The Socio-ecological Systems and Sustainability Group brings together a range of staff from across the University of Worcester who share an interest in the dynamic inter-relationship between environment and society, and how this shapes our understanding and approaches towards sustainability and sustainable development. Our work is both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in nature, in that we draw upon academic expertise from the social and physical sciences, but also work in partnership with a range of external stakeholders including local communities, NGOs and government, to carry out research that addresses ‘real world’ problems.
In recent years our research has examined the dynamic and contested relationship between peoples’ livelihoods and wetland environments throughout Africa, with a particular focus on how adaptive co-management can facilitate sustainable livelihoods and ecosystem services, producing win-win outcomes for the environment and development. More recently, we have been exploring the contribution of integrated landscape approaches to sustainable development, which examine the linkages between hydrological and ecological processes between land units within catchments and wetlands, but also the ways in which local people understand and derive livelihood benefits from these interactions. This work, which has involved collaboration with NGOs Self Help Africa, Tiyeni and Wetland Action, was considered by REF2014 to have ‘very considerable impacts in terms of reach and significance’, and has influenced policy and practice in Africa and beyond.
We are also working to develop social and ecological monitoring systems which incorporate the unique cultural and ecological values of streams. Working in southern Belize, staff have collaborated with the Ya’axché Conservation Trust to develop conventional ecological indicators of stream condition suitable for use by non-specialists, and with rural Maya communities to identify freshwater-related ecosystem services valued at the village-scale, and environmental indicators that can be used locally to measure their sustainability. Supported by a Darwin Initiative Scoping Award, we are investigating the potential for continuing this work, in partnership with the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Belize, and the Ya'axche Conservation Trust by exploring the development of social, environmental and socio-ecological indicators, and their integration into an Index that can improve water security at local, watershed and national-scales.
Other research has focused on human-wildlife inter-relationships. On-going work for the Forestry Commission is examining people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the wild boar population in the Forest of Dean, and the subsequent social, economic and environmental implications of the re-emergence of this species in the area. In Ethiopia, meanwhile, we have investigated the conflict between wild vertebrates and subsistence farmers in marginal agricultural areas.
Our recent consultancy work has included the development of Guidelines for Agriculture-Wetland Interactions for the FAO, Functional Landscape Approach Training workshops for Self Help Africa and the DISCOVER (Developing Innovative Solutions with Communities to Overcome Vulnerability through Enhanced Resilience) programme in Zambia and Malawi, and the development of local capacity for freshwater monitoring in rural Belize for the Ya’axché Conservation Trust and the Caribbean-Aqua Terrestrial Solutions programme of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Dr Andy Bullock
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