RAE2001 logo



RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

1 The School of Geography at the University of Nottingham has made a significant improvement in its research performance and developed a distinctive international research profile over the review period. The University has provided strong support to Geography and to its strategic commitment to international, interdisciplinary research across the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. The School has built up groups of outstanding researchers within the areas of cultural and historical geography, economic geography, environmental and geomorphological science and geographical information science through a carefully managed programme of development and expansion throughout the review period. Strategic investment in new staff appointments has been made at all levels to expand and strengthen each area of research and to promote the links between them. Goals set in 1996 have been exceeded. Staff numbers have increased from 20 to 25, with 12 new appointments during the review period, which has reinvigorated the School’s research culture. The cohort of postgraduate research students has continued to rise, to almost 50 in 2000-1. The annual value of research awards has increased to over £626,000 by 1999-2000. A system of study leave has been introduced and there has been a marked increase in research productivity, resulting in the production of 19 authored books, 12 edited volumes, 223 refereed journal papers and 133 chapters in books, in addition to numerous other kinds of publications over the review period. Five peer-reviewed promotions to Readership and one to a Chair have recognised internal research leadership, and the School has enhanced its reputation as a creative and collegiate research community within which outstanding researchers want to work. During the review period, the School did not lose a single staff member to another UK University. The School has also successfully invested in major new research infrastructure, including an HEFCE-funded £460,000 Environmental Change Laboratory.

2.1 The School’s research environment is overseen by a Research Committee, the role of which is to promote research activity and monitor its outputs. Chaired by the Director of Research, it takes a lead in formulating research strategy and in monitoring the School’s progress towards its strategic objectives. The Research Committee is responsible for managing 25% of returned overheads on grants and contracts as a ‘seedcorn’ research fund. Bids below £1,000 from Research Groups and individuals are dealt with on a fast-track basis; larger bids are subject to a longer review process. A further 25% of returned overheads on grants and contracts is credited to each investigators’ research account. Over the review period, a total of £86,506 was distributed to the Research Groups and Principal Investigators from internal funds. An annual grant of £200 is provided for every academic staff member to support conference attendance and other minor research expenses. The School runs a positive programme of study leave planned two years in advance for which staff submit a planned research programme and a final report. Regular reviews of School research strategy are made through preparations for the annual School Plan.

Research Groups
2.2 The School’s research community is organised into four Research Groups that reflect and shape research strategy. They focus and co-ordinate innovative research activity, encourage collaboration within and beyond the School, foster and support new and younger members of staff. They nominate external speakers for School seminars and organise the internal workshop series. The Research Groups do not organise research projects or prescribe research agendas, which are individual academic responsibilities: this is a key to their continuing vitality, and to the School’s reputation as a research community with distinctions, not divisions. A number of staff and students are members of more than one group, a reflection of the School’s commitment to collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Indeed, a large amount of innovative work within the School has emerged across the boundaries of Research Groups, such as work on environmental history and climate change (Endfield and O’Hara), geographies of music (Leyshon and Matless) and decision-support systems in farming (Seymour, Steven and Watkins). Research Groups are made up of academic staff, research staff, teaching assistants and research postgraduates. The number and composition of Research Groups has changed over the review period to reflect changing research priorities and new staff appointments.

Environmental and Geomorphological Sciences.
2.3 This group focuses on river management, sediment transport and channel morphology, climate change indicators, drylands geomorphology and landscape ecology. Key themes within the group are improving the scientific basis for sustainable environmental management and modelling environmental dynamics (forced and natural) over a range of time scales through the Quaternary and Holocene. The group has been strengthened over the review period through the appointments of O’Hara, Clifford, Clarke and Field.
2.4 Thorne has continued his definitive research on the morphology of rivers and floodplains and on vegetation and bank erosion. He has been a major contributor to several nationally and internationally funded research projects on large alluvial rivers including studies on the Mississippi, Missouri, Salado (Argentina), Brahmaputra, Yangtze, and Clutha (New Zealand) Rivers. With Downs, Thorne led a consortium of three universities (with Newcastle and Southampton) in producing national guidance documents for the Environment Agency on the application of geomorphology to river management. The international significance of this work is signified by a Specific Co-operative Agreement with the US Agricultural Research Service, National Sedimentation Laboratory, the only foreign research group to do so. Expertise in river science has been strengthened by the recent appointment of Clifford, whose research focuses on the study of flow and sediment dynamics in rivers and estuaries. Priestnall has developed GIS-based techniques to assist river channel studies at the catchment scale, while O’Hara has undertaken research on water management strategies in the Central Asian Republics.
2.5 The School’s tradition of research in dryland environments continues. Clarke works on the analysis of sediment records and landscape evolution, contributing to understandings of the role of climate change in shaping drylands. Human/environment interactions in dryland regions has been the focus of O’Hara and Priestnall’s AHRB funded project in Syria, while O’Hara’s research in Central Asia revealed contemporary dust deposition rates for the region. The link between dust exposure and children’s respiratory health in the Aral Sea region led to a major interdisciplinary project involving respiratory scientists, environmental epidemiologists and Médecins Sans Frontières.
2.6 The School has strengthened its position as a leading centre for environmental management. Haines-Young prepared the DETR specification for the Countryside Survey 2000, a major national programme of countryside monitoring and research, jointly sponsored by DETR and NERC, and was subsequently appointed as Head of the Environmental Science and Policy Research Group within the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on a part-time basis. With Watkins, Haines-Young has undertaken the EU-funded PRIMAVERA project on the management of National Parks. Watkins has undertaken a number of interdisciplinary research projects on rural land management issues. The Precision Farming Project (ESRC) with Seymour and Steven examined the environmental and social implications of this agricultural innovation. Seymour and Watkins investigated farmers’ and landowners’ management of land for nature conservation. Rieley has continued his research on the biodiversity and sustainable management of tropical peatlands through a major EU-funded project and has collaborated with Haines-Young and Steven on the Kalimantan Tropical Peat Swamp Forest project. Field has made a significant contribution to the development of a new hierarchical framework for the study of macro-scale species richness patterns. Lavers produced a book on animal metabolic biogeography and has been instrumental in developing innovative dendrochronological techniques for the analysis of forest historio-ecology.
2.7 The Group expended £845,000 of research income earned in the review period. Funding bodies include NERC, EPSRC DoE, EU, AHRB, MAFF, English Nature, Forestry Commission, DETR, AHRB, NRA, US Dept. of Agriculture, US Army Research World Bank/Halcrow, Royal Society, Médecins Sans Frontières among others. The group currently has 5.25 research associates and 14 research students. There have been 11 successful PhDs since 1996. Haines-Young edits the Journal of Environmental Management.

Geographical Information Science
2.8 This research group focuses on techniques and their applications in Earth Observation, Geographical Information Systems and Digital Terrain Modelling. The group has been strengthened over the period by the appointments of Aplin and Abrahart. A distinguishing feature of the group is the development of advanced generic techniques in digital image processing (Mather), pattern recognition (Mather, Priestnall) and vegetation monitoring (Steven). The research group has a strong focus on the investigation of techniques to exploit data from new earth-observation sensors, such as ultra-high spatial resolution for land classification (Aplin), LiDAR for digital surface modelling (Priestnall) and Synthetic aperture radar for vegetation monitoring (Steven) and for interferometric analysis of terrain (Mather). Innovative applications have been developed in crop yield prediction and analytical techniques for precision farming (Steven), land cover classification (Mather, Aplin), and forecasting river flows by neural networks (Abrahart). Aplin’s appointment introduces new areas of interest in the application of very fine spatial resolution remote sensing, such as IKONOS, to classification problems. The long association of Nottingham University with this field is also recognised in the continued involvement of members of the group with the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society, which is headquartered in the School. Innovative research has been conducted on the topic of Precision Farming (Steven) to develop a Farm Decision Support System that links yield maps and satellite image data in a GIS environment. From initial project support by the BNSC, the work has received further funding from industrial sources (Massey-Ferguson, Norsk Hydro). Other areas of innovation include the use of GIS in mapping crime patterns (McCullagh), the development of web based systems for accessing environmental data and metadata (Mather), the validation of ATSR-2 optical data over land surfaces (Steven) and the use of LiDAR data for surface feature extraction (Priestnall).

2.9 The GIS group collaborates with members of other groups in the School and University and with outside institutions. Steven collaborates with members of the Cultural and Historical Geography Group on the perceptions of precision farming and with Life and Environmental Science on crop monitoring. Mather and Priestnall collaborate with Computer Science. Priestnall has explored ways of combining technological representations of landscape with those created in various disciplines including fine art and engineering. External research collaborations include work with UK institutions, such as Sheffield (on radar, Steven) and Southampton (on hyperspectral data, Mather), and with international research institutions, including INRA (France), NASA (USA) and NASDA (Japan).
2.10 The research group expended £743,000 of research income earned in the review period. Funding bodies include NERC, EU, EEA, Saudi Arabia MoD, DERA, British National Space Centre, MAFF, and several industrial sponsors. The group currently has 0.5 research associates and 10.5 research students. There have been 11 successful PhDs since 1996

Cultural and Historical Geography
2.11 This research group, which has been strengthened since 1996 by the appointments of Endfield and Heffernan, focuses upon three closely interwoven areas of inquiry:
2.12 Analysis of the representation, design and management of environments and landscapes, past and the present: this includes research by Daniels on geography and visual culture in the eighteenth century, exemplified by his definitive writings on Humphry Repton and 18th century landscape and new research on the historical representation of rivers; Heffernan’s investigations into the historical geographies of European imperialism, the geopolitics of the European idea, and the commemorative landscapes of European warfare and violence; the contributions of Matless on the interaction between landscape and national identity in Britain and his pioneering collaborative work (with Leyshon) on the cultural geographies of music; the historical research by Seymour on the material, social and aesthetic connections between landed estates in Britain and plantations in the British Caribbean and her contemporary interest in cultures of the environment, particularly her work on agricultural pollution as both a technical and social phenomenon and on the development of ‘precision farming’; and the work undertaken by Watkins on the cultural politics of picturesque estate management in England.

2.13 Reconstruction and analysis of past environments and geographical patterns: this includes Endfield’s research (with O’Hara) on environmental change and human-environmental interactions in dry-land areas, particularly colonial Mexico, using archival data; the comparative international work pioneered by Watkins on forest history as well as his quantitative and qualitative analyses of British farming during World War II; and Smallman-Raynor’s statistical investigations of spatial epidemic history from the global scale to specific island communities and in respect of several different diseases, particularly those arising from episodes of warfare and political unrest.
2.14 Critical histories of modern environmental and geographical thought: this area of inquiry provides another focus. It includes on-going work by Daniels on the culture of Geography in eighteenth-century Britain, Endfield’s recent investigations into the history of environmental discourses about climate change; Heffernan’s continuing interest is on the politics of European and American Geography from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century; and the research by Matless on the history of twentieth-century British geography and, in collaboration with Watkins, on the cultures of nature and environmental conservation in England between 1945 and 1970; and the collaborative work of Seymour, Daniels and Watkins on landed estates as sites of scientific ‘improvement’ and experimentation.
2.15 Single or jointly authored monographs based on long-term research projects published since 1996 include Humphry Repton (Daniels); The Meaning of Europe (Heffernan); Landscape and Englishness (Matless); Moralising the Environment (Seymour); The National Farm Survey 1941-3 (Watkins); Deciphering Global Epidemics and Island Epidemics (Smallman-Raynor). Research expenditure in cultural and historical geography since 1996 has been £134,000. Funding bodies include AHRB, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, Wellcome Trust, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, US National Endowment for the Humanities/US National Science Foundation, Scouloudi Foundation, Environment Agency, Maff, US National Endowment for the Humanities/US National Science Foundation, among others. The group currently has 1.5 research associates and eight research students. There have been seven successful PhDs completed since 1996. Heffernan edits the Journal of Historical Geography.

New Economic Geographies
2.16 Research within this group is concerned with theoretical and empirical issues in contemporary economic geography. The appointments of Leyshon, Marton, Oldfield and Swain substantially realigned and refocused this group on the production of new economic spaces and places. The group is concerned with the emergence of new economic geographies, both conceptually and substantively. Leyshon and Crewe have been at the forefront of developments within the ‘new economic geography’, which has introduced cultural approaches to the analysis of economic phenomena. Their work on cultures of exchange and value has provided new insights into the geographical production of economic knowledge, and its circulation through networks across time and space. Leyshon has played a leading role in establishing the geographical study of money and finance within the discipline. Through ESRC-funded work on the reorganisation of financial institutions and the development of electronic financial knowledge systems he has pioneered work on the geography of financial exclusion. He has also played a leading role in the recent reinvigoration of geographical interest in music. Crewe has shaped debates on geographies of consumption through her work on marginal and neglected consumption spaces and practices which has provided new insights and theoretical apprehensions of geographies of consumption. Research on global buyer-supplier relations in the fashion and retailing industries has made important contributions to understandings of the spatial organisation of commodity chains.
2.17 A concern with the international circulation of economic conventions and their impact in carving out new economic spaces can also be seen in a second strand of work within the group. This research has made significant contributions to understandings of the geography of economic transition, through work on industrial and regional development in emerging market economies in China, Russia and Eastern Europe. A key unifying concept here is the impact of the ideology of neo-liberalism upon former socialist economies. Marton has investigated the impact of the reform programme in China analysing the interaction between institutional structures, culture and society within the creation of new geographies of production within the Chinese countryside. He is Director of the inter-disciplinary Institute for Contemporary Chinese Studies, which was created with university support in 1999. Swain has explored the production of uneven development in Eastern and Central Europe through an analysis of different systems of governance and regulation. This has included work on the automotive industry and institutional change in Hungary and the Ukraine. At the outset of his career, Oldfield has published research on the environmental impact of economic transition in the Russian Federation. Cole, an Emeritus Professor, who has published three monographs on global and European economic change over the research period, completes the group.
2.18 Monographs based on long term research programmes include Money/space (Leyshon), China's Economic Development and Urbanization in China's Lower Yangzi Delta (Marton), Geography of the World’s Major Regions, A Geography of the European Union, 2nd edition, and Global 2050 (Cole). Edited volumes include: The Place of Music (Leyshon). The group expended £157,000 of research income earned over the review period. Funding bodies include the ESRC, ODA and the NHS. The Economic and Social Geography group currently has three research students and there have been five successful PhDs since 1996. Leyshon edits the journal Geoforum.

Interdisciplinary and collaborative research and relations with user groups
2.19 Interdisciplinary and collaborative research is strongly encouraged based on the conviction that good geographical research should be able to travel across boundaries of natural science, social science and the humanities. Within the University of Nottingham the School of Geography has collaborated on projects and student supervision with History and Art History, Archaeology, Division of Respiratory Medicine, Division of Dermatology and Public Health Medicine and Epidemiology, and Sociology, and with the Institutes of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Engineering, Surveying and Space Geodesy, Environmental Science, Institute of Russian, Soviet and Central and East European Studies, Modern Cultural Studies, and Tourism and Travel. Research links with overseas universities include Athens and Florence (PRIMAVERA project), Colorado State University (fluvial geomorphology and river management), Donetsk (University of Nottingham grant), Genoa (Landscape History of Liguria project), Heidelberg (Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation Fellowship), UCLA (Visiting Professorship). It collaborates with a number of UK universities through grants, contracts and PhD supervision, including Birmingham (NERC grant), Brighton (British Academy grant), Bristol (ESRC grant), Cambridge (British Academy, Leverhulme and Wellcome grants), Edinburgh (AHRB grant), Sheffield (AHRB, ERSC, NERC and MSF grants), Sussex (ESRC grant), Leicester (ESRC grant), Queen Mary London (ESRC grant), Stirling (AHRB grant) and UCL (with Coastal Environments Research Unit).

Graduate Research Environment
2.20 In academic year 2000-2001 the School’s cohort of research students rose to 49 (including 11 part-time and 6 co-supervised with another School). The School attracts postgraduate students of the highest calibre through research council studentships, competitive university research studentships and studentships part-funded by government agencies and companies. The Research Postgraduate Committee manages research students and training. Each research student has two supervisors and an internal assessor. All doctoral students initially register for a MPhil and undergo a formal and rigorous upgrade procedure. The School has ESRC Mode A recognition for full-time and CASE studentships. Each research student is provided with a desk, their own computer and a minimum annual research support grant of £500. Graduate students completing during the review period produced 16 articles in refereed journals, plus other publications in edited volumes and conference proceedings. Ten have secured permanent university lecturing posts, four research positions at universities and three research posts in government.
2.21 The School of Geography’s three masters courses (MSc in Geographical Information Science, MA/MSc in Environmental Management, and MA in Landscape and Culture) attract an annual intake of around 80 students, and constitute an important recruiting pool for potential PhD students. All are S rated by ESRC. The MSc in Geographical Information Science is recognised by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and by the NERC, which provides five studentships to support the course. The MA in Landscape and Culture is recognised for studentships by AHRB. A new Human Geography masters will be in place by October 2001 as part of the new ESRC Research Training recognition exercise.

Research infrastructure.
2.22 The School maintains extensive laboratory and IT facilities in support of its research activities. The Physical Geography Laboratory caters for staff and postgraduate research. A new HEFCE-funded, £460,000 Environmental Change Laboratory is presently being equipped. There is a dedicated Graduate Computer Laboratory, and the School employs a full time Computer Systems Manager to maintain software and diagnose hardware faults. The School’s Resource Centre has an extensive map library and its workshop builds and maintains field equipment. The following staff provide key support for research: School Administrator, Computer Manager, School Technician, Laboratory Technician, two Cartographers, three full-time Secretaries, a Finance Clerk to help manage accounts and a Research Liaison Officer (part-time) to help prepare research grant applications.

3.1 Recruitment and retention: One of the main aims of the School over the past few years has been to achieve a critical mass of academic staff that will foster innovative research, both theoretical and applied, within the four Research Groups. To this end 12 new members of staff have been appointed at all levels during the review period. The priority in every case has been research excellence, whether in terms of young staff with high expectations of innovative research, or more established staff with a proven record of internationally significant research. The new appointments are: (i) to Lectureships: Abrahart, Aplin, Clarke, Endfield, Field, O’Hara (now Reader), Oldfield, Smallman-Raynor (now Reader), Swain; (ii) to a Readership: Clifford, and; (iii) to Chairs: Heffernan and Leyshon.
3.2 Support of staff research and identification of research potential: All staff members perform an annual research self-assessment and plan, discussed with the Head of School in relation to their individual research development, that of their Research Group and the School. Career development is facilitated through a carefully organised system of mentoring. Newly appointed junior staff have a significantly reduced administrative and teaching load during a probationary period to build their research careers. With the commitment of matching funds from the School, they are expected apply for the University’s New Lecturer Grants Scheme. Between 1998 and 2000 staff in the School have secured over £12,000 from this source. New senior staff are given reduced teaching loads to allow them to develop their research and provide research leadership. Heads of School are appointed on a three-year term followed by a year’s research leave.
3.3 Research Staff: Post-doctoral researchers are fully integrated within the research culture of the School through the seminar and workshop programmes and membership Research Groups. They are appraised annually by the Director of Research, and a research assistant/associate representative sits on Research Committee. All research assistants/associates are invited to the unreserved parts of regular Staff meetings. They have made important contributions to knowledge in their respective research areas over the period. For example, researchers such as Gardener, Gerber, Kinsman, Mackay, Millar, Murdock, Rondaux, Tejedo and Wale have published papers in international journals, edited volumes and conference proceedings based on research undertaken within the School.
3.4 Contributions of former staff and effect of departures: Phillips took up an appointment in Hong Kong in 1999 but continues as a Special Professor in the School. Downs moved in 2000 to an environmental consultancy in California, but will continue to contribute as a Special Lecturer in projects within the Environmental and Geomorphological Sciences Research Group. Cole continues to research as an Emeritus Professor. The opportunity has been taken to make replacements with high quality appointments.

Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

[ Home | About the RAE2001 | Results | Submissions | Overview reports | Panels | Guidance for panel members
| Guidance for institutions | Publications  ]