Where research could (directly or indirectly) cause harm to the environment, researchers must ensure that the benefit of the research outweighs any risk and/or harm, and must implement measures to reduce any risk/harm.
Researchers should consider:
- The likelihood of the risk
- The level of harm
- Any relevant legal regulations
- Any measures that could be implemented to reduce/prevent the risk/harm
However minor a risk/harm may be considered to be, researchers must ensure that that they have, as far as is reasonably practicable, reduced or removed the risk/harm, and should consider whether there is an alternative method that could be used which would pose less risk/harm.
Research leading to emissionsResearch leading to emissions
Emissions are the release of foreign substance(s) into the environment including, for example, gases, noise, particulates, chemicals or ionizing particles. Some emissions pose higher risks than others, since they are able to cause serious harm in small doses and within a short time. Researchers need to consider the risks and/or harm potentially posed by any emissions in their research. They should be familiar with the UK and/or EU legally permitted levels of any such emissions, and any such regulations for the specific area/location in which they intend to conduct their research. Researchers can consult the following documentation for guidance:
- The EH40/2005 Workplace exposure limits contains the list of workplace exposure limits for use with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.
- The Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 contains the legal limits of noise exposure in the workplace.
- The Ozone-Depleting Substances Regulations 2005 contains the regulations for the production, import, export and use of substances (or products and equipment that contain these substances), which damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.
- The Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2015 contains the regulations for the manufacture, supply or use of gases (or products and equipment that contain these gases), which contain fluorine and trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Please note, this list is not exhaustive. If you know of further guidance that may be helpful to other researchers, please contact email@example.com so that this information can be added here.
Researchers should always aim to adhere to the UK and/or EU legal regulations. Where the research is conducted outside the EU, researchers should still aim to observe the UK and/or EU legal regulations (in addition to the regulations of the area in which the research is conducted). However, sometimes, research may involve exceeding these limits. For example, a researcher may wish to study at what point an emission becomes harmful to health, in order to assess the validity of a legally permitted level. Newcastle University considers any research involving emissions that exceeds the UK and/or EU legally permitted levels to be ‘high risk’. Where research may result in emissions that are higher than those experienced in everyday life, (despite being within legal limits), researchers should carefully consider the likelihood of any risk/harm and the level of the harm, in order to assess whether the research is ‘high risk’.
Research affecting the landscape or cultural heritageResearch affecting the landscape or cultural heritage
Landscapes can be affected by many different pressures including, for example, farming and forestry, new housing, commercial developments, new forms of energy (e.g. wind turbines), new infrastructure (e.g. roads, railways), and mineral extraction. Increasingly, there has been an emphasis on ensuring that any such development, impacting the landscape, is sustainable, i.e. meeting the needs of the present without compromising those of existing communities and future generations. Changes to the landscape impact local communities, and so it is really important that any potential changes/risks to the landscape, posed by research, are communicated to the people who may be affected.
Accordingly, where research is conducted in areas or with artefacts that are valued by local communities, researchers should try to involve the local community and, where possible, try to ensure that their work benefits the local community. Any changes/risks to the landscape or to culturally valuable artefacts should be discussed, and measures implemented to prevent/reduce any risks/harm. Researchers should be sensitive to their impact on local communities and recognise that cultural sensitivities may impose constraints on their activities.
Research involving environmental fieldworkResearch involving environmental fieldwork
Fieldwork is practical work conducted by a researcher in the natural environment (rather than in a laboratory or office). Fieldwork can have significant impacts on the environment. Researchers conducting fieldwork should aim to:
- Promote good community relations, e.g. be sensitive to local views/economics/culture
- Act responsibly, e.g. consider the conservation status of any species before collecting biological samples
- Acquire the relevant permissions, e.g. obtain any necessary work-specific permits / material import permits
- Reduce the impact of movement and access, e.g. stick to existing paths, minimise noise, leave minimal traces of campsites
Research involving environmental fieldwork can pose risks to the researcher(s) too, which need to be considered, for example:
- Weather/climate risks, e.g. hypothermia, frostbite, poor visibility, sunburn, dehydration
- Terrain risks, e.g. slips, trips, falls, breaks, altitude sickness, downing
- Location risks, e.g. personal attack, war
- Animal risks, e.g. personal injury/attack, venomous bites, infection, allergy
- Pollution risks, e.g. damage to lungs/hearing/skin
Research involving environmentally sensitive areasResearch involving environmentally sensitive areas
Newcastle University refers to an environmentally sensitive area as an area that is sensitive to external pressures (e.g. pollution, farming) due to its low tolerance to damage from external pressures and inability to recover quickly from these.* For example:
- Antarctica is particularly sensitive to the effects of pollution as the environment is near pristine, and the cold temperatures mean that the natural processes that help remove pollution in other parts of the world happen far more slowly.
- Coldwater corals are slow growing and fragile, therefore they are considered to be sensitive marine ecosystems that require protection from deep-water fishing, drilling and mining.
- Areas that have been heavily exposed to external pressures in the past may be environmentally sensitive due to their inability to absorb any further pressure without environmental collapse. For example, the Amazon rainforest is environmentally sensitive to farming and forestry, following severe forest fragmentation.
Researchers must consider whether their research could be conducted in another area that is not environmentally sensitive and, if not, whether the benefits of the research significantly outweigh the risk/harm to the environment.
*Note that, in the UK, the term ‘environmentally sensitive area’ (ESA) is often used to refer to an area that has been officially designated as containing landscapes, wildlife or historic interest of particular importance, which would be affected by farming operations. ESAs were introduced in 1987 to encourage farmers to adopt agricultural practices that would safeguard these areas, and 22 ESAs were established. It has since been superseded by the Environmental Stewardship agreement. Note that Newcastle University’s definition of an environmentally sensitive area is much broader than this.
Research conducted at protected sitesResearch conducted at protected sites
Protected sites are sites that have special legal protection, in order to safeguard their conservation. Examples of protected sites include:
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites – sites of cultural, historical, scientific, or other significance
- Areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSIs) – sites protected for biological/geological conservation
- Ramsar Sites – wetland sites of international importance
- Historic England’s registry of ‘Scheduled Monuments’ – historic monuments with nationally important heritage interest
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
- Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds / marine components
- Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
- Sites of Community Importance (SCIs)
Researchers must acquire permission to conduct research at protected sites, from the relevant organisation, and ensure that any research they undertake complies with any applicable regulations.
If you wish to recommend any changes to the information above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.