Author Archives: cdoug

A Swimming Success

by Caitlin Douglas,

Salmon stocks appear to be booming this year. Almost all of the rivers surveyed show increased salmon numbers which allows for cautious optimism over the future health of salmon populations.

Recreational anglers, in the UK, form a unique section of the public in that, in some areas, they also manage the section of the river where they own or rent the fishing rights. Anglers, therefore differ from the general public who typically have no direct involvement in environmental management. The level of management is dependent on numerous factors such as environmental conditions, club finances, and the attitudes of members; but actions include stocking fish, culling predators, dredging channels, stabilising banks and removing vegetation.

A recent study in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers investigates recreational anglers in the UK, and specifically the relationships between attitudes regarding environmental change and management. They found that anglers hold a diverse range of attitudes, and suggest that the more people engage with the environment the more diverse and deeply held their opinions become.  It was further suggested that anglers should be regarded as ‘lay environmental managers’ rather than lay public when investigating attitudes towards the environment and environmental change. An interesting question is whether the stewardship activities of recreational anglers played any role in this year’s increased salmon run.

Eden, Sally and Bear, Christopher (2011). Models of equilibrium, natural agency and environmental change: lay ecologies in UK recreational angling. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36(3): 393-407.

McKie, Robin. Salmon numbers leap to reverse two decades of decline in UK rivers.  The Observer. 26 June 2011.

Record salmon count for River Tyne. BBC News.  26 June 2011.

Geographies of Newcastle Brown Ale

by Caitlin Douglas

Earlier this year Andy Pike, wrote, in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, about a method to analyse and conceptualise the geographies of brands and branding. Fittingly he used Newcastle Brown Ale (NBA) as the case study: an iconic brand synonymous with Newcastle upon Tyne in North East England although, since 2010, the brewery has been relocated to Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. The brand was launched in the 1920s aiming to create a premium beer: a distinct dark ale that offered consistent quality and taste with high aesthetic appeal that was bottled to encourage distribution beyond Tyneside. Modern bottles still emphasize the beer’s provenance with its label depicting the Newcastle skyline and the Blue Star logo associated with Newcastle Breweries. With the move from Newcastle, however, the authenticity of the beer has been questioned.

Since the early 1990’s sales of NBA in the UK have been decreasing whilst sales in the USA have grown. In the USA, NBA is marketed as a ‘hip’, and ‘ironic’ niche beer ‘imported from England’ and is marketed towards 25 – 34 year old college-educated males. In the USA, NBA has constructed a new geographical association to ‘England’ rather than Tyneside. This has favoured its growth in the USA where shoppers favour traditional ‘English’ ale.

Andy Pike. 2011. Placing brands and branding: a sociospatial biography of Newcastle Brown Ale. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36: 206 – 222.

Newcastle Brown Ale UK Website

Newcastle Brown Ale USA Website

Remotely Piloted Vehicles in Ecological Research?

by Caitlin Douglas,

Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) are fixed or rotary winged aircraft operated without a pilot on board. There are three main types of RPVs: small-scale, tactical, and endurance RPVs which are able to operate at differing altitudes and ranges. Hardin and Hardin (2010) wrote in Geography Compass about the application of small-scale remotely piloted vehicles in environmental research.

Current applications include habitat/wildlife management and agricultural monitoring. Most uses involve taking aerial photography to monitor wildlife/vegetation populations and assess crop damage, but some applications involve biological sampling such as the collection of pollen and insects. Potential future uses include tasks that may be too dangerous for manned operations because the monitoring is taking place in hazardous areas. For example, a common problem with traditional aerial photography is cloud cover, and RPVs can be flown below the clouds.

Financial and technological hurdles prevent RPVs from being more widely adopted in ecological research; however, RPVs have been developed and successfully used at the Zoological Society of London.  A remotely operated ‘toy’ helicopter is flown through the ‘blows’ of whales to collect mucous and gas samples in order to study whale diseases. There appears to be a cautious but optimistic future for RPVs in ecological research.

Hardin, P. and Hardin, T. 2010. Small-Scale Remotely Piloted Vehicles in Environmental Research. Geography Compass, 4(9): 1297-1311.

The Institute of Zoology, 2008. Toy helicopter used to sample whale health. Zoological Society of London Website.

Mangroves: a natural form of hazard mitigation

by Caitlin Douglas

Mangroves, a type of tropical evergreen forest growing in the intertidal zones in the tropics and subtropics (32oN and 38oS), consist of tree species well adapted to the regularly changing salinity concentrations and water levels associated with such areas. Mangroves are highly productive ecosystems of high ecological importance. Ostling et al. (2009) describe mangroves and the role they play in ecological processing and natural hazards mitigation.

The special roots of mangroves allow them to anchor themselves in this ever changing environment and therefore serve to slow tidal forces and form an important natural barrier against tropical storms and tsunamis. The presence of mangroves has been shown to increase human survival during cyclones and tsunamis as well as being more effective than alternative natural or artificial barriers (i.e. other types of trees, sand dunes, seawalls, groins etc). Mangroves also provide habitat for shrimp, crocodiles and a nursery ground for fishery stock. Currently these forests are being cleared for various agricultural, forestry and urban uses, such as shrimp aquaculture which has led to the clearing of millions of hectares of mangroves. Without the mangroves, natural fishery stocks are affected which leads to more mangroves being cleared to support more extensive and varied types of aquaculture. In light of the growing realisation of the importance of mangroves, revegetation programmes are underway in Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and Tanzania.

Ostling, J., Butler, D., Dixon, R. The Biogeomorphology of Mangroves and their Role in Natural Hazard Mitigation. Geography Compass, 3(5): 1607-1624

Cancún: From mangrove paradise to polluted megasprawl. The Guardian.  9 December 2010

Is the tsunami too big to beat? The Guardian. 11 March 2011

Mangroves. BBC Nature

Permafrost, carbon and thermokarsts: the Arctic importance

by Caitlin Douglas

The Arctic covers 5% of the total land mass of the earth and reaches across every longitude: it is important. It is estimated that 1.4 times more carbon is stored in permafrost than is currently circulating in the atmosphere, and there is 1.5 times more carbon in permafrost than is currently being stored in all the earth’s vegetation. William Bowden (2010) outlines this in a Geography Compass article, and explains the relationships between permafrost, thermokarsts and climate change.

Permafrost is soil or rock which remains below 0oC for at least 2-3 years at a time. When permafrost thaws it loses its internal structure and subsides unevenly, and the resulting formation is called thermokarst. The transition from permafrost to thermokarst has important hydrological, geomorphological, biogeochemical and ecological importance to arctic landscapes. Globally, this transition may also release the stored carbon which, due to microbial processes, may be released as carbon dioxide or methane.

In April, a special edition on climate change was published by the journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It outlined key research questions required to better understand the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change. The arctic was prominently featured, and in particular the concern over permafrost melt and potential methane release. Scientists seem to agree that research is needed to understand the transitional process from permafrost to thermokarsts and the possible implications on the global climate.

Bowden, W. 2010. Climate Change in the Arctic – Permafrost, Thermokarst, and Why They Matter to the Non-Arctic World. Geography Compass, 4(10): 1553-1566

Scientists call for climate change early-warning system. The Guardian.  April 18th 2011.

Geopolitics Revisited

by Caitlin Douglas

April 20th marked the one year anniversary of the largest accidental oil spill into an ocean that released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Not long after the accident, I wrote a post on this website about the geopolitics of oil supply referencing Michael Bradshaw’s article on the Geopolitics of Global Energy Security. The stats Bradshaw provides on both the major suppliers of oil, and the countries with the largest reserves, still intrigues me.

The Society of Biology, on the one year anniversary, released a briefing on the spill which provided numerous links to news articles and official sites. The environmental impacts remain uncertain, with some people saying that the impact is less than anticipated, while others say that the full impacts will only be felt in the long-term.

The answer to my question of last year– will this disaster lead to a push for renewable energies, or lead to the exploration and exploitation of oil in more remote areas of the globe- remains largely unanswered.

Bradshaw, M. 2009. Geopolitics of Global Energy Security.  Geography Compass,  3(5): 1920-1937.

Society of Biology, 2011. Deepwater Horizon: what does 4.9m barrels of oil mean one year on?

Airspace Across Spatial Scales

by Caitlin Douglas

The recently imposed no-fly zone in Libya has brought to our attention the topic of sovereign airspace. A country’s airspace is interesting in that although it is less tangible and invisible in comparison to other military installations (such as Navy dockyards) it has an important role in both military training and geopolitical power projection. This topic is discussed by Alison Williams in her timely article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.

Britain first declared sovereignty over its airspace in 1911, and The Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation in 1944 granted all signatory states sovereignty over the airspace above their land and maritime territories (and remains the most influential treaty today).

Williams uses UK airspace as a case study to illustrate how airspace can be perceived as a multiple and complex geopolitical zone.  Williams’ argues that airspace should be referred to as airspaces as the region is actually composed of vertical and horizontal overlapping and intersecting sub-sections and should therefore be appropriately referred to in the plural form. What makes Williams’ article so interesting is that it illustrates how the entity of ‘airspace’ is dependent on the scale at which it is examined. At an international scale airspace is a single homogeneous entity of a specific country whereas within a country, as Williams argues, it is much more heterogeneous. In this way a country’s airspace is far more complex than previously regarded.

Williams, A. 2010. Reconceptualising spaces of the air: performing the multiple spatialities of UK military airspaces. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 36 (2): 253-267.