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EPSRC CDT in Sensor Technologies for a Healthy and Sustainable Future


Keynote Speaker 1: Christine Maggs – The role of sensors in statutory nature conservation

Statutory nature conservation duties include monitoring, analysing and reporting trends in organisms and habitats, using indicators such as numbers (counts) and other attributes.  Goals include maintaining or restoring favourable status, as expressed by indicators, and determining what “pressures” may be impacting on that status.  As budgets of statutory nature conservation bodies have decreased, it has become increasingly unrealistic to send expert scientists out at frequent intervals to determine the status of a population or community.  Biological monitoring has lagged behind environmental monitoring, which has used sensors for several decades to determine levels of metal and radionuclide contamination in water bodies, for example.  Biological monitoring employs a wide range of tools, using different attributes of the target organisms.  In the marine environment, JNCC maintains a marine acoustic database, using underwater noise sensors and linking these to the behaviour of marine mammals.  In the deep sea, we partner with the National Oceanography Centre which is using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles that depend on various sensors for their functioning, and should bring back images and samples that can help to understand the conservation status of the site where they were deployed. In fresh waters, the Environment Agency monitor biotoxins using various probes including DNA sensors that can give early warnings of harmful algal blooms.  Terrestrially, the basic infrared sensors that drive camera traps for mammals have revolutionised our understanding of the behaviour and abundance of mammals.  Bioacoustic detection of bats allows integration over long periods (it is mandatory to count bats), and avoids disruption to the bat colonies.  The most important developments, now and in the future, are undoubtedly the sensors on satellites which provide data that can be integrated with ground truthing, other sources of big data, including human activities (e.g. using Google).  There’s a lot going on - so how do the nature conservation agencies react?  Cautiously, quickly appreciating the potential value, but requiring assurance as to how new approaches will complement old ones.  They set the standards and indicators, so these can be revised when the agencies are confident that new data are robust.  The role of sensors in providing the data needed for statutory nature conservation, whether aquatic, terrestrial, airborne or in space, will continue to increase in significance, but there will need to be a lot of careful communication.


               Christine Maggs

Christine is the first Chief Scientist of the UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Committee. JNCC is part of the Defra group which provides conservation advice to governments based on analyses of scientific evidence.  After studying Botany at Oxford, a work placement on seaweeds in the Natural History Museum in London and a scientific diving expedition to Brazil led to Christine’s first job as a diving botanist in Wales and then to a PhD at NUI Galway. Her main research interests are evolution and systematics of seaweeds, biological conservation and sustainable seaweed exploitation, and invasion biology in aquatic habitats.   

Following a postdoctoral fellowship in Canada and a NERC Advanced Research Fellowship at Queen’s University Belfast, Christine joined QUB’s School of Biological Sciences as a marine biologist, becoming Professor of Phycology and then Head of School. She was appointed as a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2013 and received the Award of Excellence of the Phycological Society of America. She was Dean of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, and is now a Visiting Professor there and Honorary Professor at QUB.  Christine has served on grant evaluation panels in the UK, Ireland, Finland, Portugal, Norway and Sweden, and has contributed to the NERC and ESRC Peer Review Colleges. 

Christine also promotes public understanding of seaweeds, having co-authored a popular Seasearch guide, and teaches a course to the public and agency staff in spring each year. 

At QUB Christine worked to promote gender equality, leading the School’s successful 2009 submission for a Silver Athena SWAN award, and was closely involved in achieving the Gold award, which was recently renewed for the second time.  She personally received the British Ecological Society’s Equality and Diversity award in 2017, has supported JNCC’s HR staff in achieving Disability Confident leader status, and is the Chair of JNCC’s EDI group. 


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