Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment

Director Appointed to the Welsh Government’s Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment

Professor David Thomas has been appointed to lead a new national research network established to nurture and build on the high quality research in the environmental and natural sciences in Wales.

This new network will focus on working at the interface between the environmental and biological science agendas and will deliver a coherent national focus for these sciences in Wales.  The network builds on the internationally excellent research that is already in the research community in Wales and will deliver and build on that excellence to position Wales as a world-leader in its approach to natural resource management.

The network is funded with £7m from the Welsh Government’s Sêr Cymru programme and being jointly led by the Universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth under the auspices of their Strategic Alliance. 

The Sêr Cymru Programme aims is to enhance research in Wales through a five year funding programme to attract and support world-class science researchers and their teams, to build greater capacity for the future. It is also intended to build up networks of existing excellence as contributions to increasing Wales' cut of the UK Research Council's funding to 5% from its current 3.4%. The Welsh Government has committed up to £50 million to the Sêr Cymru programme, which includes £15 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). The programme’s objective is to enhance and build upon the research capability in Wales. It aims to attract world-leading scholars and their teams to Wales.

It will also support the establishment of a collaborative National Research Network in each of the three Grand Challenge research areas identified in the 'Science for Wales' strategy: advanced engineering and materials; life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment.

 The programme aims to enhance research capacity of the highest quality in Wales and build excellence in the Universities in Wales and in key partner research organisations: NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office and the British Geological Survey.

Professor David Thomas, who holds the Chair in Marine Biology at Bangor University, has an impressive academic profile with research interests spanning ocean and land based sciences including a wide range of climatic conditions, including polar environments.  He has also just returned to the UK after holding a prestigious appointment in Finland and the Universities are delighted that he has been able to return to Wales and take this position.

Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities have established a comprehensive collaboration in the natural Sciences under their Bioscience, Environmental and Agricultural Alliance (BEAA).  Framed under a broader alliance this has provided an excellent position to lead on this area of science across the Welsh Universities.  Both Bangor’s College of Natural Sciences and Aberystwyth’s IBERS were formed specifically to bring multidisciplinary teams of environmental scientists together and the success in winning this funding shows the merit of that strategy

As an example of the potential, the Centre for Catchment and Coastal Research, a joint research centre between Bangor and Aberystwyth already has a major collaborative project with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) at Bangor using the River Conwy system as a demonstration site for assessing nutrient and pathogen transfers from the river catchment to the coastal zone. This is a great example of the ‘joined-up’ science that the network will address.

Minister for Economy and Science, Edwina Hart, said: “I am pleased to see Professor David Thomas has been appointed to lead the Sêr Cymru Low Carbon, Energy and Environment National Research Network.  He will help build on some of the excellent work going on in this field in Wales. This appointment and the start of this network is another important step forward in our Sêr Cymru programme to develop science and innovation in Wales.”

Professor Julie Williams, the Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales said

“I am delighted that David has agreed to lead the Sêr Cymru Low Carbon, Energy and Environment National Research Network.  The research undertaken by the Network will address some of the most pressing challenges facing society today and he is well suited to the role especially given his experience of running research teams and his wealth of experience and knowledge in a range of research areas spanning ocean and land based sciences as well as climatic conditions. 

Professor David Thomas said: “The network will focus the Welsh research effort in water, food and energy resources - a crucial area identified by government chief scientists and the research community.  The vision is to develop a new systems-based approach to natural resource management, closely linked to societal needs and directly feeding into policy development and implementation. The scientific outputs of the network should increase commercial opportunities for businesses in Wales and will provide critical information for policy makers and government at a local and national level”

Professor Colin Jago, the Dean of Bangor University’s College of Natural Sciences said: “The overarching motivation for the Network is how to integrate the sustainable use of natural resources so that we have continued energy, water and food security as well as maintaining other ecosystem Services that the natural world provides.

“The Sêr Cymru National Research Network for Low Carbon, Energy and Environment will therefore focus on trade-offs and synergies in the delivery of different ecosystem Services on land and in the coastal zone, including agriculture, aquaculture, ecosystem health and biodiversity. This requires a new approach which will see scientists from different disciplines and institutions working together, which can best be organised via a national network.”

“The step-change increase in computing capacity provided by high performance computers and cloud computing networks will be exploited to develop new numerical models that address environmental issues on the scales demanded by the imperatives of climate change”.

Professor Chris Thomas, acting Director for the Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Aberystwyth University said: “A major element of the emerging environmental research strategy in Wales is to develop the intellectual and logistic networks to promote a ‘Laboratory Wales’ approach to sustainability. This will allow us to develop a unique test bed that integrates scales from genes to landscape, and links across air-land-marine domains.

The network will appoint teams of high calibre early career post-doctoral scientists and doctoral students to develop new fundamental research and applied science projects with the specific aim of raising the profile of environmental science in Wales and increasing research funding from UK and EU sources.

Publication date: 24 February 2014