You smell more than you see

April 24th, 2014

Odour assessment

Odour Assessment

Surprisingly little is known about how the nose and the brain work together to process odours. Whilst it has long been known that many animals, such as dogs, are able to smell much fainter odours than humans, researchers have recently discovered that human noses can actually distinguish between a much greater number of odours than previously thought.

For some time, textbooks and other scientific literature have quoted a figure of approximately 10,000 odours. However, using psychophysical testing, Bushdid et. al.have shown that humans can in fact discriminate at least 1 trillion olfactory stimuli. This shows that our noses are far more sensitive, in terms of discriminatory power, than even our eyes.

Whilst it is too early to say where this research will lead, it could have wide reaching implications for future studies in other areas. For example, consideration of odour is likely to become even more important in environmental impact assessment, in the design of new food products, and in understanding the workings of the human brain.

At Phlorum we have recently had the sensitivity of our noses tested to ensure that they are within the normal range. This adds weight to our odour assessments, ensuring that our survey results can be relied upon for planning purposes. We have experience of undertaking odour surveys for both new developments and complaints issues, including sites adjacent to restaurants, municipal waste processing plants and sewage works.

Please contact us for more information on our odour and other environmental services.

Expert BREEAM Assessor insight – New Guidelines for 2014

April 18th, 2014

According to Wikipedia, BREEAM is “the world’s longest established and most widely used method of assessing, rating and certifying the sustainability of buildings.” Since it was first launched in 1990 250,000 buildings have been BREEAM certified and more than a million have been registered for assessment.

BREEAM is brought into play worldwide to assess the environmental performance of all types of new and existing building. It’s a brand that’s recognised more or less everywhere for setting sustainability standards and, as such, is helping the planet’s homeowners, builders and developers stay ahead of the sustainability curve.

The changing BREEAM scene – NEW for 2014

Whether you need BREEAM domestic refurbishment or a BREEAM assessor to take a look at your commercial property, it’s good to be aware of changes to the scheme. And there’s change on the horizon right now, in the shape of BREEAM UK New Construction 2014. We have our eye on the ball and we’re ready to embrace the new-style scheme with open arms.

About BREEAM UK New Construction 2014

BRE Global is working hard to update and refresh the last generation standard, BREEAM UK New Construction 2011, in light of today’s greener, more sustainable society. The new version is set to be released some time in 2014.

The idea is to improve and evolve the existing scheme, both technically and structurally, to keep it at the cutting edge of innovation. The latest version takes into account the ongoing feedback BRE Global has received from users of the scheme, as well as its specifiers and various other important stakeholders. They’re also upping standards to meet today’s tighter levels, reviewing and updating the criteria the scheme relies on. The move will deliver a robust, future proof scheme that’s as flexible as you’d expect, putting best practice right at the heart of sustainable construction, and recognising and rewarding the people who get it right.

What does getting it right mean?

A BREEAM assessment sets recognised performance measures against benchmarks to evaluate a building’s spec, design, construction and purpose. It looks at a building’s energy and water use, plus the management processes behind critical systems like the health of the internal environment, pollution, transport, materials, waste and ecology. This means you get all this:

  • a benchmark that goes much deeper than regulation alone
  • market recognition for buildings with a proven low environmental impact
  • peace of mind knowing best environmental practice has been taken into account
  • the chance to discover innovative solutions that minimise environmental impact
  • the opportunity to reduce a building’s running costs while improving the working or living environment – a proper win-win
  • demonstrable progress towards environmental objectives

Need an expert BREEAM Assessor?

We’ve been working with BREEAM for many years and we know from experience how valuable certification is. You’ll find us on the GreenBookLive website, where we’re listed as a licensed assessor. If you’re looking for an expert BREEAM Assessor in Sussex or the south east, give us a call.

Ecology consultancy news – protecting Britain’s precious wildlife

April 14th, 2014

Environmental sustainability is big news. As ecological consultants we find ourselves in increasing demand for crucial conservation-led tasks like strategic environmental assessment and ecology survey work. And our great British wildlife is rarely out of the news. Here are some recent stories about three of the country’s most endangered species.

Horseshoe bats in Devon – 90% fewer than 100 years ago

According to the county’s wildlife trust, Devon’s horseshoe bats are one of the few populations left in northern Europe. While more and more of us are becoming aware of their plight as conservation issues become ever-more newsworthy, the bats are still losing their precious habitats bit by bit.

Bat-friendly man-made structures like old quarry caves and barns are disappearing fast, so it’s good to know that Devon Wildlife Trust have won funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for their Greater Horseshoe Bat Partnership. The county has eleven horseshow bat roosts, an increasingly precious resource since the species’ numbers have nosedived 90% in the past hundred years. The funding will help the Trust support local farmers maintain vital bat feeding areas and flight corridors.

Dormice given new nest boxes courtesy of Kier Homes

Lucky apprentices with the UK house builder Kier Homes have been enjoying valuable lessons in environmental responsibility through a wonderfully creative house building project. The firm, a corporate partner of The Wildlife Trust, has built 101 tiny homes especially for dormice. It’s part of Trust’s Designs for Dormice project, one of Britain’s first dormouse re-introduction projects.

The dormouse was re-introduced at Brampton Wood, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, in 1993, and the project has proved a huge success. The new nest boxes were handed to the Wildlife Trust at the wood, and will be invaluable in supporting the popular creature’s ongoing re-colonisation.

Kielder water vole re-introduction project gets the green light

The Tyne Rivers Trust has partnered with the Forestry Commission and Northumberland Wildlife Trust in accepting a £40,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They’ll be spending the cash on an exciting water vole project in the magnificent Kielder Forest, working with local volunteers towards re-introducing the once common animal to the area.
The project will include educating and training volunteers to monitor the forest for mink, spreading the word to schools and collecting memories of the vole from local people, many of whom have vivid memories of the endearing creature which was, until recently, a part of our everyday riverside lives.

Ecology surveys in the south east – Helping protect our precious heritage

The work we do helps protect and conserve dwindling numbers of all manner of threatened species. If a threatened creature lives on your property or a property you’re buying or developing, with our help you’ll know exactly what the situation is and what you should do about it. If you need an ecology consultant in Sussex and the south east, we’ll be delighted to provide expert, informed, efficient ecological services for your project, domestic or commercial. Together we make a real difference.

Video: How to Control Japanese Knotweed (with science!)

April 9th, 2014

The embedded video, below, provides a useful introduction to the problems that Japanese knotweed can cause on landowners’ property. However, its main purpose is to introduce the BBSRC-funded research that Phlorum is undertaking in partnership with Sussex University. This aims to identify a novel chemical control mechanism to inhibit respiration in the mitochondria of knotweed’s cells. The mitochondria are the microscopic ‘batteries’ that power Japanese knotweed’s incredibly rapid growth.

Currently approved herbicides have a general effect on photosynthesis or cell expansion of knotweed and other dicotyledonous plants. It is hoped that the team’s research will enable a product to be tailored to control Japanese knotweed alone, leaving other plants unaffected.

The work is allied with Professor Anthony Moore’s ongoing development of a similar respiratory chain inhibitor that has proven to be effective against the ash dieback fungus, Chalara fraxinea.

Japanese Knotweed control news – April 2014

April 8th, 2014

New Japanese knotweed shootsHardly a month goes by without Japanese Knotweed control being in the news. It’s headline-grabbing stuff with its invasive nature, impressive persistence and horribly destructive habits.

Japanese knotweed tragedy

This week a particularly distressing inquest heard about a troubled man who had murdered his wife after becoming paranoid about Japanese knotweed growing on a golf course near their home. He then killed himself. His suicide note said he’d acted because the balance of his mind had been disturbed by knotweed near the couple’s West Midlands home. Having tried and failed to curb the plant’s growth, the man’s fear of the structural damage the plant can cause led to his “growing madness”.

It’s a terrible tragedy, involving a clearly disturbed mind, but it does illustrate how significant the issue of knotweed can appear to some people. Exaggerated stories in the press on the effects of Japanese knotweed on property do not help. With this in mind, it was an aim of the recent RICS guidance to set the record straight and allay home-owners’ unfounded fears about the level of devastation knotweed could lay upon their properties. The RICS paper and the code of practice from the PCA that was allied with it, have demonstrated that Japanese knotweed control is rarely so problematic that it can cause substantial devaluation of property.

Knotweed only recognised by 44% of gardeners

At the same time, a recent piece of research claims only 44% of gardeners would recognise Japanese knotweed if it turned up in their garden. The study was carried out by the online garden retailer Gardening Express, which was shocked at the results. It appears knotweed, while famously destructive and able to overwhelm other plants, damage concrete and buildings in a very short space of time, isn’t widely recognised. And it’s about time gardeners wised up.

Gardening Express quizzed 600 customers, asking them to identify photos of ten plants and decide whether they were a weed or a flower. Apparently 56% of those surveyed said if the plant turned up in their garden they would probably welcome it. While Japanese knotweed is a serious threat and a frighteningly impressive adversary, it actually looks very beautiful with its creamy flowers and shield-shaped leaves. But the plant is such a pariah that some mortgage lenders have refused loans on homes where the weed raises its not-so-ugly head. Selling a home that’s suffering a knotweed infestation can therefore require additional surveys and professional treatments, which a lender should now be aware of (thanks to the RICS guidance and the PCA Invasive Weeds group).

How to spot Japanese knotweed early

So how to you recognise the early signs? There is some useful information on our knotweed identification page. Small, red-purple shoots, and bright pink crown-bud ‘thumbs’ appear in early spring. These quickly grow into large, hollow, asparagus-like spears before developing into mature, bamboo-like stems with attractive purple speckles in early summer. In winter, large patches of growth persist as straw-coloured ‘bamboo’ canes, which can often make them easier to spot than other vegetation, which dies back at this time of year.

What about Japanese knotweed control?

For domestic properties, often the most effective treatment is the use of approved weedkillers, applied by licensed operators. However, these usually need to be applied over several years. Some home-owners have attempted knotweed control themselves, with weaker chemicals available over the counter.

If you fancy having a go yourself, remember that your work will not be recognised by a mortgage lender, which could affect your ability to sell your property, or the ability of your neighbours to sell theirs. The latter situation could result in litigation as your neighbours seek to redress the nuisance issues you might have caused them. In any case, if you don’t do a 100% perfect job, the knotweed will come back. It’s far better to get the professionals on the case, save yourself all sorts of hassle and minimise the stress.

And what about Japanese knotweed removal costs? It might surprise you – in a good way. Get in touch for a reasonable quote for getting rid of it once and for all, safely, legally and professionally.

Examining sustainability in the construction industry: Interview Invitation

April 7th, 2014

Sustainable buildings flyerPhlorum and the University of Liverpool are researching the development of sustainability in the construction industry, with a specific focus on total CO2 lifecycle emissions. To identify key issues in the industry surrounding CO2 calculation we will be conducting a series of Interviews. These Interviews aim to examine the issues that key thought leaders within the industry feel are most important in the development of low carbon buildings. This research will not only deal with the science behind LCA tools, but also the human decisions which may inhibit the development of such products in the industry. Looking at LCA calculation from a human centred supply chain perspective is a critical part of this research.

The interviews aim to clarify the main problems faced regarding sustainability and CO2 lifecycle analysis. Although some specific questions will be posed the interview will take on a semi-structured format, and discussions will be encouraged to go beyond the set themes.

Themes covered will include but will not be limited to

  1. Key drivers that are helping or hindering the progress towards a low total carbon construction industry
  2. Sustainability successes and failures
  3. Technological and cultural barriers to the successful implementation of lifecycle impact technology

We are currently looking for participants to take part in interviews over the coming months. An executive report based on the results of all interviews will be combined, published and shared with professionals in the industry and those who took part in the interviews. We need people from public and private sectors who are involved in the construction supply chain, sustainability consultancy or carbon calculations to take part in these sessions. If you would like to take part in this research or would like further information, please contact Emily Jervis.

We would like to inform all prospective interviewees that at no time will their identity be used in any of the research; participant anonymity is treated very seriously by the university.


Great News for Whales!

April 4th, 2014

Whale tailThe International Court of Justice in Gland, Switzerland, ruled on 31st March that Japan should immediately cease all whaling activities under its current ‘scientific’ programme: JARPA II.

The court ruled that Japan’s programme was not designed to reach its stated objectives and that the special permits granted by Japan in connection to its whaling in the Southern Ocean were not for scientific research.

As a result of the ruling, the Japanese government must end all whaling in the Southern Ocean. The court’s decision is binding and cannot be appealed.

The decision is a major victory for whale protection efforts. The Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica was declared a whale sanctuary in 1994 following the ban on commercial whaling in 1986 but despite this, Japan has hunted over 10,000 whales in the Southern Ocean since the ban was put in place.

More information can be found here.

Air pollution solutions help meet UK air quality standards

April 2nd, 2014

Air pollution maskAs air quality consultants we know air pollution is nothing new. The Romans complained bitterly about the polluted air in their cities, a horrid combination of wood smoke and untreated sewage. And in pre-Bazalgette London the stink of human waste dumped in the Thames became so bad that the government had to temporarily abandon the Houses of Parliament (lime-soaked curtains were also installed in windows facing the Thames). However, probably the most famous historic text is Fumifugium, or, to give it its full title: ‘The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated Together with Some Remedies Humbly Proposed by J.E. Esq. to his Sacred Majestie, and to the Parliament now Assembled’, which was published in 1661 by John Evelyn. This is one of the earliest texts ever written on the subject of air pollution.

Bringing things up to date, the latest report from the World Health Organisation reveals seven million people died from air pollution in 2012. And the American Lung Association* reports that while the air over there is slowly getting cleaner, more than 50% of the US population still breathe air “dirty enough to cause health problems”.

The problem hasn’t gone away. Quite the contrary. So how is air pollution defined in a contemporary context, and what are the powers that be doing about it?

Classifying air pollution

Primary pollutants are those that are emitted directly to the air from human and natural sources. Secondary pollutants are created by chemical reactions between them and each other; things like low-level ozone and city smog. Even clean air contains all sorts of natural pollutants like dust, fine salt particles, harmful gases, pollen, ash and smoke from wildfires.

Air pollution affects people indoors, too. Sometimes the air indoors is much worse than outdoors, tainted with things like compounds leaking from new carpets and furnishings, fumes from paint, dust from building materials and volatile compounds from cooking. Because modern buildings have to comply with strict insulation guidelines, professional assessment of air quality and good indoor ventilation are piping hot topics.

So far there are more natural pollutants around than man-made ones, and we’ve evolved to cope very well with most of them. But as climate change rumbles on, effective air pollution solutions are more important than ever. It’s no surprise our air quality assessment services are in demand.

What is the UK air quality strategy?

Britain’s Air Quality Strategy drives the nation’s air quality standards. Pollution concentrations are measured over time, identifying acceptable levels based on what is known about the effects of each substance on our health and the environment. The standards act as a benchmark to help identify improvements and worsening air pollution levels.

  • Part 4 of The Environment Act 1995 protects air quality in Britain and drives Local Air Quality Management (LAQM)
  • The Air Quality (Standards) Regulations 2010 deal with ambient air quality. There are equivalent regulations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all responsible for their own air quality legislation
  • The Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000 set national objectives for English local authorities
  • The National Emission Ceilings Regulations 2002 are the UK’s version of the EC’s National Emission Ceilings Directive
  • The Environment Agency regulates pollutant release from big and complicated industrial processes including large-scale food processing, pig and poultry rearing
  • The Environment Agency also works with local authorities, the Highways Agency and others to manage the government’s Air Quality Strategy in England and Wales

With so many regulations to follow and standards to meet from different official bodies, you need professional air quality consultants on the case, to produce an air quality assessment that conforms with all the requirements. That’s where we come in, whether you’re building a factory and need predictive dispersion modelling assessments or are simply building a single dwelling.

UK Government uses Japanese Knotweed to Sequester CO2 Emissions

April 1st, 2014
Japanese knotweed field

Field edge of experimental plot of Japanese knotweed.


Research funded by the UK Government has identified that cultivated Japanese knotweed is a highly effective and natural system for reversing the effects of climate change via phytological carbon sequestration.

At current fossil fuel consumption rates the UK will fail to meet its challenging international and domestic carbon reduction targets. A large scale switch to renewable energy is not, realistically, on the cards and will not, therefore, be the panacea some think it might be.

The most optimistic projections see the UK hedging its bets on natural gas, which is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, to satisfy energy demands until low carbon and renewable technologies take over. However, natural gas can only ever be a stop-gap towards a low-carbon economy as, although relatively free of contaminants, burning it releases atmospheric carbon that would otherwise be safely locked up in the planet’s geology. Current predictions indicate that we have just 10 years before the natural gas ‘stop-gap’ becomes an overflowing, irreversible haemorrhage of CO2  into the earth’s atmosphere.

However, if we use this stop-gap to get our act together in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technologies to buffer and ultimately reverse carbon emissions, the ‘climate change’ future looks much more manageable.

This is where phytological carbon sequestration technologies come in. Natural gas can continue to be an efficient, clean source of energy, if the geological carbon can again be locked up or circulated in the carbon cycle. Plants actively absorb CO2 and convert it into biomass. Therefore, planting large numbers of a species with particularly high rates of photosynthesis will result in potentially massive sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere.

Japanese knotweed’s incredibly vigorous growth rate and invasive nature makes it a very hungry plant. It can absorb CO2 at a rate unmatched by most other plant species. It is on the basis of these facts that the UK Government, through the Biomass Energy Research Council, has initiated field trials at three sites near Liverpool. Preliminary results show that carbon sequestration rates in fields of Japanese knotweed could extend the natural gas ‘stop-gap’ so that gas-fired power stations could balance their CO2 emissions to a net emission rate of zero.

Current data suggest that as little as 1 hectare of knotweed per 50Megawatts of thermal output would be needed to effectively sequester a power station’s CO2 emissions. Obviously, many hectares of knotweed would still be needed to sequester the total CO2 emitted at today’s energy consumption rates. But as the UK is increasingly producing less food, many hundreds of farms across the country could be diverted from agriculture to phytological sequestration.

There are some concerns that fields of knotweed could compromise the security of native biodiversity. However, as companies like Phlorum continue to add to the understanding of how to effectively manage this invasive weed, such problems are considered manageable.

The research is ongoing, but the results are already extremely promising.

Japanese knotweed added to Kentucky’s Invasive Herbaceous Species list

March 28th, 2014

In the state of Kentucky in the United States, dual bills have increased the listed number of noxious weeds and invasive herbaceous plant species.

The Department of Highways shall keep all state right-of-ways free of noxious-weeds. The species included in this list include the species of grass, Sorghum halepense, and the species of weed commonly known as giant foxtail, both of which are classed as noxious weeds, and the thistles Cirsium arvense and Carduus nutans, multiflora rose, wild cucumber, and black nightshade.

On written request the department shall give priority to any adjoining property owner engaged in a program of eradication of Johnson grass, giant foxtail, Canada thistles, nodding thistles, multiflora rose, kudzu, wild cucumber, and black nightshade; and shall cooperate with the adjoining owner by eradicating the Johnson grass, giant foxtail, Canada thistles, nodding thistles, multiflorarose, kudzu, wild cucumber, and black nightshade from the state’s right-of-ways. The department shall take steps to eradicate this grass and these weeds or thistles by the use of chemicals or any other means found to be effective by the department.

Under the bills, Japanese knotweed, marestail, poison hemlock, amure honeysuckle, kudzu and common teasel will all be added to the state’s list of invasive herbaceous species. Two Democrats supporting the bill are Sen. Dennis Parrett of Elizabethtown and Rep. Rita Smart of Richmond.

The plants that have been removed from the list include black nightshade, wild cucumber, giant foxtail, and nodding plumeless thistle.

Both of these bills were passed by their committees on unanimous votes. The bills now move to their respective chambers for further deliberation by the General Assembly.