Category Archives: Environment

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Why You Should Study Conservation Biology

By Tobias Chalcraft

To quote Kermit the Frog, ‘it’s not easy being green’. As climate change and related environmental crises increasingly decorate the media, there’s a growing demand for more people to take on a more sustainable mindset. Hannah Hall, 21, is starting her march to the front line of this cause via undergraduate studies in Conservation Biology, here in Plymouth.

When asked what guided her towards her chosen area of study, Hannah said, “I’ve always had a keen interest in conservation and ecology, ever since I was a child watching David Attenborough documentaries, an interest I feel as though many people my age share. So, when I found out I could study a course at university which allowed me to learn more about these wonderful places I had seen on TV growing up, I couldn’t think of anything more perfect”.

When hearing about the material covered on her course, including cellular genetics, ecosystem services and population ecology, it is safe to say that Conservation Biology goes way beyond gardening. “The first year allows for everyone to be on the same level of knowledge, covering subjects such as introduction to biology, animal and plant physiology and evolution. The depth and content of these subjects is similar to what is covered at A-Level biology but acts as a nice refresher into the area after a long summer break”.

In the second year of the course, Hannah highlighted that the material moved more specifically towards conservation, covering “ecology, principles of conservation, methods of conservation, animal behaviour and optional modules” as well as a field trip to Mexico.

Overall, Hannah hopes her course will allow her to pursue a career in research, as she aims to undertake both a masters and PhD after completing her degree next summer. However, her current plan does not involve sticking around in the UK. As deterioration increases in less developed tropical countries, Hannah wants to move abroad in order to work towards a more sustainable development in these exploited areas by seeing “how governments can work with the local people and conservationists, that allows a substantial income but also retains the quality and biodiversity of the surrounding environments”.

So, why should others study Conservation Biology in Plymouth? “This course is great for teaching transferable skills. The tutors, professors and lecturers are extremely supportive and are available to talk to almost whenever. They also give a keen focus on current issues and problems”. There is also a big focus on current affairs, as Hannah recommended that prospective students “get themselves up to date on current conservation and ecology issues in the UK and around the world”, as this can demonstrate an interest in the course and help to get the most out of lectures. 

To compliment her first two years of university education, Hannah is about to conclude a placement year in which she has spent time in both Nepal and Peru. In her final month in South America, Hannah now looks towards her final year of undergraduate studies. “I am planning to write my dissertation on seed germination trials of an endangered Adean plant called Puya raimondii under different temperature regimes, as these plants are very sensitive to climate change”. However, permits and permissions are required to export the seeds from Peru to England and due to the difficulty in obtaining these permits, experiments on plants closer to home may have to be carried out instead.

If her dissertation is of good enough quality, Hannah’s dissertation supervisor seeks to publish her work in a scientific journal, making her a published academic before even achieving her undergraduate degree.

When asked what drives her studies, Hannah replied, “Since I have started my degree, I have been extremely lucky to travel to countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Nepal and Peru and not only seen the pristine, tidy, clean and seemingly perfect areas which are made so to attract tourists but also, what I call behind the scenes. In Thailand and Peru, I saw large areas of rainforest cut down to make way for agricultural crops and animals. In Nepal, I saw how poverty stricken the rural communities were and how heavily they rely on crop agriculture as income, but which in current years is becoming less reliable as monsoon seasons become shorter and temperatures change. Knowing that I have the skills needed to make an actual change to this world, whether big or small, makes me strive to do the best that I can!”

Perhaps with more Conservation Biologists promoting a more pro-environment development of our planet, there may be less of an excuse for good ol’ Kermit to sing his aforementioned lyric. 

For those interested in studying Conservation Biology at University of Plymouth, you can follow Hannah on Twitter @Hannah_Con_Bio to find out more about the course or to ask her any questions.

Plymouth Youth Climate Protests

By Tobias Chalcraft

Friday 21st June saw dozens of Plymouth locals take part in a protest to raise awareness of climate-related issues. This was part of the youth protests taking place by schoolchildren across Europe, pushing for more action from elected representatives to tackle climate change.

Organisers say that approximately 1.5 million children in over 1,600 cities will be taking part in the ‘Fridays for Future’ school strikes.

We spoke to two protestors, Hazel (19) and Brendan (20), to get more perspective into the protests taking place in the city. These active citizens argued that their demonstration would provide a good platform to spread awareness among Plymouth residents and put pressure on local businesses and the City Council to take further steps towards helping the planet.

Unsurprisingly, demonstrators said Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist making headlines across the world for pressing elected representatives to move towards greener policies, was a driving factor for increasing turnout in these protests.

In addition, various protests carried out by environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion were seen to inspire some of the older protestors taking part. Brendan also referred to campaigner SustainaClaus, who harnesses the joy of Saint Nicholas to help spread awareness of sustainability.

When asked about the efficiency of Plymouth MPs’ fight against climate change, Hazel gave modest praise to the green efforts of Luke Pollard (MP for Plymouth, Sutton & Devonport). This included his recent proposal to have decommissioned nuclear submarines held in Plymouth recycled.

It wasn’t all applause for Pollard though. Hazel went on to highlight that the MP’s role as Shadow Fisheries Minister adds some hypocrisy to his environmentalism, as fishing contributes to the increasing depletion and pollution of our oceans.

Another protestor, who was excused from school to attend, was happy to present some of the signs created by herself and her peers. One poster displayed 10 key reasons for why these young people were motivated to strike, including a reference to the UN’s recent climate report giving us just 12 years to half emissions in order to avoid global catastrophe.

These inspirational young people had multiple recommendations for readers seeking to contribute towards a greener world. These included mutually beneficial fixes for day-to-day life, such as using more public transport. For more green recommendations, check out Generation Plymouth’s article Plastics are Suffocating our Oceans.

Opinion: Tryna be Green

By Abi Purvis

Climate change. It’s a topic we are all concerned about right now, but how can we really make a difference?

I’m always trying to think about how my actions will have the least impact on the planet. As a university student this can sometimes be hard as the budget is…small. I really wish I could be writing this article giving you five easy steps to leaving the smallest footprint on the planet but in the society we live in, it’s hard! Everything is wrapped in plastic, the shops we use are doing little to reduce this and bamboo toothbrushes are pricey. But recently, after thinking for a long time about this, I’ve realised it’s important to remind myself that even the little things make a difference.

I recycle. I use my own reusable cup. I use my own reusable shopping bags. I walk everywhere (admittedly this I because I don’t have a car, but even at home with the parental taxi service, I walk anything that is under thirty mins). The point is that the small and simple changes do make a difference, and you and I should be proud of making these changes.

In the last year it has been amazing to see people making these differences in their diet too. I have been a vegetarian myself for well over eleven years now. Recently, two of my housemates have become vegetarian, my Mum has become vegetarian, two of my friends have become vegetarian, and one has become vegan. I also have friends who are consciously trying to reduce their meat intake, and it’s really wonderful to see people making these small tweaks to their diet to help the planet.

Although, I am still having the debate with people who think, “I am one person, if I cut out meat it won’t make any difference” Yes, yes it will. An average person may eat meat four times times in a week, that’s at least sixteen times in a month, that’s at least one hundred and ninety-two times in a year. So, if they were to reduce their intake to twice a week that’s then ninety-six times a year. Even that is reducing the number of animals farmed and the pollution to the environment in that year.

Now imagine that over a person’s life time.

Even as a uni student these differences can be made. A bag of Quorn Mince is typically around £2, whereas minced meat is typically between £3-£4. So really you can be saving the planet and your bank account.

After successfully completing Veganuary, I have also been trying to make the next step and reduce my dairy intake. I now use oat milk and try to only buy vegan meals. It has actually been going quite well. Yes, I have the occasional slip ups when Dominoes have a deal on. or after a long day when I really want some Galaxy Chocolate or when my boyfriend makes us Nachos. But the point is, I am cutting out dairy and making a small difference.

It’s really easy to put yourself down when you do make slip ups (for instance, when I forget to put my reusable cup in my bag and end up grabbing a coffee in a takeaway cup), but it’s important to remind myself that the rest of the time I do remember my reusable cup, and all of those times I have been helping the environment.

If you want to make a difference just remember small things add up over a life time and any little thing you do will contribute towards that. For me that is continuing towards becoming vegan, for you it can be as simple as walking to uni or having a meat free lunch. Let’s help our planet.

Plastics are Suffocating our Oceans

By Ciara Beal

Plastics. No, not the plastics from Mean Girls. I’m talking about single use plastic bottles, bags, straws, cups, cutlery that you use once and then throw away just for pure convenience. In fact, that single plastic bottle you use will end up in landfill where it will take approximately 500 years to decompose. On average, we each use 53 kilograms of plastic a year and generate a combined total of more than 300 million tonnes of plastic waste. Moreover, eight million tonnes of that plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. This affects our marine life. including seals, whales, dolphins, turtles and seabirds. After ingesting plastics, particularly microplastics (which are tiny pieces of plastic that come from larger plastics that have degraded over time) the animals suffer for months or years before they die.

By the year 2030 the amount of plastic pollution is predicted to double. with most of the consequences expected to hit the oceans. We must stop this from happening.

What YOU can do to reduce plastic pollution:

  • Recycle! Plastic that you put into the brown bin will go to landfill, where it takes up to five hundred years to decompose. Please put any plastics into the recycling bin and check any labels to see if an object is recyclable or not before putting it into the green bin.
  • Exchange single use disposable coffee cups by purchasing your own reusable eco-coffee cup. Coffee shops such as Costa Coffee and Starbucks charge an extra 5p on the cost of a disposable coffee cup. A reusable travel cup, however, will get you a 25p discount off your hand-crafted drink.
  • Rather than using a plastic bottle, use a stainless steel water bottle. This will last you a lifetime without affecting the oceans. The best part about these bottles is they keep water cold for 24 hours and hot drinks hot for 12 hours!
  • Say no to plastic straws. If you don’t need one, don’t use one. In fact, plastic straws take up to 200 years to decompose. Since you won’t be around that long, buy a metal straw, paper straw or bamboo straw instead.
  • Stop using plastic cutlery. Yes it is convenient, but so is reusable cutlery which you can purchase easily from the shop.
  • You must become responsible for your own and others’ rubbish by picking it up and putting it into the bin, as long as it’s safe to touch.
  • Rather than saying yes to the question “would you like a bag with that?”, say no. Instead, treat yourself to a canvas bag. These come in pretty colours and quirky designs which you can use again and again and personalise to your own style.
  • Start taking action now.

The UK Government has already made progress on plastic reduction following the banning of microbeads, plastic bag charges and the proposals for deposit return schemes for drinks containers. So this is a positive step forward.

Morrisons is now the first supermarket to ban plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables. Shoppers will be allowed to purchase their fruit and veg loose or pop them into a paper bag. This development comes after Tesco announced last year that it would ban hard-to-recycle plastic packaging by 2019 and make all packaging fully recyclable by 2025.

Moreover, Waitrose & Partners is to remove traditional plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables and 5p single-use plastic bags from its stores by next spring. The supermarket said the move would cut 134m plastic bags, the equivalent of 500 tonnes of plastic a year.

It is now up to you to decide to contribute to the action of reducing plastic pollution. Please make a difference for the earth today.

Urban Buzz

By Leila Hopkins

We tend to think of endangered wildlife as a problem in far-away places. According to the World Wildlife Trust however, Britain is one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth, with up to 56% of wild species lost in the last 50 years.

One of the main reasons for this decline is the loss of vital habitats, such as wildflower meadows, on which bees and other insects and their predators depend for food. A staggering 97% of Britain’s wildflowers meadows have been lost since WW2.

This is why the insect conservation charity, Buglife, launched its Urban Buzz project in 2016 with the help of Plymouth City Council. The results are now blooming in mini-meadows across the city, from the Derry Cross roundabout, to Pennycomequick, to Marsh Mills, to Drake Circus.

Insects may not have the same crowd appeal as other endangered species (such as polar bears and pandas, whose gradual extinction is more obvious due to their size), but the stark reality is that insects are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, reptiles and birds.

In fact, if insect numbers keep declining at this rate, they will become extinct within the next century. But, why does this matter? As the Buglife charity points out, insects are the backbone of our ecosystem and in the words of David Attenborough, “If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse.”

Buglife’s B-line project aims to act as ‘stepping stones’ for pollinators, by linking a series of pollen-rich sites together and creating a network of insect pathways around the country, with Plymouth acting as a crucial stop on the insects’ tour. So, thanks to Urban Buzz, not only do the bees benefit, but Plymouth citizens can experience wild and beautiful nature on their doorstep.

For more information on Buglife and its aims visit:
https://www.buglife.org.uk/urban-buzz/plymouth