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Latest news: tackling environmental challenges caused by Covid-19

Queen Mary is one of five universities to receive funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to address and mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the environment and society.

The Queen Mary project, ChessWatch, in partnership with Chiltern Chalk Streams Project and the River Chess Association, is developing an online observatory for the River Chess, a threatened chalk stream that is home to important wildlife.

Understanding human impacts on the environment

The project, led by Professor Kate Heppell from Queen Mary’s School of Geography, will enable stakeholders and researchers to collaborate using scientific evidence to help shape management plans for the chalk stream of the River Chess, which flows through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

Chalk streams are internationally important habitats under pressure from low flows and water quality issues arising from a combination of land use and climate change impacts. Queen Mary’s researchers have been monitoring water quality in the River Chess for over a year, and their monitoring has covered a period when river flows have fluctuated from extremely low to high in response to changing rainfall patterns.

There are currently changes to water demand and usage in the catchment arising from Covid-19 lockdown in conjunction with a sunny and warm spring. According to the researchers, with all of these pressures it is an important time to be trialing digital technologies to support sharing and interpretation of data with the public. 

Professor Kate Heppell, Professor of Physical Geography at Queen Mary said: “It is really exciting to be able to take our ChessWatch project forward to its next phase and create an interactive online resource that will help stakeholders and scientists work together to better understand human impacts on chalk streams and shape plans for the future management of the River Chess.”

Pandemics and the environment

Alison Robinson, Director of Corporate Affairs, Futures & Change at NERC said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our interaction with the environment and environmental science.  The environment has been a source of wonder and joy during this time – and this time has also demonstrated that tackling environmental challenges remain as important as ever to us all. 

“This investment in public engagement signals our commitment to working with our community to ensure NERC-funded researchers can continue to make their science accessible to the public throughout the pandemic and to allow people to stay engaged with wider environmental topics in new ways.”

NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. The agency is part of UK Research & Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

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