British Hydrological Society Dissertation prize 2017

Plymouth BSc (Hons) Geography and Ocean Science student James Whitefield has been named as the winner of this year’s British Hydrological Society Dissertation Prize for his final year research project on soil erosion. James is pictured above (red jacket) with colleagues acquiring experimental hydrology skills with colleagues on stage 2 ‘Catchment and River Processes’ fieldwork in Devon.

James’s dissertation was titled ‘The effect of land use on the aggregate stability of soils: a study of the Bidwell Brook catchment’ and he was advised by Professor of Catchment Science, Will Blake.

“James’s research was innovative in both design and implementation,” Professor Blake explained. “His professional approach was exemplified by attention to detail, critical analysis of results and the demonstrated significance of his findings to agricultural intensification debates”.

Inspiration for the dissertation came from James’s longstanding interest in environmental issues. These were fostered during his studies at Plymouth University and he developed a particular interest in concepts underpinning food and water security covered in lectures by Professor Blake.

“I started to realise how important these were for global food and water sustainability and then ended up choosing this dissertation topic as I could see how this would fit into that wider context,” James said.

The dissertation process was not without challenges, as James found he was unable to collect the data needed for his original dissertation topic. However, on returning to Plymouth he used the academic and technical support available to change tack and embark on a new ambitious study in catchment hydrology and soil erodibility.

James said: 

“The geography department supported me a great deal during my dissertation. In particular, Will Blake as my supervisor but also the technical support staff. Rupert Goddard was really helpful with the practical side of the dissertation and putting me in contact with the local landowners and once I had the samples and needed to do the lab work, Rich Hartley was invaluable. Andy Arnold and Andy Fisher were also great at telling me exactly how to implement my ideas. Collaboration with Harriet Bell from the Dartington Hall Trust was really helpful in introducing me to landowners and giving me a background geographical context to the area.”

James is currently using skills gained during his dissertation as a Management Information (MI) analyst for an insurance company and is hoping in the future to work in the water industry on enhancing water security.