Category Archives: Ecology meeting at RedLoop (Middlesex University)

Continuing discussion of emergent themes from the CfI Water conference on 16
May 2014

Ecology meeting at RedLoop (Middlesex University): Cfi Water Conference

Continuing discussion of emergent themes from the CfI Water conference on 16 May 2014.

In attendance:
Simon Attfield – Computer Science, Middlesex University
Andy Bardill – RedLoop, Middelsex University
Richard Bullock – Biodiversity, Barnes Wetland Centre
Tom Dickins – Psychology, Middlesex University
Bob Fields – Computer Science, Middlesex University
Steve Kett – Natural Sciences, Middlesex University
Richard Lindsay – Environmental Research Group, University of East London

(Preamble) Richard Bullock (WWT) and Richard Lindsay (UEL) both spoke at the recent CfI Water conference in May. Richard Bullock is the senior biodiversity officer at the Barnes Wetland Centre and spoke about the conservation and survey work that he and his team carry out in Barnes. Richard Lindsay is the head of the Environmental Research Group at UEL, and is a leading authority on
peat land, which is a major water resource on the planet.

During lunch on the day of the conference it became apparent that both speakers would benefit from talking to a broader range of colleagues at Middlesex in order to explore some technological solutions to problems presented by their work. To this end the above group gathered at RedLoop on 10 June.

The meeting began with introductions and then moved rapidly into a round table discussion of core interests. Simon Attfield presented his work developing multistranded data tracking of individuals. This relied on tracking mobile phone signals and building a temporal map of movements around the globe at a high resolution of information. The work has been developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, but Simon is now keen to develop uses for such technology in the area of (human) behavioural ecology. Unfortunately Simon had to leave early but there is a plan for further discussion with colleagues in psychology. Before going, however, Steve and Richard Bullock raised various ideas around tracking animals on migration routes and also during daily behavioural routines, including diving to extreme depths in lakes.

Richard Lindsay discussed three problems – that of taxonomy, or identification of species; that of lost knowledge in trans-disciplinary research; and that of nature deficit syndrome and whether or not knowledge around this could be used to develop conservation policy. All of these ideas received much discussion.

(Focus) Richard Lindsay has spent a great deal of time developing a Photoshop™ database of 800 plant species. This was initially designed as a CD ROM database to train undergraduate students in taxonomy and identification, as dried plants and two-dimensional photographs in existing texts introduce much potential error. His database enabled students to zoom in on a number of images from different angles and develop a fuller feel for the plant. Since then he has also developed levels of interaction with the images, labelling in lay terms or more technically, asking questions designed to focus the attention of different kinds of user etc. with a mind to developing a more useful field and educational tool. In short, taxonomy and identification, especially in botany, is a lost skill but absolutely necessary for conservation work in peat land ecosystems and elsewhere. Richard Bullock wholeheartedly endorsed this view.

(Plan) The team has agreed to use the Barnes Wetland Centre as an initial project site to develop an app based technology that incorporates Richard Lindsay’s taxonomic and identification guide. This will allow a limited build for the app, with a useful context (Richard Bullock can use this with his team on survey work, as can his educational team). We might then look to expand the species to include those on Lundy, a field site used by Tom and Steve, in order to help with student work but also in collaboration with the warden, Beccy MacDonald. To this end we plan to visit Barnes in early September and assay the problem space. We can then plan a funding strategy to build this app, bringing on board all the above stakeholders.

Written By Prof. Tom Dickins