Microplastics in Freshwater Environments

Over the summer, second year undergraduate student Pieter Fourier will be working alongside Dr Annie Ockelford and Dr James Ebdon as part of the Santander University Research Scheme.  Thanks to generous funding provided by Santander Universities and the Centre for Aquatic Environments, the scheme provides an opportunity for undergraduate students in the middle years of their degree to contribute to real research projects alongside academic researchers at the university.

Rivers are key vectors in the transportation of microplastics from terrestrial environments into marine environments.  As such, it is important to understand what factors are actively altering the behaviour and subsequent movement of microplastics within freshwater systems. Previous work has shown that growth of bacteria called biofilms alter river dynamics since they grow over sediments forming a cohesive, organic mat that binds sediments together. This posed the question as to whether or not the exact same processes will alter microplastic dynamics within river systems. Pieter’s project will run for six weeks and will quantify the extent to which biological factors in rivers influence the behaviour of sediment and microplastics.


The first phase of the project will focus on collecting naturally occurring biofilms by placing a series of bricks in a river for the biofilms to grow on. Once the bricks have been colonized they will be extracted and placed into an incubation flume to grow over different grain sizes of sediment which Pieter will then test. The biofilms will be allowed to grow for up to four weeks.  After defined growth periods they will be transported to an experimenting flume in which they will be subjected to different flow rates to test how strong they are and assess how they affect sediment transport rates and microplastic movement.

Climate, Oceans and Coastal Communities Conference (FREE event)

Thursday 10th October 2019 – 17.30 hours to 20.30 hours – Huxley Foyer and H300

Organised by: United Nations Association (London and South East), Centre for Aquatic Environments (University of Brighton) and Sussex Wildlife Trust 






The Paris Agreement, convened by the United Nations, marked a decisive global and historic event by calling for all governments to keep global temperature rise as close as possible to 1.5 C and therefore calling for a drastic reduction of greenhouse emissions.   However, global warming and Climate Change keep having disastrous consequences around the World and more is needed, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  In October 2018 the IPCC released a special report that highlighted the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C in order to prevent some of the worst-case scenarios.  The report was clear that greenhouse gas emissions need to come down by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 to keep the crucial target.


This important Conference on Climate, Oceans and Coastal Communities aims to help understanding the environmental, economic and social consequences of global warming and climate change among coastal communities, at global and local level. We will have experts in the fields of the Environment, Social Sciences and Economics, providing analysis, sharing their perspectives and offering crucial potential solutions, encompassing a holistic approach to climate action. The Programme will allow for the audience to raise questions to the Panellists in order to engage with the different topics.


We will aim to strengthen existing and new Climate Action Networks, enabling potential coordinated regional actions in our Coastal Communities.


The Conference will also include a networking session, wine and nibbles.


17.30       Registration and networking – Huxley Foyer
18.00       Opening of Conference – Huxley 300
Professor Chris Joyce
Rt Hon Stephen Lloyd MP
18.10       Keynote speaker: Professor Andrew Church – Huxley 300
18.30       Film – Dr Corina Ciocan (including introduction) Huxley 300
18.45       Networking and nibbles – Huxley Foyer
19.30       Sussex Wildlife Trust film – Huxley 300
19.35       Keynote speaker: Dr Adriana Ford – Huxley 300
19.55       Panel discussion (4 panellists) – Huxley 300
20.30       End of conference

Keynote Speakers:




Professor Andrew Church, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research and Enterprise)
University of Brighton

Professor Andrew Church is the Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) at the University of Brighton. He is also Professor of Human Geography focusing on human-nature relations and especially water and cultural ecosystem services. Andrew works on international collaborative research projects and was a Coordinating Lead Author on the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

“How we damage nature and what we might do about it”

Since 2000 a number of major assessments of the state of the global environment have been undertaken by The United Nations. The latest assessment has focused on identifying recent changes in biodiversity and has revealed some major declines in a whole range of marine and terrestrial species. Climate change has been at the heart of these assessments that reveal how society is dependent on the benefits we get from nature whilst at the same time human activity is rapidly degrading key parts of the natural environment on which we depend. This lecture will outline the findings of the latest UN assessments completed by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in 2018 and 2019. It will consider what politicians, business and all of us might do to limit the damaging impacts of human society on nature.



Dr Adriana Ford
Centre Manager, Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society
Imperial College London/King’s College London


Adriana is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist and project manager who has worked on a variety of environmental issues, including fisheries and coastal communities, wetlands, invasive species, ecosystem services, environment and health, and community-based environmental management. In 2019 she joined Imperial College and King’s College to manage their new wildfires research centre. Prior to this, Adriana was coordinator of the Greenwich Maritime Centre at the University of Greenwich, and worked with Natural England and the Marine Conservation Society on the Living Coast project. She maintains a strong interest in marine social sciences and is on the committee of the RGS Coastal and Marine Research Group.

“Climate Change, the consequences for the Blue Economy ”

Dr Ford will discuss the above as her keynote presentation.

Stephen Anthony Christopher Lloyd (born 15 June 1957) is a British politician and current MP for the constituency of Eastbourne. He was elected as a Liberal Democrat. On 6 December 2018, Lloyd resigned the Liberal Democrat whip as his party’s position on Brexit was inconsistent with his pledge to his constituency that he would “respect the result” of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. Lloyd now sits in the House of Commons as an Independent, but remains a member of the Liberal Democrats party.

Born in Kenya, Lloyd was privately educated in Surrey, before working first as a commodity broker and then in business development roles. He moved to Eastbourne to launch a political career, becoming the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate and then MP for the town.

First elected in the 2010 general election, he served for all five years of the 2010–2015 UK parliament and supported the Cameron–Clegg coalition. Having lost his seat in the 2015 general election, Lloyd went on to regain it in 2017 and served as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on matters concerning the Department for Work and Pensions.




We are very pleased that RS Aqua have agreed to sponsor our conference.   If you would like to become a sponsor please e-mail s.m.armsden@brighton.ac.uk for further details.

Please register to attend the conference here

Multidisciplinary FIELD workshops


Had an amazing time in Aljezur, at FIELD workshop, working on a comprehensive database for field exercises, an active network of people interested in field work and a flowchart to help course leaders to set up (or improve) their field course. I would encourage PhD students and early career researchers, who are participating in field courses, to register for the next round from Sept 2019 to March 2020. Take a look at the details below and come and have a chat with me if interested!  Corina cmc28@brighton.ac.uk


OneHealthWater MST workshop 11th to 14th June 2019

Last June, Dr Diogo Trajano Gomes da Silva (University of Brighton) ran a 4 day capacity building training workshop on “The application of low-cost phage-based microbial source tracking (MST) tools for monitoring and assessment of drinking water sources in Kenya”. The workshop took place at Maseno University Kisumu Campus (Kenya) from 11th – 14th June 2019. It was organized through a collaborative research project between the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Victoria Institute for Research on Environment and Development (VIRED), University of Southampton and University of Brighton. The project dubbed “Drinking-water under a “One Health” lens: quantifying microbial contamination pathways between livestock and drinking- water” is funded through by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund via the Medical Research Council.

Microbial source tracking (MST) is a process of identifying a particular source (such as human, cattle, or bird) of faecal contamination in water. During the last two years the research team has developed a MST protocol, using human-specific and animal specific bacteriophages infecting Bacteroides species that can be used to identify human and cattle faecal contamination in water sources from  rural Kenya. The result is a relatively ‘low-tech’, economically feasible approach to MST that offers potential for elucidating diarrheal diseases transmission pathways, particularly in complex settings where non-human faecal inputs are commonplace and where the detection of the etiological agents of disease are limited by their low environmental prevalence.

Potential New Coastal Management Measure for Sussex

The Kelp forests which were prevalent along the Sussex coast disappeared in the 1980’s. As well as being an important habitat for the marine eco systems these forests have the potential to dampen some of the offshore wave energy, thereby helping to reduce coastal flooding and erosion. The Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Association (IFCA), are looking to see if it is possible to re-introduce Kelp forests to the Sussex coastline.

With her interest in nature-based approaches to coastal management, Dr Heidi Burgess took a work experience student along with her to help IFCA with a boat-based survey.  At a number of sites along the south coast IFCA have video recorded the state of the sea-bed, surveying the physical condition of the seabed along with any visible flora and fauna. The Centre for Aquatic Environments have been helping out by profiling the water column at these survey points to provide a baseline understanding of the water parameters.


Coastal Rewilding

As soon as the exams and marking were over members of the Centre for Aquatic Environments  travelled back down to the Gower Peninsular in South Wales for research field work.

For the previous two years Dr Heidi Burgess and Dr Jonathan Dale have been have taking hydrological, suspended sediment and bed elevation measurements from the Cwm Ivy marsh, a natural managed realignment site. This year Dr Niall Burnside, Dr Maureen Berg and PhD candidate Conor Strong added vegetation and aerial geomorphological survey expertise. This multi-disciplinary team will combine drone surveys (funded by NRW), vegetation (from NT Wales), sediment and hydrological data to build up an understanding of how this new intertidal wetland is forming and developing.

As climate is changing and sea level rising it is becoming increasingly unsustainable to hold the line of some coastal defences, as is the case at Cwm Ivy where the old sea wall was defending low quality farm land. Therefore land, which may have been historically reclaimed from the sea, is re-inundated by sea water creating new intertidal habitat. This ‘re-wilding’ and the formation of mud flats and saltmarsh has a range of benefits such as carbon capture, bird habitat, fish nursery grounds and reduction of energy from storm waves, to name but a few. However, humans do not really understand the details of the complex physical, chemical and biological interactions which occur during the transformation from terrestrial to inter-tidal environment. There is an urgent need to understand these fundamentals processes if we are to adapt our management of coastlines in the light of the climate emergency facing this planet.

For more information on Cwm Ivy see:https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/whiteford-and-north-gower/features/cwm-ivy-where-the-sea-comes-in


Niall and Maureen conducting one of the drone surveys

Getting stuck in(to) the bog; Talking Wetlands and Culture in Cork – Dr Mary Gearey

Cork’s River Lee was in fine fettle as I walked along it at Pope’s Quay on the way to meet Dr Maureen O’ Connor at University College Cork’s School of English or Scoil an Bhéarla, to give it its Gaeilge (Irish) equivalent. A wet Spring meant water was in abundance, and the surrounding hills were the sparkling green of early Summer. Situated fifteen kilometres away from the coast, Cork city is shaped by its’ water networks. The central part of the city is an island surrounded by the river; and its’ nearby harbour is one of the largest natural inlets in the world, providing this Southern part of Ireland with transport and economic links with America and the rest of Europe. Cork’s Irish spelling Corcaigh means ‘marsh’ and the surrounding wetlands were the reason for my networking visit to meet Dr O’Connor, on a research trip generously funded by the University of Brighton’s Centre for Aquatic Environments.

Figure 1: The River Lee, Cork city, Ireland

Dr O’Connor contacted me after I had presented a paper at the International Association for the Study of Ethnography and Folklore in Santiago de Compostela Spain in April this year. I had talked about wetlands as spaces of remembrance, memory and celebration as part of my NERC funded WetlandLIFE project work (www.wetlandLIFE.com). A central aspect of my work is the contemporary cultural representations of wetlands within England, and how our understandings and appreciation of these amazing natural environments are shaped by literature, song-writing, media, television, and films as well as through how we talk about wetlands in schools, universities and other learning spaces. Dr O’Connor’s recent research has also focused on contemporary Irish cultural appreciations of the more-than-human in the Irish psyche. She has worked on a feminist reading of animals in eco-criticism (see figure 2) and now explores the representation of wetland bogs in literature, music and other art forms – hence her contacting me to discuss future work together.


Figure 2: Dr Maureen O’Connor’s 2010 monograph, the female and the species

Dr O’Connor’s work has explored the contradictions inherent to modern cultural depictions of Irish wetland spaces, which have often been viewed as worthless, bleak, useless and redundant. She has considered how much these bogs become symbolically the ‘bogeymen’ for the end of the recent Tiger Economy in Ireland. As these physical ecosystems filter air and water quality as part of their regulating and provisioning ecosystem services functions, she suggests so too do they metaphorically absorb the national ennui during times of economic downturn. Dr O’Connor argues that there is a connection between the ways that modern Ireland rejects bogs, viewing these spaces as financial sinks – in other words they make nothing, sell nothing, cannot be built on and so are worth nothing – and an attendant degradation in both the health of these wetland spaces and in the national psyche in terms of self-esteem.

Figure 3: Leahill Bog, County Cork, Ireland (photo credit: Patrick Crushell)

Our work connects over an interest in the ways in which counter cultural practices subvert the mainstream when we consider human and more-than-human relationships. The blanket and raised bogs of Ireland feature heavily in songs, folk-lore, fairy stories and fiction, often as ‘othering’ spaces of delinquency, retribution, magic and transmutation. This is true too of my research findings on the WetlandLIFE project, where sub-genres of fiction, poetry and nature writing, film-making, art performances and community activism reinvigorate our appreciation of wetlands spaces – and particularly often unloveable and hard to traverse bogs, moors, fens and heaths. These are magical spaces, in all senses of the word, and Dr O’Connor’s and my work seek to amplify the worth of these spaces through highlighting the playful and imaginative encounters that are taking place physically and figuratively within wetlands. We both feel that encouraging people to value wetland spaces can only serve to help protect them and enable people to value the natural world and themselves, and to disconnect from the ephemerality, and dark fiction, of economic peaks and troughs.

It wasn’t all chin stroking and welly wearing though. Later the next day, back on dry land, we watched the Munster finals of the Gaelic Football championships; Corcaigh (Cork) vs Ciarrai (Kerry). Much to the delight of my compatriots the ‘Kingdom’ (i.e. Kerry) won and compulsory celebrating was initiated. That night, back in the hotel, I dreamt of moonlight on a mountain tarn, deep in MacGillyCuddy’s Reeks, the night alive with lapwings and the gentle gurgle of a bogside stream…and awoke to a dripping shower and the prospect of an early morning flight.

Summer Fieldwork

Our PhD students will be busy over the next few months collecting data during their summer fieldwork campaigns.  You can read a little bit about the summer plans of one of our students, Conor Strong below.

Invasive species cause ecological or economic harm when introduced to new environments. To limit these effects, novel management and control techniques must be developed. My project is focused upon the application of small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) to detect and monitor the invasive aquatic plant species Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) in wetlands.

My fieldwork this year will involve undertaking aerial surveys using a SenseFly eBee fixed-wing sUAS equipped with a multispectral sensor. These flights will be carried out on the Pevensey Levels in East Sussex, UK. The study location is a 4,300-hectare grazing marsh habitat that is both a protected Ramsar site and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). C.helmsii is present within the extensive ditch networks that occur on the Levels, threatening the aquatic plant and invertebrate communities they support.

I will be undertaking sUAS surveys on a monthly basis over the summer as part of a temporal study investigating the optimum time of year to survey for C. helmsii. I will also be using sUAS to monitor the recovery rate of C. helmsii following mechanical treatment. After removal from ditches by the Environment Agency in November 2018, aerial imagery is being analysed to determine subsequent regrowth through estimation of percentage cover. In addition to utilising sUAS, my fieldwork this year will also involve carrying out ground surveys of aquatic plant communities within the ditches. The results of these surveys will help to both validate aerial imagery and investigate the effects of C. helmsii colonisation on native aquatic plant communities.

The fieldwork that is being undertaken over the summer will contribute towards my final thesis. In addition, it is anticipated that the outcomes will help to inform land owners and managers of the most effective management approach for invasive C. helmsii in wetland environments.