The Wales Ecology & Evolution Network (WEEN) aims to promote post-graduate research and create a networking platform for early-career scientists at Welsh Universities.
Their annual conference has been co-hosted by WEEN and the LCEE Research Network Wales for the last two years. Held at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid-Wales, it includes talks and poster sessions from both experienced and early career researchers, training workshops, and networking events. It’s an ideal opportunity for the research network to support early career researchers in what is often their first go at conference presentations and networking face to face with other researchers from Welsh universities, many of whom are still completing their PhDs.
Talks spanned from rocky shores to rivers, agriculture to evolution, and axolotls to chimpanzees.
Supporting the rising talent within the Welsh research landscape is a core part of the mission of the research network’s strategy and contributes toward increased grant capture into Wales in the mid and long term. Within this cohort of engaging early career researchers will be the research leaders of the coming years and decades. Supporting opportunities for them to develop themselves and their networks within Wales is key to building on research capacity in Wales.
Over 60 delegates attended the 3-day event, bringing together speakers from organisations across Wales including Swansea, Cardiff, Bangor and Aberystwyth universities.
“WEEN is such a successful and inspiring event. It is a conference organized by students, for students and works brilliantly at facilitating important networking and cross-fertilization of ideas between early career researchers from across Welsh Universities. The quality of the talks was top notch and it was fantastic to see groups of students from different universities interacting and sharing ideas and approaches. Wales is very strong in ecological and evolution-related research and WEEN is helping to maintain and build the future strengths in this area.”
Julia P G Jones, Professor of Conservation at Bangor University & Director of the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales
Sustainable Agriculture for the 21st Century – a two-day networking event being held online to create connections between researchers, industry partners and other stakeholders – is to be held on the 15th-16th of February, 2022.
Presentations will showcase the excellent research being conducted in Wales (plus special guests from leading EU institutions) for the delivery of agricultural systems that are fit for the 21st century.
In addition to the two-day event, attendees and presenters will be able to network, hold 1:1 meetings, and organise breakout sessions during a two-week open-plan brokerage period to target the Horizon Europe funding program.
“Farming the countryside is a core part of Welsh culture and everyday life, with 88% of land in Wales used for one form of agriculture or another. It has been a part of our culture and identity for centuries. It is no surprise then that, steeped in this heritage, Welsh Universities are leaders in agricultural research.
As leaders in agriculture and environmental research, Wales’ universities have a major role to play in realising a sustainable future for communities, local economies the climate and nature. But the work going on here isn’t just focussed on Wales. From arid plains to lush rainforest climates, researchers are working on solutions that work locally as well as globally.”
– Rhys Bowley, Manager, Low Carbon Energy & Environment Research Network Wales.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of €95.5 billion, in which UK institutions are eligible to participate.
Discussions at the Agriculture for the 21st Century event are expected to be particularly well aligned with (but not limited to) two Horizon Europe funding calls under ‘Pillar 2’: Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment (Cluster 6) and Climate, Energy and Mobility (Cluster 5). The UK’s National Contact Point for Cluster 6, Helen Sweeney, will be presenting more on the structure and opportunities available.
A huge congratulations to Theresa Bodner of Bangor University and James Bain of Cardiff University, the joint winners of our #SmallNationBigIdeas video competition! They will get to split the pot, each taking home a cash prize of £75 kindly funded by the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Bangor University.
When we started our video series, Small Nation, Big Ideas: Welsh science tackling climate change, our aim was to highlight the excellent researchers based in Wales, and their contributions to addressing one of the biggest challenges facing society. To celebrate and encourage those who are relatively new to science and research we opened a competition for the best video submission from early career researchers.
The series of short films will showcase cutting-edge research being carried out in Wales. Additionally, there will be lots of opportunities for researchers working on climate-change related topics to talk to the media in the run-up to COP26, so this video series is chance to for us to put a spotlight on engaging and enthusiastic speakers. The videos will be promoted on our website, social media channels, and have the chance to become part of the Wales Climate Week exhibit, reaching a large audience of fellow researchers, policy makers and the public.
The research network co-hosted the Wales Ecology & Evolution Network annual conference which promotes post-graduate research and provides a networking platform for early-career scientists at Welsh Universities.
During the conference the research network hosted a session on grant writing and careers with Rhys Bowley, Dr Eleanor Warren-Thomas, Dr Line Cordes, Dr Graeme Shannon all pitching in advice from across their very varied academic backgrounds. Framing the session with a theme of “there’s more than one way to climb the academic tree”, the panel covered career paths, funding sources, where to get help and all-important survival tactics for carving a path through academia.
This year’s event was the first in-person for 2 years due to the pandemic, and was held at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Mid-Wales. The event is branded as a by early-career-researchers for early-career-researchers event, proving a constructive environment for many of the attendees to participate in their first research conference and to experience the minutia of live events in a friendly environment.
“After moving to an online event last year due to the pandemic, the support of the research network was instrumental in allowing WEEN to re-launch as an in-person event in 2021 at the Centre for Alternative Technology. This kind of conference is a valuable experience for early career researchers, as it provides an opportunity to present their work in a supportive and relaxed environment, whilst promoting communication and collaboration throughout the ecology & evolution research communities in Wales. This year, the LCEERNW facilitated a grant writing workshop, which was a unique session for WEEN and provided useful insights for early career researchers when looking for their next funding opportunities in academia.”
Amy Gresham, Post Graduate Researcher at Bangor University and WEEN organising comittee
For more than 45 years CAT has inspired people to achieve practical solutions for sustainability. Founded in 1973, it has a long history of research and innovation: from early experiments with wind power that helped with the development of modern wind turbines, to the creation of prototypes of solar-powered vaccine fridges that are now saving lives across the world. The team at CAT have experimented with new ways of producing compost and treating waste, innovative low-carbon building materials and methods, various types of renewable heat, and much more. Since 2007, CAT’s main research focus has been the centre’s Zero Carbon Britain project, which provides a model for how the UK could reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions using technology available today.
Investing in next generation of environmental researchers based in Wales is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to building on Welsh research strength, and ultimately increasing the research funding brought into Wales. Events like WEEN are helping to develop the next set of research leaders who will be dedicated to solving the greatest challenges facing ecosystems around the world.
Wales Climate Week returns once more running from 22-26 November with a 5-day programme of virtual events packed with speakers from government, academia, third sector, industry and Welsh communities. The event provides a opportunity for nationwide discussion on Wales’ net zero and climate change goals. Over the course of the week, the programme delves into what Wales has already achieved, what changes to expect in the next five years and how, through collective action we can shape the future.
Agenda at-a-glance Monday – Wales and the World Tuesday – Energy and emissions Wednesday – How Wales is responding to the climate emergency Thursday – Exploring the role of nature in climate resilience Friday – How individual choices impact the world climate
The research network organised a panel discussion on Thursday titled “Small nation, big ideas – how Welsh science is working with nature to address climate change”, chaired by Professor Mary Gagen. In the 75-minute session researchers from across Wales focused on nature based solutions to climate change. As well as hearing from the panelists directly, we also included the voices of researchers from the #SmallNationBigIdeas video series, played between each panelist.
During the session we heard how that is no path to net zero without conserving and restoring nature. This is because woodlands, wetlands and seagrass meadows store huge amounts of carbon which is released into the atmosphere when they are lost. Similarly, restoring these ecosystems can soak up carbon: a service to society which we will increasingly rely on in the journey to net zero. Nature also plays a key role in supporting adaption in the face of a changing climate: salt marshes can reduce coastal flooding, vegetation in urban areas can reduce urban heat islands with benefits for health and wellbeing, while better management of catchments can build resilience in the face of flood risks and droughts. Scientists are also capturing the power of plants to create new energy sources and bioproducts. The panellists covered a wide-range of truly innovative and world-leading science going on here in Wales which is making a genuine contribution to tackling the biggest challenge we face.
World leaders and their governments have been meeting in Glasgow to find ways to keep global warming in check. However, turning political commitments into reality needs innovations in how we produce, store and use energy, how we manage our countryside so nature can do its bit, as well as deeper understanding of the consequences of climate change.
I knew there was great stuff going on in Welsh universities but working on this series has blown my mind.
One stand-out example is Charlie Dunnill’s video using an exercise bike to show how hydrogen-a key green fuel of the future- can store clean energy. If you want a quick introduction to the diversity and novelty of the science happening in Wales (and the personalities behind it), do watch some of the videos
Professor Julia Jones, Bangor University Professor of Conservation Science and Director of the Low Carbon Energy and Environment
The#SmallNationsBigIdeas video series showcases how researchers in Wales are helping to tackle or adapt to global climate change issues. The series comprises over 40 videos including:
Professor Iain Donnison (Aberystwyth University) explains how a tropical grass which can grow on Welsh farms could produce electricity whilst removing carbon from the atmosphere.
Dr Aisha Bello-Dambatta (Bangor University) shows how most of the energy we use to heat our water is flushed down the drain, and how that could be recovered.
Dr Jenny Baker (Swansea University) explains how her work is helping to reduce the environmental impact of battery manufacture.
Dr Muditha Abeysekera (Cardiff University) explains how his research is helping the public sector to make more of their existing assets and improve energy efficiency through energy management.
Wales has often been described as a nation which is small enough to get things done but big enough to make a difference and I think that is true of our environmental innovation and climate science research. From green steel development to regenerative farming, every sector in Wales is doing its bit to help us meet Net Zero, and then take emissions negative. These videos introduce some of the Welsh scientists and engineers who are working to achieve that.
Some tasters of these videos have already been shown as part of the COP26 Regional Roadshows. The main exposure for the videos will be used to put science at the heart of Wales Climate Week which runs from 22nd to 26th November. You can register for the exciting series of events on the COP Cymru website.
November 4th saw the energy transition day of COP26, and with it the regional roadshows being held around the UK. For Wales, the energy transition roadshow took place in North Wales – a region with a strong record in nuclear energy, community-owned renewable generation, commercial wind farms, and a new focus on the potential of offshore wind and tidal energy.
The research network supported the event with a session focused on the science which will help society deliver on ambitious commitments to decarbonize economies for the sake of the planet, and all our futures. Big changes will be needed in how energy is produced, stored, transported and used if there is to be any hope of meeting Net Zero targets. This will require our researchers to develop new ideas, new technology and a keen awareness of any unintended consequences. To put into context some of the latest scientific innovations coming out of Wales in this field, we heard from people working at the cutting edge.
Topics covered by the panelists ranged from recovering vast amounts of heat energy that is flushed down the drain every time we use hot water, nuclear reactors for more than just electricity (including heating buildings, medicines and manufacturing products like steel), tidal energy and the impact of tidal projects on marine ecosystems, as well as environmentally friendly alternative materials for battery manufacture that can help to keep high paying jobs here in Wales. Panel chair Lisa Gwilym fielded questions coming in from an international audience watching online. What was particularly striking from all the presentations was that many of the technologies required to start making a real difference to the decarbonisation of energy already exist in the world today, but the outstanding research questions revolve around where and how to best utilize them and what will be the impact on people, communities, wildlife and the natural environment.
The event was help at the M-SParc innovation campus. M-SParc is a key part of the low carbon focus of North Wales, linking to developments taking place on the ‘Energy Island’ of Anglesey. The recently announced £100M Low Carbon Energy Centre of Excellence (Egni) will invest in developing a Low Carbon Energy Centre of Excellence at Bangor University and M-SParc, enhancing the region’s capabilities for research, design and innovation in low carbon energy.
Welsh Government’s new Net Zero Wales Plan was launched today at an event held at the Solar Heat Energy Demonstrator building near Port Talbot, a research facility operated by SPECIFIC. Hosted by ITV Wales presenter, Ruth Dodsworth, the event was supported by the Welsh research community in a panel consisting of the First Minister of Wales, Rt. Hon Mark Drakeford MS; Minister for Climate Change Julie James MS; Professor Dave Worsley, Vice President (Innovation) at Swansea University; and Poppy Stowell-Evans Youth Climate Ambassador for Wales.
The launch event was an opportunity to explore the changes needed to achieve Wales’ environmental, economic and social aims, as well as the opportunities and risks the changes present. Professor Worsley, who grew up in Pembrokeshire, was keen to demonstrate how the universities in Wales are working on some of the toughest challenges facing the decarbonisation of industry and housing, two major pillars of the Welsh society. He highlighted how research outcomes from major multi-million pound projects such as SPECIFIC, FLEXIS and SWITCH Connect have helped to unlock immense potential in areas such as the Port Talbot Steel Works, and how the universities of Wales are adapting to fill the skills-gap that stands in the way of Wales fully capitalising on it’s green industries.
The event itself was held at a Welsh decarbonisation research facility, The Solar Heat Energy Demonstrator in Margam which is used to trial two large-scale solar heat storage demonstrators.
Ministers introduced a five year plan of action, explained its role in shaping the next stage of our pathway to net zero by 2050 and emphasised the importance of working together to help deliver our decade of climate action. The role of science and research in developing the new innovations required to realise that pathway cannot be understated.
From the plan:
“The need for a coherent science and innovation system – to collect and analyse data, to investigate potential avenues for mitigation, to develop new techniques, products and services to deliver a net zero Wales – is embedded throughout this strategy.”
“In our proactive approach to net zero, we will continue to support and value the high-quality research base available in Wales, for example through our support to Sêr Cymru.”
From creating places for nature to giving the poorest people in Wales warmer, more energy efficient homes, as well as the things we want to take forward in this Government term and in this carbon budget, like a reformed sustainable farming scheme and creating a national forest. We recognise we haven’t got all of the answers – we want to work with and learn from people across Wales to find innovative solutions to the challenges we face and this is why, along with Net Zero Wales, we are also publishing another document today.
The Sustainable Development Goals were agreed by all member states of the United Nations in 2015 as an urgent call for action by all countries. They recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.
Dr Rattan Yadav, Aberystwyth University, said:
“In IBERS among a wide variety of projects, we are working with partners in India and Africa to develop new varieties of pearl millet, a staple food, which can help reduce the risk of diabetes-this is contributing the SDG 2 – Zero Hunger and SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being.”
Professor Carole Llewellyn, Swansea University, said:
“Swansea University is growing microalgae using waste nutrients from farming and food industries which is then used to generate new products such as animal feed. Thus working with farmers, industry and policy makers we are reducing waste and replacing unsustainable products with ones that are more sustainable. This contributes to a wide range of the Sustainable Development Goals including responsible consumption and climate action.”
Among the SDGs, Welsh research is making a particularly strong contribution to those which relate to the planet such as SDGs 13, Climate Action, 14, Life below Water, and 15, Life on Land.
Professor Mike Bruford, Cardiff University, said:
“This report is very positive as it emphasises that impactful research in environmental sciences and sustainability also has global traction and increases the visibility of Welsh research. In Cardiff we have tried to focus on multidisciplinary research in the environmental sciences both in Wales and in key global regions and it is good to see that the global research community is acknowledging this.”
Welsh Government’s Research & Innovation Strategic Engagement Group (RISE) brings together key stakeholders within Welsh Government who support and develop research that happens in Wales.
Research network director Prof Julia P G Jones was invited to make the case to First Minister Mark Drakeford and the RISE group for why investment in science underpins the Programme for Government. Programmes such as Sêr Cymru, to which the research network belongs, are a proven and well-established mechanism to increase the funding brought into Wales – an all-important topic as we near the end of EU structural funds, which has underpinned many of Welsh Government’s investments in the both academic and scientific sectors.
The meeting also provided an opportunity for us to present our latest tool to help facilitate connections between Welsh Government and the brilliant researchers working in Wales’ universities. We call this a ‘mapping document’. It has been created to help draw connections between commitments in Welsh Labour’s 2021-2026 Programme for Government and the necessary research topics required to achieve them.
The Programme for Government sets out Welsh Government’s commitments for the 6th Senedd, from 2021 to 2026. Wales has enormous strength in research which can contribute to the delivery of these commitments. However, it can be difficult for policy makers to access the expertise of researchers quickly and efficiently. Therefore, we have produced a map which draws out commitments from the Programme for Government which have a connection to low carbon energy and environment research, identifies societal outcomes which these commitments aim to provide (green boxes), and indicates the areas of research strength (blue boxes) in Wales which can help deliver on these commitments.
The map is high-level and broad brush. We envisage it being useful to senior civil servants and ministers to identify senior academics who can give an overview of a research area and how it can contribute to policy.
This map in no way represents all areas of research strength in Wales – we are truly blessed with depth and breadth of research strength across the Low Carbon Energy and Environment space. For more specific recommendations, the Low Carbon Energy and Environment Research Network Wales can make detailed recommendations and connect you with the right researchers.