The People and Nature Lab is an interdisciplinary research and teaching partnership developing innovative approaches to tackle the challenges posed by biodiversity loss and climate change.
A better understanding of the dependencies of natural systems on human health and wellbeing is now critical with the increasing global challenge of human populations appropriating more of the earth’s resources, disrupting natural systems and changing global climate patterns.
The People and Nature Lab in our new East campus in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, builds on UCL’s extraordinary breadth of world leading expertise across disciplines, bringing together academics from ecology, engineering, computer science, social science, health and the built environment to develop innovative approaches to tackle critical global challenges.
The cross-departmental People and Nature Lab is led by the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER), a world leading centre of excellence for understanding the impact of rapid environmental change on biodiversity, how species are adapting to anthropogenic change, and how the degradation of nature impacts people and society.
UCL faculty: Life Sciences
Academic lead: Professor Kate Jones
Building: Pool Street West
Focus areas: Ecology; citizen science; human health
Two new MSc programmes, both the first of their kind, will commence in September of 2022. These will be the first programmes taught by the People and Nature Lab and they will develop the next generation of professionals better equipped to address critical global environmental challenges across society.
This new MSc, the first of its kind globally, provides students with the interdisciplinary skills, theoretical and practical expertise needed to apply cutting-edge innovations in data science, citizen science, sensor technologies, and applied artificial intelligence to monitor and manage ecosystems and wildlife populations to understand and reverse catastrophic changes in global biodiversity.
Biodiversity and ecosystems underpin all human wellbeing and endeavours – from health and happiness to prosperity and security. Yet biodiversity is declining rapidly, with global and local extinctions, and widespread population declines. Meanwhile, land is increasingly under pressure to meet multiple requirements, including the production of sustainable energy, clean water, and healthy, sustainable food. The combined impacts of a growing human population, increasing production and consumption, and global climate change, present an enormous challenge for the management of natural resources and ecosystems.
High-resolution data streams produced from a growing array of sensor technologies such as high-resolution satellite imagery, visual and audio sensor data, geospatial tracking devices and environmental DNA, are revolutionizing how environments are monitored. Additionally, new advances in artificial intelligence and other statistical modelling tools are transforming our ability to analyze these high-resolution data, potentially transforming our understanding of how to manage ecosystems and meet the world’s critical global challenges. However, there is a knowledge and skills gap between ecology and state-of-the-art approaches in data science, sensor technologies and applied artificial intelligence that needs to be bridged to realize this potential.
MSc Citizen Science
The MSc in Citizen Science will enable a new generation of socially engaged scholars and practitioners to meet the needs of industry, government and public sectors which are seeing a rapid growth of the interest and participation of the general public in collecting and processing data to answer critical environmental questions. This new MSc, the first of its kind in the world, provides students with theoretical and practical experience in creating and managing citizen science projects across a range of disciplines from astronomy to zoology.
Participation of the general public in scientific projects has experienced rapid growth over the past decade, covering a huge range of disciplinary areas including astronomy, history, arts, cell biology, engineering, climate science, epidemiology, and public health (see https://www.zooniverse.org for a wide range of examples). For ecology in particular, citizen science is a long-established and vital tool for assessing the status of wildlife populations across the world, providing critical evidence for the health status of ecosystems (e.g. data from public-powered monitoring programmes made up the majority of the evidence for the UK’s State of Nature Report in 2019).
From policy makers and funders, to city councils and governments, interest and investment in citizen science projects are global. But how such projects are designed, implemented, and managed to be successful? What are the best methods to collect and evaluate the data? Which privacy and data sharing agreements need to be considered?
The professionalisation of citizen science requires the development of expertise in designing, implementing, and managing citizen science projects and activities, illustrating the urgent need for an academic programme that offers the necessary support and training for emerging citizen science practitioners.
This new MSc programme is the first of its kind, and will meet the need for recognised skills development and support in this exciting area, providing students with unique skills in an area of ever-increasing demand that can be applied across a number of different industries.
People and Nature Lab's First Project
Whilst the new UCL East campus was being built the People and Nature Lab worked with colleagues at Intel to develop the world’s first automated smart detectors for monitoring bats through their echolocation calls. Our ‘Echo Boxes’ continuously record and identify bat calls using machine learning across the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park sending the results back in real-time to understand the health of the environment.
“We are at a crucial tipping point in human history to decide how to best manage our planet’s natural resources and combat impacts of changing climates. The People and Nature Lab will play a crucial role in developing tools to manage natural resources and a better understanding of the fundamental dependencies we have on our environment." – Professor Kate Jones, Professor of Ecology and Biodiversity