Lancaster scientist receives fellowship to help study and protect rare limestone pavements

Professor Carly Stevens

A Lancaster University scientist has been awarded a fellowship to help protect rare and precious, but largely understudied, limestone pavement environments.

Created during the ice age, and consisting of flat slabs of limestone called clints, and deep fissures called grykes, limestone pavements make for rare distinctive and dramatic landscape features.

Most of the UK’s limestone pavement is found in Cumbria, the Yorkshire Dales and North Lancashire, and provides an important habitat for species of plant and wildlife. However, despite this there have been few scientific studies into limestone pavement conservation for half a century.

Carly Stevens, Professor in Plant Ecology and Soil Biogeochemistry at Lancaster Environment Centre, said: “Limestone pavements are a unique and fascinating habitat that is important for nature conservation but at the moment we know very little about how we should be conserving them. We urgently need more evidence to support decisions about how we should manage the habitat.”

Professor Stevens has been awarded one of ten Knowledge Exchange fellowships through the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Her fellowship ‘building partnerships to conserve limestone pavements’ will see Professor Stevens work with a range of partners including Natural England, conservation groups and other stakeholders to help inform the future management of limestone pavements.

She will work alongside Natural England to develop new management tools to improve the monitoring and classification of limestone pavements.

Professor Stevens will also create a new knowledge sharing partnership among those groups already working to conserve limestone pavements, and she will also look to learn and share management techniques from other parts of the world that have limestone pavements.

“With this fellowship I will use data I have already collected to develop the tools we need to support management decisions. I will also build a network, the Limestone Pavement Partnership, to help ensure that these tools and other research reaches the people who look after our limestone pavements,” she said.

The Knowledge Exchange fellowships are designed to enable the sharing, flow and translation of knowledge and expertise between NERC-remit researchers and the research sector, businesses, policy makers and the public.

Fellows are awarded up to three years support, enabling them to develop their skills and to deliver impact that can be felt across society and the economy.

Professor Susan Waldron, Director for Research and Skills at NERC, said: “I am delighted that NERC is able to support this new cohort of innovators through our knowledge exchange fellowships, helping them to develop their skills and giving them the freedom to explore their innovative ideas.

“To enhance the impact and drive forward environmental research we must exchange expertise and knowledge. The fellows announced today will have the opportunity to collaborate with peers across the UK to deliver new knowledge and impactful research that will benefit society and the economy.”