Under the umbrella of the HSBC Climate Partnership, Earthwatch, the Oxford-based environmental charity, has opened five climate centres around the world - in Europe, Brazil, India, China and North America. In these locations they are teaming up with local partner organisations to carry out long-term research into how climate change is impacting forests, which have already been heavily degraded in many areas by human activity.
Earthwatch is carrying out the research programme at Wytham Woods in collaboration with local partners the Environmental Change Institute (ECI), the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and Oxford University's Wildlife and Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU).
As Dr Dan Bebber, Earthwatch's Head of Climate Change Research explains, the Wytham Woods research has wider significance.
"The aim of the research is to determine the influence of human activities on the responses of forests to climate change. Results from this research will assist in the development of guidelines for woodland managers across northern Europe, helping them to maximise the resilience of their forests to changing weather patterns and extreme climatic events."
2008 - a year to remember
During 2008, the 10 teams of HSBC Climate Champions - 120 dedicated individuals - helped scientists Dr Terhi Riutta of ECI and Dr Eleanor Slade of WildCRU carry out a staggering 960 days of field research. They collected data on tree growth and distribution, and monitored populations of small mammals, insects and bats. At the same time, the Climate Champions took part in a series of discussion and planning sessions to increase their own knowledge of climate change, and help them to design projects to reduce HSBC's environmental impact on their return to work.
Their hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed. Earthwatch's Rowan Byrne, Director of the Regional Climate Centre, observed: "The staff here at the centre have been really impressed with all the teams of Climate Champions. It's hard work being out in the field - early starts and long days - but the teams definitely rose to the challenge. Many people underestimate the time scientific research takes to complete. What is so exciting about this programme is that one season equates to three years of a single scientist's time in the field."
The HSBC volunteers also felt their time was well spent. Emanuel Schembri from Malta describes his time at the Climate Centre as "A terrific experience without a doubt! Our contribution to the scientific research can and does make a difference; that's an indescribable thrill. I have learned a lot and the comradeship is a lifetime treasure".
Interesting and rare sightings
The 2008 research season was punctuated by numerous reports of rare and unusual sightings of woodland species - a reward for the long hours spent in the forest!
Orange footman and peppered moths were identified. The presence of orange footman could be an early indicator of changing climate - the species is thought to be spreading north with milder temperatures and lower pollution levels.
Teams were able to record an impressive number of ‘first sightings' of moths for the year for the Upper Thames region. First sightings included ingrailed clay, coronet, maple pug moth, copper underwing, mottled umber, brown-spot pinion, yellow-line quaker, sprawler and feathered thorn.
Britain's smallest mammal, the charmingly named pygmy shrew, very scarce in this region, was captured, weighed and measured twice - an exciting find for the scientists. A rare woodlouse, Ligidium hypnorum, was identified by three of the teams, and a specimen sent to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. The woodlouse is an indicator of healthy ancient woodland, a good sign for Wytham.
What's in store for 2009?
The research programme at Wytham will continue a-pace in 2009, with the next team of HSBC climate champions due to arrive on 30th March. A further nine teams will follow them throughout the year.
Rowan Byrne describes the goal for the centre in 2009 as "...upping the level of local engagement and generating excitement throughout the local community for the work being done here".
Rowan is currently planning a series of talks for local schools in Oxfordshire where he will outline the research being done at the centre and highlight the very real impacts of climate change in our region. Earthwatch is planning to run bespoke events and courses for local community members later in the year. The first of these will take place during the summer holidays when a group of local school teachers will spend a week at the centre, working alongside the researchers and sharing skills and knowledge about environmental education and greening their schools.
Earthwatch's Abi Jermain, Learning and Communications Manager at the climate centre says, "It is great getting teachers involved, because as educators they can channel what they learn in the field directly into the classroom - inspiring in their students a vital commitment to a sustainable environment."
Further courses will be run at the Europe Regional Climate Centre for local community action groups and NGOs during the autumn - watch this space!
- Hear Dr. Dan Bebber speak at the Earthwatch lecture Forests and Climate Change at the Royal GeographicalSociety in London on Thursday 26thMarch. The lecture is open to all and will be hosted by the explorer and TV presenter Paul Rose. For tickets or information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01865 318856.
HSBC Climate Partnership.
Between May and October last year, 10 teams of ‘climate champions' - employees from HSBC bank branches and offices across Europe convened in rural Oxfordshire armed with wellies, team spirit and a desire to get their hands dirty at the Earthwatch Regional Climate Centre in Wytham Woods.