Knowledge exchange case studies: Biodiversity and ecosystem services

Garden sampling

Biodiversity research takes science to gardeners

The Biodiversity in Urban Gardens Project (BUGS) showed which garden features are best for biodiversity and the common recommendations for wildlife friendly gardens that hold truth. Huge numbers of gardeners across Sheffield took part and showed enthusiasm for finding out which species live in their garden and why. Widespread media coverage evidenced a broader societal interest and two popular books by co-investigator Ken Thompson have taken science to keen gardeners. BUGS showed the potential of gardens to improve urban biodiversity, capturing the interest of the policy community. A follow-on project was funded by Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment and Heritage Service, Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This work has inspired research projects and campaigns at the Royal Horticultural Society and informed the Local Biodiversity Action Plan in Sheffield.

Arthur Willis Centre - Green roof

Plant science fuels advances in green roof technology

Green roof technology is a growing industry in the UK and Europe, and has the potential to aid sustainable urban drainage, store carbon and create biodiversity habitat. Basic plant science on interactions between plant roots and symbiotic soil fungi, and their role in plant nutrient and carbon acquisition from the soil at the University of Sheffield has led to testing green roof materials for their resistance to damage by the roots of different types of plants. This has had commercial interest from a British and multi-national company, resulting in an initial investment of £36,000. It has also led to an EPSRC Cross-Disciplinary Feasibility Account across the Engineering, Landscape, and Chemistry departments, as well as with local Yorkshire SMEs, for the development of new substrates for green architecture.

Bees

Honeybee viral studies protect UK honeybee population

Honeybees are famous for the honey they produce but their real value is as essential pollinators: in this role they contribute over £200 million p.a. of services to UK agriculture. During the past 50 years the mite Varroa destructor has spread around the world killing millions of honeybees, by direct damage and by transmitting viruses, and it continues to represents the most significant risk to a sustainable UK honeybee population. Current NERC research at the University of Sheffield is using the honeybee-varroa-virus system to test theories on the evolution of virulence and chemical recognition systems. They are also investigating how the worldwide spread of Varroa has changed the viral landscape within which both honeybees and other pollinators operate. This includes tracking down the ancient forms of the honeybee virus in Hawaii to see if new viral strains appeared after the arrival of Varroa.

Peak District grassland

Impacts of atmospheric N deposition on UK semi-natural ecosystems

Increases in atmospheric N deposition is considered the third greatest threat to global biodiversity after land-use and climate change. The UK has a history of high N deposition rates due to its density of transport, industry and agriculture. NERC funded research at two of the world’s longest running grassland field simulation experiments, has shown that N deposition causes a shift in plant community composition and a considerable decline in the flowering of herbaceous species. Both significantly degrade the conservation and amenity value of these grasslands. Despite the negative impacts, research has shown the considerable ecosystem service these grasslands provide by locking in and storing the N deposition, stopping its re-release to the atmosphere and ground-waters. The work has direct policy relevance and has informed annual reports to Defra. Gareth Phoenix is a contributing author to Defra’s science policy synthesis report RoTAP (Review of Transboundary Air Pollution) which will become a main document for the scientific evidence supporting Defra policy.