Quaternary Palaeoeocology training course

Generating robust reconstructions of the drivers of past environmental change increasingly demands the use of a multi-proxy approach. With this in mind, PhD student Robert Barbour recently attended an advanced training short course on Quaternary Palaeoecology, funded by NERC and held in the Natural History Museum in London.  The week-long course provided a fantastic introduction to a selection of the most widely used palaeoecological proxies, with a focus on diatoms, pollen, chironimids, vertebrates and beetles.  As well as comprehensive overviews of ecology, taxonomy, and issues concerning the inference of environmental information, the course presented the opportunity to practice preparation and identification of each biological group during lab microscope sessions, all under the supervision of leading academics and researchers.  It was a hugely informative and productive week, and many thanks go to the organiser Dr Tom Hill and all the other museum academics involved in making the whole event a great success!

A history of moorland burning in the Yorkshire Dales: searching for study sites

A recent trip to the Yorkshire Dales by new NERC CASE/St Andrews funded PhD student Robert Barbour and co-supervisor Althea Davies provided a brief introduction to the history and landscape of this beautiful part of the world. Using a range of palaeoecological proxies and historical documents, Robert will investigate the history of moorland burning in the Dales – specifically, how this key upland management practice and its impacts on vegetation and carbon accumulation have varied over the last millennium.

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LEFT: A classic Dales landscape to the south of Bainbridge, Wensleydale: sheep pasture, hay meadows and isolated farms and field barns in the valleys, with moorland and extensive areas of blanket peat higher up. RIGHT: Blanket peatland to the north of Swaledale: what limitations does extensive peat degradation in this area impose on palaeoecological analysis?

The trip showcased how incredibly varied the Dales are in terms of their geology, vegetation, land-use, and archaeological features, which presents both opportunities and challenges. For example, areas with a limestone influence often support a distinct mosaic of vegetation types (the historical development of which has received limited research) and a large amount of documentary and archaeological evidence for past land-use, but tend to have fewer peat deposits which can provide high resolution palaeoecological records up to the present day.  Meanwhile, the bleak expanse of blanket mire visited above Swaledale and Arkengarthdale contains a huge number of potential palaeoecological study sites and extensive areas of moorland managed by frequent burning.  However, peat cutting, drainage and pollution from lead mining have caused considerable peat degradation, which may limit the quantity and quality of palaeoecological data. Determining the condition and location of peat records, vegetation and land-use types, and the amount of historical evidence available in potential study sites will be crucial over the coming months in shaping the research questions.