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From conservation of rare species to murder cases: NERC-funded research at Bristol is making an impact

A small eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Models used to predict how much ash is pumped into the atmosphere and where it goes during a volcanic eruption are being informed by world-leading volcanology experts from the University of Bristol.

A small eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat. Models used to predict how much ash is pumped into the atmosphere and where it goes during a volcanic eruption are being informed by world-leading volcanology experts from the University of Bristol. Professor Steve Sparks, University of Bristol

Press release issued: 23 January 2013

A recent look at how research at the University of Bristol has had an impact beyond academia has illustrated the diversity and global reach of Bristol’s research portfolio.

Research that has been funded in part or wholly by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) over the past 20 years has been highlighted in a series of case studies that reveal a history of impactful research, ranging from informing local management plans in Bristol’s Avon Gorge to helping solve a murder case.

From environmental remediation to natural hazard risk management, Bristol researchers are using their research methods and findings to reach beyond the academic community and help improve society and the environment.

The impact of research is at the top of the agenda for all universities this year as it is part of the assessment process that all UK higher education institutions will undergo at the end of the year to evaluate quality of research.

The assessment is undertaken by the four UK higher education funding bodies and one of the outcomes of the assessment is to provide accountability for public investment in research.  However, beyond this assessment, impact is playing an increasingly important role as more and more funding agencies are asking researchers to include some consideration of impact and how they will achieve it as part of the grant application process.

Lynne Porter from the NERC Evidence Impact Team said: “Evidence of impact is very valuable to NERC as it helps us demonstrate that not only are public funds being used responsibly in the pursuit of scientific advance but that they are improving the environment, economy and wellbeing of the UK.  Showing impact outside of academia has a number of uses including justifying continued public investment in the science base which is under increased scrutiny during austere times.”

The impact case studies include supporting evidence from those that have benefitted from the research including the animal health industry, environmental remediation specialists, the international food trade, the risk management industry, local and federal governments, and the police.  Many of the impact outcomes have been a result of expertise developed over decades of research as well as longstanding relationships with external partners.

Professor Paul Bates, Director of the Cabot Institute and Professor of Hydrology in the School of Geographical Sciences said: "Demonstrating that academic research has impact on wider society is not only useful to convince Government and the public of the value of the investment but it also brings important benefits to researchers themselves.  Our experience in the Cabot Institute is that closer dialogue between academics and the users of their research actually leads to the development of better and more focussed research programmes."

The case studies

Early season treatment of sheep could reduce the incidence of blowfly strike as climate warms

Volcanological input reduces uncertainty surrounding volcanic ash forecasts

Research into rare Sorbus reproduction informs conservation of the Avon Gorge

From maize oil to murder: the diverse applications of sophisticated chemical analyses

Conker Tree Science: how small investments can reach thousands

Predictive model serves as blueprint for the flood risk management industry

The four UK higher education funding bodies

The four UK higher education funding bodies are the Higher Education Funding Council for Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

Cabot Institute

The Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol carries out fundamental and responsive research on risks and uncertainties in a changing environment.  Our interests include natural hazards, food and energy security, resilience and governance, and human impacts on the environment. Our research fuses rigorous statistical and numerical modelling with a deep understanding of interconnected social, environmental and engineered systems – past, present and future. We seek to engage wider society – listening to, exploring with, and challenging our stakeholders to develop a shared response to twenty-first century challenges.

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