Year" carl pic.JPGin recognition for his work with Norfolk communities on freshwater habitats. More information here.




awmn.jpgOur research into the effects of surface water acidification and the potential for recovery from its effects has influenced local, national and international agencies. The UK Acid Waters Monitoring Network (UK AWMN - now the Upland Waters Monitoring Network - UK UWMN), is the key provider of information on surface water acidification to UK Government and Devolved Administrations and is the sole provider of UK data and expertise to the UNECE International Cooperative Programme on the Assessment and Monitoring Effects of Air Pollution on Rivers and Lakes (ICP Waters). Through the Freshwater Umbrella Programme, also run from UCL, AWMN data have also been used to develop and apply critical load models for freshwater ecosystems on a national basis. As well as providing original, high-quality data to guide decision-making by DEFRA, these data are a major resource for organisations responsible for the management of UK upland water catchments and have additionally been used to determine the ecological status of key UK upland protected habitats and to guide upland forestry planting. Both the UK UWMN and the Freshwater Umbrella programmes are co-ordinated by our in-house consultancy ENSIS (Simon Patrick; Ewan Shilland; Rick Battarbee).

opal event.JPGOpen Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a consortium of projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund bringing scientists and the public closer together in a community-led study of local environments. The OPAL Water Centre, led from UCL (Neil Rose; Simon Turner; Ben Goldsmith) developed and managed an innovative educational national water survey programme accessible to people of all ages and abilities and promoted especially within disadvantaged communities. The Survey encouraged greater understanding of the aquatic environment through public participation in water quality and aquatic biodiversity assessment and used high quality research to link the community, voluntary and statutory sectors. The OPAL Water Centre particularly encouraged young people to participate in water science and to develop an interest in the natural world via school visits, demonstrations and events delivered by UCL staff. These activities led, in some cases, to the development of sustainable long-term initiatives supporting children’s ongoing engagement with freshwater monitoring and conservation. In May 2012, the Cub Scouts adopted a version of the OPAL Water Survey as part of their newly revised ‘Naturalist’ badge. The OPAL Water Survey pack remains available for free download from the OPAL Water website

Pond10_people_plant_June_2013.JPGOur research on aquatic conservation and restoration has been used to advise national organisations such as Natural England, The Rivers Trusts, National Trust, Angling Trust and The Wildlife Trusts as well as local conservation organisations, the general public and land owners and managers including the farming community (Carl Sayer). Carl is also co-founder of the award-winning River Glaven Conservation Group (www.riverglaven.co.uk).

Research on lake management, particularly the EU Water Framework Directive (Helen Bennion) has been undertaken with close collaboration from government and conservation agencies (e.g. Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage) to define ecological and chemical reference conditions for lakes. Helen is also an invited member of the UK Lakes Task Team which provided the evidence base to inform UK Government response to the EU Water Framework Directive and a member of the Environment Agency (EA) expert panel on diatom quality assurance.

PhD Students

Jen.jpgThis project aims to determine the influence of human-mediated pressures within the Selenga River watershed on the wetland ecosystem of the Selenga Delta;  to determine the sensitivity and resilience of the Delta wetlands to anthropogenic activities; to characterize the extent to which the impacts on the Delta are transferred to Lake Baikal.

ghost pond.jpgSince the Second World War many UK ponds have been lost to agricultural land reclammation. This project investigates the potential for restoring these ponds and the species that used to live in them. A particular focus is the role of the seedbank in the re-colonisation of aquatic macrophytes.

najas_flexilis.JPGThis project employs palaeolimnological techniques to assess the long-term dynamics of Najas flexilis (right) and other priority aquatic plant species in mesotrophic Scottish lochs and thereby to improve our understanding of the causes of the decline / loss of N. flexilis, particularly the role of eutrophication, but with consideration of the influence of invasive plant and fish species.

This project utilises data from terrestrial lidar scanners to create 3D reconstructions of tropical forests and woodlands to better estimate tree biomass.

HannahclilverdDGPS08.JPGRecent river restoration work has frequently involved floodbank removal to permit stronger hydrological interactions between rivers and their floodplains. This project examines hydrological and associated hydrochemical and floodplain vegetation responses to floodbank removal for a site on the River Glaven, North Norfolk, UK. More...

HelenG_on_tractor.JPGThe aims of this study are to investigate how terrestrialisation and restoration affect the chemical and ecological functioning of ponds and how pond management and restoration affect biological structure and species diversity, and it also asks whether pond restoration can return lost biological communities. The results of this PhD research will hopefully contribute significantly to knowledge of freshwater biodiversity conservation and have the potential to influence agri-environment schemes in the UK and across Europe. More...

The project aims to build on a study of diatoms in sediment cores taken in the 1990s from 26 lochs by Luciaanalysing the diatom record in new cores collected from a subset of those lochs to: (i) assess the degree of recovery in the lochs where nutrient loading has been reduced; (ii) identify whether the sites deemed to be minimally impacted remain so; (iii) evaluate the causes of change for those lochs exhibiting signs of enrichment or trajectories of change not seen previously, to determine shifts in wider ecosystem structure and function; (iv) detect any recent climate-driven changes in the ecology of deep, oligotrophic lochs.


Luke_fishing.JPGRecently, much river restoration work, with the aim of improving salmonid reproduction, has involved the introduction of gravels to rivers. This project is examining the success of artificial riffle introductions for egg-to-fry survival in relation to local and catchment-scale geomorphological controls. More...


shinta.jpgThis project looks at the family spectra of beetles on different Indonesian islands in relation to general island biogeography theories and anthropogenic influences, as well as in more detail at the diversity within selected beetle families.

Lucy's studentship will involve the Broads Authority as CASE partner

baikal.JPGSarah is particularly interested in using palaeolimnological techniques to reconstruct past changes in algal communities and water quality for freshwater lake management. Lake Baikal is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. However, this unique ecosystem is threatened by water pollution from industrial development and catchment land-use changes, as well as from climate and environmental change. Her research will mainly focus on using sedimentary pigment biomarkers (both chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments), to investigate the lakes primary production response to recent pollution and environmental change over the past 1000 years. Sarah's principal supervisors are George Swann and Suzanne McGowan, University of Nottingham.

hannah robson.JPGUsing a palaeolimnological approach for lakes in the Flow Country, Northern Scotland, this project is examining lake ecological change in relation to a recent decline of the common scoter, a threatened sea duck which breeds in freshwater lakes.

Kirstie  March 14.JPGThis project examines the potential to use diatoms as indicators in forensic geoscience and criminal investigation; undertaking various experimental scenarios in order to assess the transfer and persistence of diatoms as evidence in a range of environmental contexts. Supervisors Viv Jones and Nigel Cameron.

Emily’s project, funded by the London NERC DTP in partnership with the Angling Trust, aims to assess the threats posed by angling pathways of invasive alien species between the UK and neighbouring European Emily Smithcountries by way of biological surveys, experiments and interviews with anglers.

charlotte wheeler.JPGCharlotte is conducting research into tropical forest restoration. What management techniques acceleration biomass and species accumulation? How much carbon may realistically be sequestered through restoration?

MSc Courses

The research of the RECB cluster links closely with the following Masters courses: