Research

We are often approached by students with requests for help with fieldwork and scientific research projects or summer work experience.  Below we have collated a list of topics that we’d be keen to for project to investigate.

For all of these projects, a student would need to be able to drive (or have access to a driver) and be able to work independently.  We can help organise access permissions for the fieldwork and also help steer the project with some focused research questions, and lots of encouragement.

All of these topics could be tailored to meet different academic levels (A-level, Undergraduate, Masters, PhD).  We do ask, however, if we could have a copy of the results, a report, or a presentation at the end.

Types of projects

Explore the areas of work we have interest in.

Trees and Woodlands

The spread of sitka onto bogs

We’d like to build on a research project that took place in 2018 to help us where sitka spruce trees have self-seeded themselves onto valuable peat bogs.  Again there are a number of possible research angles.

What is the impact of prevailing wind/topography/altitude on the spread of the trees from the forest edge?  How is it best to measure density of sitka?

What is the furthest distance a tree has been found self-seeded from the forest edge?  What is the effect of the timing of mast years?  Does the planting of different species (with heavier seeds) on the forest edge make a difference?

What is the difference in evapotranspiration rates of sitka and broadleaf species like birch?  Is LIDAR data any use at picking up smaller trees, or an infra-red camera fitted to a drone?

Management Plans on various woodlands throughout the Park

Some of these have never had a woodland management plan, some are out of date.  A student would need to have some background knowledge about trees and woodland.  You would be assessing for management measures like fencing (to encourage natural regeneration), new planting, removal of non-native species, and bracken control, for example.

A Veteran Tree recording project

We have no current comprehensive records about veteran trees, ancient trees and other notable trees in the National Park.  The information would be extremely useful for protecting and retaining them.

We’d be interested to know age estimates – some measurements would be useful, possibly even a trunk core.  Trees in this area will grow slower and be smaller than trees in the rest of England.  A student would need to have some background knowledge about trees and woodland.

Hedgerow surveying and mapping

We have maps of woodlands and forests in the National Park.  But we don’t have any maps about hedgerows.  Hedges can often be really useful links in the landscape for species that can move between two smaller woods – effectively making one larger habitat.

Hedges also have a big edge: habitat ratio, which means that species that like the intersection between trees and grassland find their niche here.  For this project, you’d need some background in GIS and some knowledge about trees and woodland.

We’d be able to train you in QGIS.  Together we’d develop a methodology for assessing and mapping the hedgerows in the Park.  There could be a sample area of the National Park selected for survey work.

This project would fit really well with our ecological network mapping/connectivity work, as well as recommend the best areas to plant new trees and hedgerows.

Grasslands

Green roof studies

In 2017 the new Landscape Discovery Centre opened on Hadrian’s Wall with a green roof.  We’d love to see a range of projects that investigate the development of the sward and how the substrate changes over time.  It would help us develop and maintain the roof and possibly even introduce other species.

green roof

A soil sampling project

Some of the special grasslands in the National Park are known for their waxcap fungi.  We’d like to see soil sampling of some of these sites to determine what characteristics in the soil are best for the fungi.  This project could also include some eDNA analysis of the soil, to see if waxcap DNA can be identified in the soil even when the fungi are not fruiting.  This project would help identify waxcap sites and know what conditions are suitable for them.  It would also identify if sites that are separated by a fence or a hedge are really 1 site as far as the fungi are concerned!

Walltown soil analysis project

We’d like to know what nutrients and properties the soil in various parts of Walltown Quary containts.  Walltown is at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall.  The results would help manage the site and inform the Walltown management plan.

Haymeadow surveys

We know of some meadows where seed and plants have been added.  Some surveys and quadrats would be needed to monitor the changes in sward diversity.  The results would help inform if further seed and plug plants are needed.

haymeadow survey

This could be a multi-year project, with a group of students building on the results from previous years, or good as a stand-alone work experience project. A student would need to have some background knowledge about meadow species but this is also easy to pick up.  Haymeadows are normally surveyed during June and July.

Animal husbandry

The relationship between sheep diseases and habitat/land management

We know that sheep sometimes get liver fluke (which is associated for part of its life cycle with the pond mud snail) and yellowsis (which is associated with bog asphodel which flowers in July).

This project could take a ‘social science’ angle and interview some farmers and vets in the area, looking closer at the recent records of disease and the hefts those sheep belonged to.  Or, in terms of fieldwork, can the pond mud snail host be found on the farmland, and if so which habitats?

Does preventing sheep from grazing on bogs mean they need more or less treatment for internal parasites?  We already have some student projects running on the Lampert Farm every summer and we could build on this work.  You would know that you are contributing to real-life scenarios faced by land managers and making a real difference!  There is no end of angles we could approach this topic from!

Insects

A project to investigate the moths on newly planted hedges

We know about some new hedgerows and we’d like to investigate the relationship between the moth population and the health of the new hedge.  Can the moths be used as an indicator for the health of the new hedge ecosystem?

Emperor Moth © SHackett

Large Heath Butterfly

The large heath butterfly caterpillar’s main food plant is hare’s tail cotton grass.  And the adult likes the nectar of cross-leaved heath.  So, it is a butterfly of the area’s special peat bog habitats.  A series of surveys were carried out in the 1990s and early 2000s with scientific papers were published as a result.  These investigations sought to correlate habitat quality with occupancy and argued that habitat quality is more important than habitat size or isolation.

We’d like to repeat survey some of the sites and investigate if the theories still hold up, or if we can make the ‘prediction factors’ for finding the butterfly on a site any more sophisticated.  The butterfly is in its chrysalis stage during May-June, its adult stage in July-early August (it is one of the last butterflies to emerge).  Looking for the chrysalis, the adult or the eggs would require patience and a bit of determination, as well as an academic timeline that copes with data collection into mid-August.

Reference: Roger L H Dennis & Harry T Eales (1999), “Probability of site occupancy in the large heath butterfly Coenonympha tullia determined from geographical and ecological data.”  Biological Conservation 87(3):295-301

Water Quality

The Usway Burn

can we identify sediment sources in the burn? One technique would be to fly our drone along here in a period following heavy rain – tracing any visible sediment flows upstream.  Samples could also be taken at every tributary confluence to help pin-point the problem upstream.

shillmoor

Bats

The bat roost

As part of the construction of The Sill on Hadrian’s Wall, a bat roost was built in 2016.  We’d love to have any data relating to the species using the roost over time, possibly using bat detectors at dusk.  This would tell us if the mitigation was successful, to inform future planning mitigation work/bat roost proposals.  Students would work with a bat group.

bats