New project aims to solve puzzle of what makes the environment tick

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30 MARCH 2012NEWS RELEASE No: 15374

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Government and University scientists have joined forces to turn the Dyfi Valley into a living research laboratory that could shine new light on how all the different aspects of our environment work together.

Some of Wales’s leading minds on the environment have set up the Dyfi Catchment and Woodland Research Platform, which was launched in Machynlleth on Thursday (29 March) to study how the land, water and air we breathe work together and how we interact with them.

Experts from Aberystwyth University and Forest Research in Wales aim to improve our understanding of the principles for managing the environment in the future by looking at how climate change affects the landscape and how people and wildlife interact with it.

The launch of the new research group was attended by Environment and Sustainable Development Minister John Griffiths, who told the gathering that Wales’s natural resources – our air, land, water and wildlife – were critical to our quality of life.

The Minister said, “They provide food, water, energy, timber and a wide range of economic benefits. They are also the foundation of our stunning Welsh landscapes and coast, and a backdrop for our recreational activities.

“I welcome the establishment of the Dyfi Catchment and Woodland Research Platform and am sure it will make an important contribution to the Welsh Government’s aspirations to manage the environment in a more joined-up way, as set out in Sustaining a Living Wales.”

As part of the project, which will encompass the entire Dyfi Valley from the headwaters of the river right down to the coast, all of the Welsh Government woodlands managed by Forestry Commission Wales have been designated as the “Welsh Research Forest”.

Professor Hugh Evans, head of Forest Research in Wales, said, “The woodland component of this project will form an important element of the catchment-scale research platform which will build on the information already available from this environmentally-rich area.

“This integrated research and monitoring programme will cast a sharp focus on the relative roles of biodiversity, geology, geomorphology, hydrology, soils, vegetation, climate and human activities.

“We hope that data from ongoing and future research will provide answers to key questions, such as how trees influence the landscape, including water flow and quality, and provide a strong evidence base for managing our environment for everyone’s benefit.”

In addition to underpinning the Welsh Government’s Living Wales strategy, the project will also have links to EcoDyfi, the sustainable land use initiative by farmers and other landowners.

The Dyfi valley comprises a wide range of habitats, from blanket bogs in the mountains, through woodland and farmland, down to coastal salt marshes, mud flats and sand dunes.

The Valley is one of only two areas in the United Kingdom designated as a biosphere by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

Biospheres are nominated by national governments and are internationally recognised areas in which people work to balance the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

“Gathering environmental and socio-economic information is becoming increasingly important for understanding and managing multi-functional landscapes at a time of rapid environmental change,” said Professor Mark Macklin, Director of the Centre for Catchment and Coastal Research, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University, who is a co-founder of the new research platform.

“The Dyfi Catchment and Woodland Research Platform will be of relevance to other catchment-scale studies in the UK and abroad and will be especially useful in relation to the new single body being developed in Wales.”

Professor John Harries, Chief Scientific Adviser for Wales and
Professor of Earth Observation at Imperial College, London, described the initiative as "exciting and progressive".

"This programme is highly relevant to the new single environmental body being developed in Wales and will address many of the urgent environmental issues of the day, through using our natural diversity, our ability to connect to each other, and our capability for integrating electronic data."

Caption: Launching the Dyfi Catchment and Woodland Research Platform are, from left, Professor Hugh Evans, Head of Forest Research in Wales; Trefor Owen, Director Forestry Commission in Wales; John Griffiths, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Professor Mark Macklin, Aberystwyth University Insittue of Geography of Natural Sciences.


Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences (IGES) has a long history of research in the Dyfi catchment (funded by the Welsh Government, Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), local authorities and industry). This continues under the auspices of the HEFCW-endowed Centre and Catchment Coastal Research and existing NERC-funded research programmes, led by Professor Mark Macklin and Dr Paul Brewer.

Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) has a strong interest in the Dyfi area. Recent research by Dr Mike Christie and Professor Chris Thomas has demonstrated the economic and social values of ecosystem services delivered by habitats protected by the UK Biodiversity Action Plans and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. The Dyfi catchment provides a unique opportunity to extend this work by exploring how the mosaic of habitats within the Dyfi catchment combines to contribute to the delivery of important services, and how policy might be applied at a landscape scale to maximise ecosystem service delivery and benefits.

Forest Research

Forest Research is the research agency of the Forestry Commission. The creation of the Dyfi Research Platform gives the scientists at Forest Research a valuable opportunity to consolidate scientific understanding and develop new knowledge in a well-characterised wooded catchment in Wales. Through its Aberystwyth-based unit, led by Professor Hugh Evans, Forest Research works with scientists from other research providers and the university sector in collaborative and, increasingly, multi-disciplinary projects of direct relevance to policy makers, planners and land managers.

The Dyfi Platform supports a variety of current research programmes, including work on forest climate change adaptation strategies, managing forest carbon and greenhouse gas balances, land use and ecosystem services, integrated forest monitoring, societal benefits and governance of trees, woods and forests, and alternative management approaches.

Forestry Commission Wales

Forestry Commission Wales manages 6,000 ha out of a total area of 24000 ha in the Dyfi catchment. Through participation in the Dyfi research platform, Forestry Commission Wales will work towards evaluating the long-term influences of woodlands in the landscape and how forest operations and changing management practices affect a range of social, environmental and economic outcomes.

Integration with research in the Dyfi will help Forestry Commission Wales, and the wider forestry sector, to make operational choices that consider natural resources in a manner that delivers maximum benefits to people without compromising future choices and natural systems within and beyond the forest boundary.

For more information on the Dyfi Catchment and Woodland Research Platform, visit: or contact Professor Hugh Evans at , Professor Mark Macklin on 01970 622656 /  or Dr Paul Brewer on 01970 622586 /, Centre for Catchment and Coastal Research, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences at Aberystwyth University.

Media enquiries to Forestry Commission Wales press officer Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email