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Uprooted – Brixton housing documentary at the Ritzy

A new documentary on the London housing crisis, partly based on research by Dr Stuart Hodkinson, is being screened on 5 June at the Ritzy, in Brixton. Uprooted, by award-winning director Ross Domoney, follows the last days of two residents on the Myatts Field North estate in Lambeth as it goes through a regeneration programme.

Dr Hodkinson's ESRC project explored residents' experiences of housing regeneration under the controversial Private Finance Initiative and will be talking about the Myatts Field North experience alongside residents.See a trailer here.

Cutting fuel costs and CO2 emissions

Cars of the future which advise how to drive more safely and economically could bring significant cuts in fuel consumption and emissions.

Eco-driving systems offer visual guidance to drivers, usually built in to satellite navigation systems or via smartphone apps.The systems are not yet widely available, but manufacturers are looking at installing them in their next generation of cars.

The ecoDriver project, led by the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds with industry partners including BMW, Daimler, CRF (Fiat-Chrysler) and TomTom Telematics, showed that drivers of cars which had such systems installed saved an average of 4.2% in fuel and CO2 emissions, with an even higher saving of 5.8% on rural roads. Embedded systems – ones built in to vehicles – were more effective than apps, with fuel savings of up to 6% (against an average 2.5% for the smartphone app).

The findings are the aggregated results of on-road trials in 2014-2015, which involved nine separate trial locations in seven EU countries, including around 200 drivers, 61 vehicles, 11 different systems and a total of 340,000 km driven.   Professor Oliver Carsten, Professor of Transport Safety and ecoDriver co-ordinator, said: “The results from our trials with a large range of eco-driving systems indicate substantial fuel and energy savings can be gained when drivers are given precisely tailored advice on the best speed and gear for cutting fuel costs and emissions, as well as foresight of how to drive when approaching a particular road or traffic situation.

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Freddie Draper wins Leeds University Postgraduate Researcher of the Year

Many congratulations to Freddie Draper who won the Leeds University Postgraduate Researcher of the Year award on the 8th December. This year’s awards focussed on the actual and potential impact of research; Freddie’s work, focussed on mapping and understanding the distribution of peat and biodiversity in Amazonian swamps has been used as the science basis for a new $6 million conservation project in Peru. This new investment is the first project to be funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF; www.greenclimate.fund/home), the major international funding mechanism that has been created to fund mitigation and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

The project will promote and develop sustainable ‘bio-businesses’, including sustainable palm fruit harvesting, with indigenous communities along the Pastaza and Morona rivers of the northern Peruvian Amazon. The GCF funding for this initiative is justified on the basis that these activities will protect the high peatland carbon stocks of the region – which were calculated based on Freddie’s work. The potential impact of Freddie’s work is, however, even larger. The location of this successful GCF proposal is only on the fringes of mapped peat deposits and does not include the areas with the highest carbon stocks.

The overall aim of on-going work with supervisors Tim Baker, Katy Roucoux and Ian Lawson is to support the development of sustainable protected areas across the whole of this peatland complex - an area of currently largely undisturbed tropical rain forest that is equivalent to the size of England.

More than half of all tree species in the Amazon may be globally threatened

Professor Oliver Phillips, from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds, said: "To put the threat to Amazon diversity in context, this unprecedented analysis shows that for each tree species found in the British Isles there are now up to one hundred and seventy threatened in the Amazon."

Forests in the Amazon have been declining since the 1950s, but scientists still have a poor understanding of how this has affected populations of individual species.

The new study compared data from forest surveys across the Amazon with maps of current and projected deforestation to estimate how many tree species have been lost, and where.

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Peatland Code could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions

A new Government-backed code has been launched that could slash UK carbon dioxide emissions by 220 million tonnes and protect rare wildlife by restoring moors, bogs and mires.

The Peatland Code wass unveiled at the World Forum for Natural Capital in Edinburgh on 23 November following a successful two-year trial, which has seen businesses fund peatland restoration projects in southwest England, the Lake District and Wales.

The Code is based on research by academics at the University of Leeds and Birmingham City University, which revealed that sustainable business investment could reverse the degradation of peatlands and significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Joseph Holden, from the School of Geography, who led research, said: “The peatlands of the UK are our own version of the Amazon rainforest. They need to be protected. They are home to some of our rare and endangered wildlife.

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Air quality management leaves poor behind

Analysis of a decade of air quality change in Britain has revealed that deprived neighbourhoods have benefited least from improving air quality, and bear a growing share of the remaining poor and failing air quality.

Using air quality data produced for government’s compliance reporting to the EU, a national spatial analysis of air quality change from 2001 to 2011 related changes in concentrations of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulates (PM10) to area deprivation. Levels of NO2 fell substantially over the period, whilst PM10 levels rose marginally, probably due to the increasing popularity of diesel vehicles.

The study, by Gordon Mitchell, Paul Norman and Karen Mullin, shows that air quality improvement was fastest in the most affluent neighbourhoods, nearly all of which now comply with the NO2 annual average standard. Of the half a million people that still live in an area that does not comply with this standard, 85% are in the most deprived neighbourhoods, up from 66% in 2001. No areas exceed the annual average PM10 standard, but over 9 million people now reside in areas above the more stringent WHO guideline value, of which 59% are in the most deprived areas.

The results, published in Environmental Research Letters, imply that the substantial national burden of disease from air quality  (29,000 premature deaths/yr from particulates and 23,500 deaths/yr from NO2) is increasingly falling on the poor. The authors call on government to make equity analysis part of their clean air planning, to ensure that the most vulnerable populations are treated fairly and adequately protected.

Gordon Mitchell, Paul Norman and Karen Mullin (In press) Who benefits from environmental policy? An environmental justice analysis of air quality change in Britain, 2001-2011. Environmental Research Letters, 10 105009.

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Unlocking the secrets of consumer behaviour

The Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), directed by Professor Mark Birkin of the school of Geography, launches its data services today, offering new data for researchers to garner unprecedented insights into consumer behaviour.

The multi-million pound Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) initiative, commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), is a collaboration between the UK's leading universities and a growing list of industry partners to better understand the millions of data points we generate each day. 

Bringing together the universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Oxford and University College London, the CDRC has created a safe and secure data infrastructure which seeks to share these insights with academia, industry and the public at large.

Whilst protecting privacy, data will - for the first time - be routinely collected and shared with the CDRC by major retailers, local government organisations and businesses across the UK to improve understanding of these complex patterns of consumer behaviour.

The aim is to use these findings to inform efforts to tackle a wide range of social and environmental challenges, such as improving transport planning, studying the latest ethical consumer trends to help companies understand how people are making buying decisions, or identifying different ways of encouraging people to lead more healthy and active lifestyles.

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New species of testate amoeba discovered by Graeme Swindles in Amazonia

Diverse ecological communities of Amazonia play a crucial role in the maintenance of the biosphere. However, little is known about the microbial ecology of Amazonia. During an analysis of litter from an Amazonian wetland we discovered a new species of testate (‘shell-forming’) amoeba (TA) we have named Arcella peruviana (Reczuga et al., 2015). Probably many more new species of microbe remain undiscovered in Amazonia. TA occupy top positions in the microbial food web and have a wide range of feeding preferences including bacteria, algae, fungi and other protozoa.

Owing to this connection with abundance and community structure in the lower trophic levels, TA are highly important in terms of soil nutrient and carbon cycling. It has recently been discovered that deforestation leads to net loss of diversity of soil bacteria, which may also inhibit the recovery of tropical forest (Rodrigues et al., 2012). This would impact the higher microbial trophic levels – including TA. Soil microbes represent the largest component of biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems and are important in terms of ecosystem functioning. Microbial biodiversity should not be ignored when considering the impacts of human activities and climate change in Amazonia.

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Climate change threatens precious UK ecosystem

An entire ecosystem is at risk from the effects of climate change on the UK’s blanket bogs, scientists at the University of Leeds have warned.

These wetland habitats provide important feeding and nesting grounds for bird species including the dunlin, red grouse and golden plover. Blanket bogs are also the source of most of our drinking water and vital carbon stores.

The scientists warn that the effects of climate change, such as altered rainfall patterns and summer droughts, could drastically affect bog hydrology, which in turn could affect insect and bird populations.

Study co-author Professor Joseph Holden is Director of water@leeds, one of the largest interdisciplinary centres for water research in the world. He said: “Our study shows the interconnectedness of our precious upland peatlands in the UK.

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Sir Peter Hendy awarded an honorary degree for services to transport

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Launch of the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

A new institute set up to help public and private sector organisations meet the challenges and opportunities of the Big Data revolution opens its doors today.

The Leeds Institute for Data Analytics (LIDA) offers state-of-the-art facilities in data analytics and will partner with researchers and organisations to help them make the most of the rapidly growing fields of consumer and medical data analysis.

Professor Mark Birkin, Director of LIDA, explained more about today’s one-day event, the LIDA Research Forum. He said: “Today is all about making sure researchers and organisations know about LIDA and the expertise, support and resources we can offer. 

“Using large and complex data sets presents huge challenges for organisations. They may be combining different data with their own sales data, analysing and integrating data from various sources, or simply thinking about diverse data sets that can be pulled together to reveal new insights.

“With all these challenges, there is a constant need for new techniques and tools, and to ensure organisations have the right data analytics capabilities. That’s where LIDA comes in – we’re a trusted partner that has developed world-class facilities under one roof, so we’ve raised the bar in standards of secure data storage, access and analysis.”

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New e book launched by Jon Lovett: When Worlds Collide

Making decisions about managing  natural resources can be difficult; this interactive book explores why fairness needs to be part of policy. Policies about managing nature should be economically and environmentally sound, but they also need to be formulated with social fairness if they are to be sustainable. Inevitably, when there are so many different values, conflicts occur and worlds collide.

This book examines a number of basic principles and applies them to two case studies. These basic principles can be applied in many different contexts and the case studies used in this book are drawn from all over the world. There are no easy answers to many questions about the management of nature, but an understanding of the principles we discuss and learning how to apply them will help you make better decisions.

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