Friday, 11 December 2015

Farewell Loyne Bridge #StormDesmond

Apparently the Loyne Bridge, which bridges Gressingham and Hornby on the River Lune has been around since at least 1684, has been pronounced structurally unsafe.  Farewell Loyne Bridge for now, let's hope you get fixed pretty soon.

Here is a photo I took of Loyne Bridge on Sunday Morning after Storm Desmond had peaked.

My other photos of the morning after the night before around Docker, Whittington, Arkholme, Gressingham and Aughton are here, please share.


Sunday, 6 December 2015

A Very Personal Reflection on Storm Desmond and Our Future

As I type this the tail end of Storm Desmond lashes the walls of my poor weatherbeaten 16th century cottage.  I have been arm waving about soil and water in lecture theatres for few years now in my job as a Professor of Soil and Water Science, but never has it felt so personal as my experiences yesterday.

It was a Saturday morning and we needed to drive my daughter 5 miles to the local town of Kirkby Lonsdale for her drama class.  It became a very complicated journey as we had to make detour after detour to avoid the floods.  When we eventually got 'home' we found that our local River Keer, normally a modest headwater ephemeral stream had blocked our access and we were forced to wade the final few m to our house.   I am quite a 'let's get on with it' person and I underestimated how stressful for this would be for my wife and children, specially because the flood water was fowled with cattle slurry and dirty water from our poor neighbour's flooded dairy.

After baths and drying off later that afternoon at dusk I had to pick my son up from work, normally a 5 mile journey in the other direction towards Carnforth.  Our 2nd car was still the home side of the river so we had options but it turned into a nailbiting experience.  We encountered road block after roadblock, rivers flowing across roads, it felt almost apocalyptic-like in the encroaching darkness. Thankfully, and I am amazed as I write this, we made it back, after a very round-about sort of route.  We were supposed to go to the Village Christmas Party only 2 miles away last night, it was not wise to try, the rain was still falling and my neighbour and I were both concerned that the Keer was going to burst its banks further downstream too.  We could not risk not getting home to the children.  So we hunkered down and looked after one another and tried to successfully divert the rampaging overland flow water from the back field.

So this morning things are calming and from my perspective we are lucky and relatively unscathed.  I cannot begin to feel the pain that others in Kendal or Keswick or elsewhere are going through, I am so sorry for you.  But even my modest experience was quite shocking and gave me a really personal insight about what is happening.  It makes my ITV television interview on Border TV on Monday seem strangely poignant.....

Sceptics question the role of climate change in all this but I have to say working with colleagues from the Met Office Hadley Centre on the changing behaviours of the rivers on the Eden and elsewhere I am reminded of what we know and what we can start to predict with albeit some (inevitable and healthy) uncertainty.  Analysis of the winter rainfall patterns in Newton Rigg, Penrith reveal an approximate 30% increase in winter precipitation since the 1960s to present.  This is not predicted and subjected to the whims and uncertainties in models, this is simply what has happened.  Looking ahead and working with the models, the best models that are available in the UK and in the world, the conservative predictions show that winter rainfall will rise by around another 15% by 2050.  So, as I reflected on twitter last night....

Don't you find this scary?

I did not realise that my words spoken to a TV crew on Monday would become so meaningful and personal to me just a few days later.   My 16th Century house and my neighbour's farm dairy were built in another time when we never expected the extremes or intensities that are now to be our future.  We need to accept this is how it is and how it will be and adapt.

Phil, Docker Garth, 6th December 2015

Friday, 4 December 2015

Why I like Soil...

Celebrating the International Year of #Soil #IYS and the start of the Soils Training Research Studentships (STARS) Centre for Doctoral Training #starsoil Recorded by the STARS PhD Students and their Supervisors at the welcome meeting for the first STARS cohort, Gregynog, Wales, November 2015

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

500 days, a new Soil Map and hats off to Tim Harrod

Recently I had occasion to pass through my old stomping ground the beautiful south west of England and Devon where I had a meeting in Instowe near Bideford with my OPUS Team (pictures here), and after visit the South West of England Soils Discussion Group meeting at North Wyke.

It was terrific to refind my long term colleague and friend Dr Tim Harrod.  Tim used to work for the Soil Survey, he is one of the original soil mappers who mapped the nation and we had adjacent offices in Devon in the 1990s at North Wyke.  When he retired in the early noughties Tim was frustrated that he had never had funding to comple the soil map of the south west and so on his retirment ca. 10 years ago he made it is personal project to finish the map off his own will power.  He thinks it took hm about 500 days and it was a pleasure to see him launch the map at the meeting.  Here are all my photos of the SWESDG meeting.

Hats off to Tim!  


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Congratulations Dr Ying Wang - Diester DNA Organic Phosphorus PhD Defence

Today my PhD student Ying defended her PhD on diester DNA organic phosphorus transfer through the soil-water continuum.  Her examiners were Dr Marc Stutter (James Hutton Institute) and Prof Hao Zhang (Lancaster University).  Ying is pictured here with me and her co supervisor Dr Ben Surridge.

Below is Ying pictured with her two examiners.

Well done Ying!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Oxisol - Below the rainforest floor......

To help the celebration of International Year of Soil, here I am inside an oxisol!

I have just returned from an enthrawling week visiting Barro Colarado Island, a research Island in the Panama Canal, operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institure.  We visited aspart of a BBSRC Partnering Award to develop links between ourselves and the research group of Dr Ben Turner on new techniques on phosphorus research.  Colleagues from Rothamsted Research, where I used to work, as well as others from ETH Zurich and Costa Rica, were also partners on the research visit. 

The picture shows me standing about 1.5 m deep in an oxisol soil pit, surrounded by Ben and his colleague Dayana from the Smithsonian Soils lab.  The full set of pictures from the visit are shown here. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Joining it all up (from south west Finland)

I have just spent an inspiring few days with John Quinton visiting the Pyhajarvi Instituutti at Eura on Lake Pyhajarvi, in south west Finland.  We were hosted by Director Teija Kirkkala and her team and what was so impressive was the inter-connected vision for the institute.  The Institute has a joined up focus connecting nutrient use, farm management, lake water quality with human food demands and consumption.  The entire philsophy for the region was to join it all up so that issues of soil health were dealt with alongside market demands and also water quality.  This is I think a philsophy that we need to encourage to progress an intergrated future for food production and environmental quality......

And on a personal note John and I managed, at no extra cost and with no extra time, to cycle to and from the Institure from Turku Airport using hire bikes.  Joining up quality of life with quality of work..

Joining it all up.....

Here is a link to the photos of the farms and the lake visits 
Here is a link to the photos of the bike ride

Friday, 3 July 2015

Getting people talking.....

This week we in the EdenDTC hosted Simon West from Water Quality and Agriculture in Defra, London.  Along with our partners from Eden Rivers Trust and others from EdenDTC, we visited a number of farms and crictically opened the dialogue about the challanges of catchment science and water quality.  Whilst the answers are not always clear, one thing is certain.  getting people talking is absolutely critical.  Ther is nothing cooler in my mind than seeing a Defra Policy person like Simon talking to farmers in the field.  This is where it is folks - let's get the narrative right......  More pictures from the day are here.  

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Weather and climate? Calling Farmers and Stakeholders in the Avon....

In collaboration with our colleagues from the Avon Demonstration Test Catchment team and our 'NUTCAT' Project, we would like to invite you to contribute your knowledge and experience to understanding and improving water quality in the Avon catchment under the impact of climate change.

As a starting point, we would like to gather your views on how the weather, climate and other pressures affect the way you live and farm in the Avon, So, you are invited to join us for a short presentation by experts from the UK Met Office on historic and future climate changes and trends in the Avon, followed by some small group discussions and feedback on likely land use and land management changes in the Avon in the future.

The meeting will be at:
The Coppleridge Inn, Elm Hill, Motcombe, Dorset SP7 9HW Monday 
15th June, 6.00 -9.00 pm 

A sandwich buffet will be provided

We really hope you can join us on Monday 15th June.

The event is free but please reserve your place and supper in advance. For further information please contact Dr Mary Ockenden, Lancaster University. Tel 01524 593968 or Email:

The application form is also here.  

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Visit to the University of Lausanne

Just on my way back from a positive meeting with colleagues from Lancaster visiting the University of Lausanne talking about collaboration, they are an incredibly well matched department to us, with terrific labs including SIMS and NanoSims (apparently one of only 3 in the world) that they were very excited about and some upland alpine research platforms. The LEC equivalent partners are the Faculty of GeoScience and The Environment and I worked with Stuart Lane (ex Durham, Geomorphologist) and Eric Verrecchia. Philippe Moreillon was their Deputy Vice Chancellor and was also very encouraging and helpful. I enjoyed travelling with my Lancaster colleagues too, who included Andrew from University Managemnet, Lucas from the Management school, Simon from Literature and from Greg Lingustics. Thanks all for a positive time; a few photos here.