Monday, 24 March 2014

BBC Science Cafe - radio interview

The other week I gave an interview for BBC Radio Wales` Science Cafe programme.

As part of their episode on the Bangor University Science Festival I was asked to talk about some of our latest research on wetlands.

Here`s the link to the interview which was on the BBC Science Cafe on March 11, 2014: BBC Science Cafe.

I enjoy doing publicity work like this; it allows me to use some of the skills I learnt during my years as a journalist, and it helps highlight the importance of wetlands.

Wetlands, especially in the UK, rarely get the limelight other "sexier" ecosystems do; such as forests and mountains - but I'd like to help change that.

Our wetlands control so much of our lives - both on a local and global scale.

They are the breeding and feeding grounds for countless species, they can prevent flooding, clean our water and even help control our climate.

Indeed, I'd argue, our very existence depends on wetlands.

So yes; I'm always happy to tell people how great our wetlands are!

Monday, 17 February 2014

BBC Wales interview: Borth bog fire

Following the fire on the peatland at Borth, near Aberystwyth, on Friday (February 14), I was asked to give an interview on BBC Radio Wales - Good Evening Wales.

It was a good opportunity to try and get across the importance of peatlands in Wales and to praise the work of Bangor University, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the other organisations involved in their study and management.

Here is the link for the interview: BBC Radio Wales - Borth bog fire

I also appeared on BBC Wales Today and gave some quotes to a number of other news groups:
The Independent
Daily Post
ITV Wales
BBC Wales
Belfast Telegraph 

There was plenty of social media activity about the story. However, my favorite tweet in reference to one of my quotes was from @garddwraig who said...

"Borth bog fire 'not caused by goblins', says expert on BBC website. That's a relief."

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Can bioswales stop flooding in the UK?

The flooding in Somerset and the south of England  has highlighted the need for a determined overhaul of the UK's management of flood waters.

Clearly the priority in many of the worst hit areas is to look at the maintenance of existing watercourses and how the catchment area is used further upstream.

But to effectively limit the effects of flooding a much wider view has to be taken with many different factors being taken into account.

One of these must be the role green infrastructure can play; in particular Sustainable Drainage Systems, or SUDS.

Many of our villages, towns and cities are expanding rapidly and as they do so areas which were once fields and shrub-land are coated in impenetrable concrete.

This means any rain that falls is quickly diverted, through guttering and drainage systems, into our water courses and rivers in one great flush.

The rainwater is never allowed to soak slowly down into the soil to join the existing watertable, as it did before the development, which would result in a more gradual and less extreme rising of nearby river levels.

The problem is becoming exacerbated with the ever diminishing size of gardens and green spaces; while the strain placed on overloaded existing drainage systems can cause localised flooding around drain covers.

One solution could be bioswales.

Bioswales are a form of Sustainable Drainage System (SUDS), which can be relatively small and incorporated neatly into an urban environment.

Bioswales  (sometimes referred to as a type of rain garden) are areas which can be built around drains on the sides of roads which allow water to soak down into the ground - preventing the rush of flood waters gushing into rivers.

The transpiration of specially selected plants grown in them to further help divert water away from drainage systems.

The existing drain still works in the usual way if needed, during heavy rain or storms, but when combined with the 'soakaway' abilities of the bioswale there is less of a risk of either the localised pooling or the large-scale flooding you often get from standalone drains.

Bioswales do not even need to take up much room; they can be the same size as many of the grass banks we currently have on our pavements - they just need to be constructed a little differently.

Bioswales can also help remove some of the pollutants in water runoff from our roads and pavements.

And of course, bioswales look good and add some much needed greenery and biodiversity to our urban areas.

The more research I do on bioswales as a wetland scientist the stronger I feel that they should become an integral part of not just any new housing and commercial development, but also our wider flood management plan.

Thankfully there is a push for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) to be used more extensively in the UK and I think the recent flooding will highlight this need even more.

Bioswales and SUDS are certainly an interesting topic for the MSc in Wetland Science and Conservation.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

New paper on wetland enzyme assays

I've just had a paper published on conducting enzyme assays on wetland soils published in the journal Wetlands.

The paper is entitled: "Methodologies for Extracellular Enzyme Assays from Wetland Soils".

My thanks go to my co-authors: Tim Jones, Astrid Girard and Prof Chris Freeman. It was a great team effort!

If you're interested you can get a copy by following the link and I've included a copy of the abstract.

"Measurement of extracellular enzymic activity in wetland soils can give an indication of the ecosystems biogeochemical processes, and rates of nutrient and carbon cycling. Analysis of these have allowed researchers to gain an understanding of the ecosystems’ microbial ecology and how it can be affected by environmental factors. Here we give a detailed description of the assays necessary to determine the activity of a suite of key hydrolase enzymes and phenol oxidases. These enzymes control the rates of decomposition and consequently the production of biogenic greenhouse gases. Knowing the processes responsible for the breakdown of organic matter is therefore essential if it becomes necessary to curb these emissions. Our protocols allow for cost effective analysis of a large number of samples and provide sufficient accuracy to determine differences between soil types. When coupled with contemporary microbial techniques these enzyme assays permit entire biochemical pathways to be determined, giving unparalleled knowledge on the processes involved in wetland ecosystems."

Read the full article here:

Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like more information about the paper.

Monday, 3 February 2014

World Wetlands Day 2014

Here's a press release I wrote for Bangor University about World Wetlands Day.

A renowned north Wales' Professor has highlighted the importance of Wales’ wetlands as part of World Wetlands Day.

Professor Chris Freeman from Bangor University has thrown his support behind the event aimed and at raising the awareness of wetlands across the globe.

The award-winning academic, who runs the UK's only postgraduate degree on wetland science, is using World Wetlands Day to highlight the vital role wetlands play in Wales.

Prof Freeman says many wetlands are under threat, despite having the potential to curb flooding, clean our drinking water and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide.

"For centuries we've neglected many of our wetlands, seeing them as a waste of land that needed draining for farmland or building on," said Prof Freeman.

"Thankfully we’re now realising the value of these ecosystems – both in terms of their biodiversity and ecological roles, and for the services they provide us.

“Salt marshes can protect our coasts; buffer zones along rivers can reduce flood damage; peatlands store more carbon than our forests; fens and marshes can help clean our water before we drink it and other wetlands provide us with a host of foods and resources.

“World Wetlands Day is a fantastic idea, it takes place every year on February 2 and events are held around the world to raise public awareness of our wetlands.”

Despite their importance some wetlands are still being lost through drainage and pollution.

Prof Freeman claims more needs to be done to protect them which is why he started the Wetland Science and Conservation Masters degree at Bangor University.

“Although we have so many different types of wetlands in Wales and the rest of the UK most people just don’t realise how vitally important they are to our very well-being,” he said.

“Our course aims to train a whole new generation of wetland scientists, so that we can not only learn more about the natural processes going on in these ecosystems but understand how they can best be protected.”

He added: “I’d urge everyone to take a walk around their nearest wetland on February 2 and find more about them – just remember to take a pair of wellies!”

If you would like to know more about the Wetland Science and Conservation MSc at Bangor University visit

So there you go - if you're interested in the MSc please visit the website and get in touch.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wetland Science & Conservation MSc

A few days after handing-in my PhD on peatland biogeochemistry I was offered a lectureship at Bangor University and asked to be course organiser for the new Wetland Science and Conservation Masters degree.

It was a fantastic opportunity and the result of several months of hard work by both myself and my supervisor, Prof Chris Freeman, in putting together the course structure.

We were encouraged and helped by the head of the School of Biological Sciences, Prof George Turner, and various other members of the school and university.

The course is now underway with a fantastic group of students who all seem to be really enjoying the lectures and fieldtrips.

If you'd like more information about the Wetland Science and Conservation MSc please get in-touch or visit

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Statistics for Biologists

Most of the biologists, ecologists and zoologists I know dread the moment they have to sit down with their data and start their statistical analysis.

Even those that understand the importance of statistics often don’t really know which test to perform or what the output actually means. And I have to admit, I’m one of them!

Or at least, I used to be. My understanding of statistics has got better in leaps and bounds since reading Professor Andy Field’s book. Discovering Statistics Using SPSS (Introducing Statistical Methods series).

I’ve pretty much read this book cover to cover and it’s great – I hugely recommend it.

For the first time I actually understand (within reason!) what test to use when, how to run it, what it means, how to interpret it and how to report it.

Prof Field really knows his stuff and, more importantly, can get it across in a way that actually makes sense.

Yes, he does go off on random tangents about his cats and his childhood, which I can see some readers would find annoying; but to be honest, I quite enjoyed it.

If I’m going to have to sit down and read a book on statistics I’d much rather there was a bit of humour in it rather than it being just a simple dry textbook.

That being said, if you want or need to use the book as a straight-forward, how-to set of instruction on using SPSS to run a statistical test, you can: the layout of the chapters and sections is very clear.

I especially liked the suggestions on how to actually report the results of each test, which some books tend to forget about.

I know some biology-type folk turn their nose up at SPSS, preferring mini-tab or R, but for everything I’ve needed to do so far SPSS has been great – and armed with Prof Field’s book I can usually get my analysis done (and crucially - understood) before they’ve even figured-out how to input their data.

So if you need to use SPSS buy the book from Amazon.