Posted by Olivia Richardson
Posted on 01/05/2015 7:57 am

For most of us, environmental monitoring is far from the most attention grabbing of topics, and unlikely to make for stimulating discussion over the dinner table. However, the acquisition of detailed data on the state of our environment is nonetheless vital. It enables use to quantify how the environment is changing, provides the data that are required for us to be able to predict future changes and act accordingly, and provides the evidence to measure the success of management decisions and policies.


The University of Exeter is currently running a project examining how best to develop the environmental monitoring network for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This is a response to the rapidly growing availability of relatively inexpensive monitoring devices, improved information transfer networks (superfast broadband, mobile networks), and the associated potentials for much more engagement of the general public with acquiring environmental data (citizen science). This provides an exciting opportunity to generate real time environmental data at a high spatial resolution. The project is engaging with a wide range of organisations and businesses about the need for, and possible provision of, much improved environmental monitoring data.


Here, we would like to invite you to join an open discussion on potential ideas and issues with implementing a better environmental monitoring system across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This discussion will help to contribute knowledge and evidence to the project, identify opportunities and barriers so these can be addressed appropriately, and hopefully will allow a platform for discussion which can help to generate ideas and solutions through the exchanges of different participants.


Posted by MartinG
Contributed to on 11/05/2015 3:46 pm
New discussion from this comment

With a huge increase in the sophistication and range of environmental monitoring being undertaken in Cornwall in the last decade there is a need to increase general awareness that there is a lot of environmental monitoring information already available and a big need to improve understanding/interpretation of what it shows. Potentially to improve environmental monitoring in Cornwall and Scilly we need to understand what we are currently monitoring and what question we can’t answer. The possible areas to explore include extensive use of web services/web mapping, new mobile technologies, signposting/linking to existing dataset & data suppliers and improved guidance as to what (current) environmental monitoring data can (& can’t) show.

We tend to find that freely available environmental monitoring is (largely) legislatively driven to answer specific questions. Is something failing a piece of UK/EU legislation, is there something we will harm by developing/altering here, will a level of X impact animal/human health. This is not a problem as many data sets which can be used to answer different questions than they were originally intended for, but can cause issues for interpretation when combined together.

If we use the example of freshwater pollution from the surrounding land. There may only be environmental monitoring about 1 or 2 key indicators (e.g. chemical, biological) that are freely available, but there could be 20 other monitoring datasets that might assist with answering scientific questions, but care is needed to ensure the monitoring being used for interpretation is valid (while very boring one system of Metadata would solve many of these issues).

A big opportunity is utilising the monitoring gathered from citizen science or school/collage, but a lot of work is needed to ensure the quality of these inputs. Lastly a huge opportunity is to develop a method of linking into the vast amount of monitoring data collected by Universities each year!

As with most things, the main barriers to improved environmental monitoring are resources and costs.

Posted by Peter Devoy
Contributed to on 05/05/2015 11:58 am
New discussion from this comment

I have a few thoughts regarding potential uses of new-ish technologies:

* Kill the cost of telemetry and or engage people via Bluetooth 4.0.
Bluetooth 4.0 is a low-energy technology that can allow devices powered only by a cell battery to broadcast small amounts of data at regular intervals with for months or even years. A Bluetooth 4.0 enabled sensor could broadcast data to mobile apps upto 100m away — great possibilities for stakeholder engagement and citzen science by having apps on mobile phones upload the sensor data.

* Lead the way nationally by making the network scalable with linked data.
In order to make it easier for machines to ’understand’ data as information and link it together, information industry giants Google, Bing and Yahoo! have created http://schema.org/ to provide data structures for real-world things. Whilst schema.org does this for things like business opening times and address information, the standards on which it is based could be used to create an ontology for real-world environmental information.

* Widespread engagement/impact via web-based analysis/visualisation: web browsers are becoming increasingly more powerful and making easier to deliver visually rich, interactive data to a desktops, tablets and phones. Recent improvements to web standards allow for offline use, interactive graphics, using data without uploading it, hardware-accelerated number-crunching and more. If data from the monitoring network were made available over the web there countless possibilities for impact, science and engagement.

Posted by Jamie
Contributed to on 20/05/2015 5:14 pm
New discussion from this comment

Here are two thoughts:
1. the €7 billion EU Copernicus programme is designed to provide environmental monitoring for the next 15+ years. Copernicus is based around a fleet of satellites, called Sentinels and the first was launched in 2014 with further launches planned in 2015 and 2016. Look out for the next launch which will be Sentinel 2A in June 2015! All of the data are free to access and can be used to a plethora of environmental applications and the UK government has recently agreed to provide them for free to the UK research and commercial communities.

2. Water users can help in the collection of high quality data which can be used for monitoring the coastal ecosystem health. Citizen science in general has huge potential for providing a simple way of monitoring the marine environment in and around Cornwall i.e. due to the huge number of water users in the South West and the large annual influx of tourists. There are various examples of this sort of approach. eg. the low cost pH sensor that is being developed by one of the pH Xprize teams – the sensor is located within the fin of a surf board.

Posted by Ilya Maclean
Contributed to on 11/05/2015 4:54 pm
New discussion from this comment

The opportunities and barriers are partly generic and partly related to the type of data, but here are a few generic thoughts not covered in previous discussion.

(1) Obtaining data is only half the story
There is huge and growing potential to collect data using low-cost devices (e.g. UAVs, radar, microphones etc). However, these don’t necessarily measure the component of the environment we’re interested in. E.g. microphones record sound in different frequencies and cameras reflectance values in different wavelengths. Often what we want to know however is how many animals there are, what habitats there are, what condition they are in etc etc. We could do far more to develop world-leading expertise in translating raw data into meaningful indicators of aspects of the environment we’re interested in – e.g. developing expertise in image and signal processing / classification.

(2) Big data = small data when divided in space and time
It is typically quite easy to capture a single snapshot of the environment at high spatial resolution over a wide area. Likewise, it is relatively easy to record data and point locations at high temporal resolution over extended time periods. However, the environment is highly heterogeneous and trends and different locations can be highly decoupled from one other (e.g. patterns of land-use change, flood events). Even an extremely extensive network of loggers can’t hope to capture all changes everywhere. This is particularly problematic when we’re dealing with fine resolutions at which many planning decisions are made. Very big data soon becomes very small data when divided up in both space and time. For many applications, we need to think about clever ways of combining spatial and temporal data into models that predict what we want to know at locations or periods for which we have no data.

(3) Ad-hoc data are ad-hoc.
There is considerable potential to harness new technologies and willing citizens to collect data on things we’re interested in. This might include the presence of an animal or plant, the occurrence of a particular event (e.g. water discolouration) or simply a photograph. The volume of data obtained in this way can be huge. Birdtrack, for example, obtains almost half a million records monthly. However, such data by virtue of not being systematically collected are seriously biased. Rarely can one distinguish between something being truly absent and something being unrecorded. Clever ways of circumventing this problem are needed.

Posted by Jon Bennie
Contributed to on 11/05/2015 1:31 pm
New discussion from this comment

Peter, Bluetooth 4.0 seems like a really useful technology – the main barrier to distributed sensor networks at present seems to be the cost of maintaining a network of sensors, and a lot of the maintenance time is keeping them powered and transmiting/uploading data. Simple, low maintenance sensors which could be powered by a cell battery/solar cell but still transmit through Bluetooth could be really useful. Looks like the technology is (fairly) cheap too: http://www.adafruit.com/products/1697

Posted by sally_rangecroft
Contributed to on 06/05/2015 9:01 am
New discussion from this comment

I think that there is a huge opportunity to bring stakeholders and organisations closer to work together to answer some important questions about improving the environment and the human impact on the environment in Cornwall.

For example, freshwater pollution from surrounding land: if we can collect more detailed information about the pathways of pollution in our river systems, we can help to make changes to different land uses at specific times (seasonally, and also with rainfall events) to help reduce the negative environmental impact to the freshwater system, any industries affected by water quality, and help reduce the loss of resources on farms.

I also think that there are huge opportunities for existing environmental monitoring. I think that an important first step could be to collate all current monitoring (by say the Met Office, Environment Agency etc) on one website/ platform – that could be interactive and real-time to be most effective at showing the data/ allow the user to generate various maps depending on what parameter they are interested in looking at (e.g. air pollution, freshwater quality, water levels, bathing water quality, temperature, wind, rainfall, soil quality, biodiversity etc).

I think that another important opportunity can be capitalised is the ability to start collecting data before, during and after environmental intervention/ management programs, for assessment and validation of their impact.

However, I believe that some of the main barriers to improved environmental monitoring are (and these could be correct or incorrect):
– money/cost
– signal coverage across Cornwall (mobile phone signal?) for data transmission
– need for automated monitoring systems
– rural nature of Cornwall – harder to connect a network/ get good coverage across the county
– sharing data/ availability of current monitoring data

Please comment if you think these opportunities and barriers have been correctly identified in your eyes


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