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Urban biodiversity and the feel-good factor

18 January 2012

Visitors to greenspaces in our towns and cities respond positively to increased levels of biodiversity, a new study involving researchers from De Montfort University (DMU) has shown.

The study - published this week in the American Institute of Biological Sciences’ journal BioScience - describes how people’s psychological well-being is more related to the number of species they think are present in an area, rather than the range of wildlife that is actually there.

By carrying out interviews in parks, woodlands and footpaths along rivers in the city of Sheffield, researchers were able to better understand the important relationships between the number of bird, plant and butterfly species occurring on a site, and how this influences several dimensions of well-being, including opportunities for reflection, attachment to the area, and sense of identity gained through visiting the location over time.

These measures of well-being were higher in areas that supported more bird species. However this was not the case for butterflies or plants. In all cases, the self-reported well-being of members of the public improved if they perceived there to be greater numbers of species in an area. This was despite that fact that most people could not accurately assess the variety of wildlife they were encountering.

Co-author Dr. Katherine Irvine of De Montfort University, Leicester, said: “Greater attention needs to be paid to providing access to nature and also to developing people’s awareness of - and ability to recognise - the wildlife that surrounds them. Such action will help maximise the benefits of urban greenspaces for both biodiversity and human psychological well-being.”

Lead author Dr Martin Dallimer - formerly of the University of Sheffield and now based at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark - added: “One possible explanation is that people may need to have good wildlife identification skills to know how many species are present in a greenspace. We found that members of the public who could correctly recognise pictures of wildlife commonly found along the rivers of Sheffield were more able to estimate the actual number of species occurring on a site.

“Now that over half the world’s population live in towns and cities, urban greenspaces have an increasingly important role to play in improving people’s quality of life. Indeed, these are the only places that many city-dwellers will encounter wildlife on a regular basis.”

The study is an output from the Urban Rivers and Sustainable Living Agendas (URSULA) EPSRC-funded project by the University of Sheffield.

IESD delegates went down under!

1 December 2011

View from the harbour cruise boat, by Jim Parker

Australia hosted the biennial International Building Simulation conference this year, and the IESD was well represented. Between November 14th and 16th, four IESD members presented papers at the conference in Sydney, organized by the Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA). Gavin Bunker presented LESSONS, a project designing a new tool to reduce the gap between forecast design performance and actual design performance by accessing lessons from previous projects, while Michael Oates described a new modeling approach which combines energy flows in manufacturing with those in a factory building. Jim Parker gave a paper evaluating low energy retrofit options for an airport terminal using dynamic thermal simulation, and Yi Zhang presented a poster on the ADOPT project, in which surrogate modeling techniques were used in building design optimization. The conference was attended by over 850 delegates with nearly 400 papers over the 3 days. In total the Institute contributed (authored and coauthored) 7 papers. It was of course not all work. The highlight was a cruise on the prestigious ‘Starship’ boat in Sydney Harbour, which included a wonderful firework display under the magnificent Sydney Bridge. IBPSA is a non-profit international society of building performance simulation researchers, developers and practitioners, dedicated to improving the built environment.


IESD strengthens links with China

20 November 2011

With China accounting for nearly half of world construction, and planning to build 280 'eco-cities', building researchers are increasingly looking east. Professor Xudong Zhao, Dr Andy Wright and PhD student Xingxing Zhang from the IESD recently visited south-east China. Professor Zhao chaired a scientific session in Low Carbon Earth Summit 2011 held in Dalian, before joining the others at the University of Nottingham Ningbo campus where they attended a kick-off meeting for an EU Marie Curie researcher exchange scheme on research into sustainable buildings. Then they travelled to the city of Suzhou, to meet the Suzhou Building Energy Research Institute to discuss collaboration on low energy buildings and systems for the huge Suzhou Eco-city Project. This is expected to lead to training of PhD students and engineering consultation, as a way of DMU's involvement into the Suzhou Eco-city Project. "The scale of the cities and the pace of construction in China dwarf anything in the UK" said Andy Wright. "This is a great opportunity to be involved." Xingxing Zhao will stay in China to work on his PhD project at Shanghai Pacific Energy Centre as part of the EU researcher exchange programme. Apart from these, Professor Zhao also made visit to Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, and China University of Science and Technology, and meet the chief engineer of a Chinese giant solar company, Sunrain Ltd. They hope to set up a joint research project to develop a zero (low) carbon solar/air source heat pump hot water heating system, for which DMU will receive a 3-year full PhD scholarship grant from Sunrain Ltd.


DMU participates in large scale EU International Researcher Exchange Programme

FP7 People1 October 2011

The Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD), De Montfort University, is jointly operating a large scale EU funded International Researcher Exchange Programme entitled "R & D in Sustainable Building Energy Systems and Retrofitting" (R-D-SBES-R), with 11 Universities and 8 industrial organisations in EU countries and China. As a joint coordinator, DMU is working closely with the University of Nottingham (coordinator) to move this project forward. Professor Xudong Zhao is coordinating the works allocated to DMU regarding this programme; Dr Andrew Wright, Dr Yi Zhang and Mr Xingxing Zhang are the major participants of the project.

The main aims of the R & D exchange programme are to develop sustainable long-term partnership between European and Chinese organisations by joint researches into the development of zero (low) carbon cooling, heating and power generation technologies for buildings, and to promote best practice and strategy for retrofitting existing buildings and researchers mobility between Europe and China. Our main objectives, in terms of the Marie Curie 2010 IRESS programme, are:

  • To build and strengthen research partnership through staff exchanges and networking activities between European research organisations and research organisations from China
  • To provide support to these research organisations to establish and reinforce long-term research cooperation through a coordinated joint programme of exchange of researchers
  • To assist in attracting to Europe the best researchers from China and to establish a balanced "brain circulation" between the EU and China
  • To enhance the training, mobility and career development of EU and Chinese researchers
  • To promote inter-sectoral mobility between academia and industry in both Europe and China
  • To enable the wider skills and career development of EU researchers

The programme is well established on existing research projects run by the participant organisations. Its technical objectives are:

  • To develop a novel dew point air cooler
  • To develop a solar driven ejector cooling system
  • To develop a solar driven desiccant cooling system
  • To develop a solar PV heat/power system using direct expansion evaporator/heat pipes
  • To develop a solar balcony hot water heating system 
  • To develop a hybrid solar/biomass CHP system 
  • To develop micro-channel heat exchangers for building air conditioning 
  • To develop retrofitting strategies utilising the above addressed technologies.     

Successful completion of the research will lead to the generation of several commercially viable, cost effective technologies able to save energy in buildings in the range from 20 to 95%, depending upon the individual technologies applied. A multi/inter- disciplinary team consisting of specialists in the areas of thermo-fluid, heat transfer, mechanical/electrical/material engineering, building services, refrigeration, architecture, energy, construction, computing, and industry practice has been structured to work together on the specifically designed Work Packages, through a dedicated staff exchange scheme. This scheme will communicate the knowledge/expertise of the various zero (low) carbon cooling and heat/power technologies between the EU and Chinese partners, and formulate technology transfer between academia and industrial bodies, thus enhancing the financial profits of the participant organisations. Dissemination and deployment of the results of the proposed programme will contribute to achieving energy saving targets for buildings and cutting carbon emissions in both the EU and China.

The R-D-SBES-R consortium will include twelve partners, six being universities from European Member States and six being universities from the People’s Republic of China - an ICPC country which has signed a S&T Agreement with the EU. Eight industrial organisations from the EU, USA and China are also involved in the project. Strong participation by enterprises (all SMEs) will enhance industry-academia cooperation in terms of research training, career development, knowledge sharing and technology transfer. It will also result in fertilisation of a number of young researchers and PhD students through the joint supervision between the partners. Moreover, the programme will help identify more research initiatives that will formulate future cooperation between the EU and China partners. This four-year project was launched on 27 September, 2011.


Reader at the IESD becomes journalist

24 August 2011

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An electric car plugged in outside Andy's office.

Dr Andy Wright, Reader in Building Engineering Physics at the IESD, is working for Times Higher Education in London for three weeks on science and engineering issues in higher education. His placement is as a British Science Association Media Fellow - one of around 10 awarded annually. He said on his first day, "it's fascinating but a bit daunting to be suddenly in an open plan office surrounded by journalists working on stories for the Times Higher, and trying do develop my own stories. Working on short articles for a weekly publication cycle is very different from spending months writing scientific papers". At the end of the placement he will report from the British Science Festival in Bradford in September.

For Andy's blogs, visit:



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