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Reading Rothamsted Alliance – University of Reading

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Reading Rothamsted Alliance

The food chain, or more accurately the agri-food network, connecting production to consumption is not sustainable from either an environmental or human health standpoint. There is an emerging awareness that a more optimal agri-food network will only emerge when we have a comprehensive understanding and whole system level analytical tools and frameworks, rather than trying to optimise parts of the system in isolation. Despite the fact that the complexity of the agri-food network is a major impediment to progress, if we can find ways to embrace this complexity then the number of options for interventions that achieve optimisation increases significantly. There are three challenges that the Reading-Rothamsted Alliance seeks to address:

1. Enabling the integration of data across the whole agri-food network.

2. Establishment of a culture of collaboration between the quantitative, life, social and economic sciences relevant to the whole food system.

3. Development of predictive approaches that deal with inherent complexities and identify pathways to future sustainable food systems.

This strategic alliance builds on significant recent successes involving the partners including the development of Agrimetrics and the award of FoodConnects, but also draws on a range of existing scientific links between the two institutions.

The alliance develops an enabling culture of collaboration along with the conceptual and technological capabilities. The new alliance dovetails with the new Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health to develop an integrative platform creates the required interdisciplinary culture as well as the theoretical tools necessary to seek whole-system solutions. In the first instance, the alliance has funded four PhD studentships, each of which are supervised by a team drawn from both institutions. The students are registered at the University of Reading and spend time working at both Institutions with a nominated supervisor at each Institute. The initial PhDs are:

Current projects

Optimising agriculture for a changing climate: which farming practices confer reliability of food production and farm income?

Barley Harvest in England

PhD Student: Caroline Harkness

Project description:

Stable food production is a key prerequisite of food security. Climate change and associated extreme weather can make food production unstable with dramatic impacts on the availability and affordability of food.

Certain agricultural practices, such as growing a wide diversity of crops, may make food production at a farm more reliable in a changing climate, and in turn, make that farm's income more reliable.

The project works with a range of data to identify farming practices that have proven to be reliable in terms of both food production and farm income over time; pairing climate data with business data from farms in England and Wales, which includes detailed information about cropping areas, costs of management, and farm income.

Focusing on climate shocks (e.g. floods, heatwaves, drought) the project aims to identify farming practices that have, in a wide range of past conditions, lead to the most reliable food production and income.

This evidence will be used to select a robust set of management recommendations that can improve on-farm reliability in the face of increasingly variable weather and projected climate change.

Project team:

Caroline HarknessPhD profile - Caroline Harkness

Research Interests

Caroline is interested in the impacts of climate change on the resilience of UK agriculture, in particular sustainable agriculture and the role of low-input farming practices. In addition to agricultural economics and the impact of future changes to agricultural policy.

Career and academic qualifications:

Before returning to academia Caroline initially worked for a large professional services firm, as a chartered accountant, followed by a role in statistical reporting within the financial services industry.

2018-date PhD Student, University of Reading

2016-2017 MSc Agricultural Economics, University of Reading

2012 BSc (Hons) Applied Accounting, Oxford Brookes University

2006-2010 Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Reading

Contact details

Based at: School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading.


Professional sites

LinkedIn: Caroline Harkness



The ecology of cabbage stem flea beetle in winter oilseed rape

Oilseed rapePhD Student: Patricia Ortega Ramos

Project description:

The cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB, Psylliodes chrysocephala) is the most important autumn and winter pest of winter oilseed rape (OSR) in the UK. Both larvae and adult feeding affect the crop threatening establishment and plant vigour, respectively. The pest pressure on this crop has historically been controlled by the use of pesticides. However, since the restriction in the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments in 2013 and the development of pyrethroid resistance, there currently no alternative control options available to growers and crop damage by CSFB has dramatically increased. Evidence from the Defra-funded FERA OSR pest survey suggests that there is both spatial and temporal variation in pest occurrence and severity across the UK, but the drivers responsible for this are unknown.

This project aims to advance current understanding of the behavioural Psylliodes chrysocephalaecology of CSFB, focussing on poorly-understood interactions between management practices, cultivar and weather on the pest population. It will also investigate the dynamics of their natural enemies and capacity to improve biological control. Long-term data sets from Fera's Defra-funded OSR pest survey and novel laboratory and field studies will be used to:

  • Identify the major factors driving changes in the long-term population dynamics if CSFB on OSR
  • Assess the level of pest control achieved by parasitoids in relation to different management regimes
  • Improve understanding of the effects of temperature on life cycle parameters of the pest

Project team:

PhD profile - Patricia Ortega RamosPatricia Ortega Ramos

Research Interests

Patricia's primary interests in the field of ecology are insect-plant interactions and statistical modelling within the agricultural landscape. She wants to explore and understand the ecology and biology of pests, in particular modelling the impact of climate and agricultural management on their populations and their effects on crop yield. She is aiming to develop some environmentally-friendly crop protection strategies based on her studies that reduce chemical inputs without reducing yields.

Career and academic qualifications:

2017-date PhD Student, Rothamsted Research

2015-2017 MSc in Ecology, Inter-university Ecology Department, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid/Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Madrid, Spain.

2014 Field and Research Assistant in the Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología, Jaca (Aragón, Spain) under the supervision of Dr. Patrick S. Fitze. (June-September).

2011-2015 BSc in Biology. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Madrid, Spain.

Contact Details

Based at: Biointeractions and Crop Protection Department, Rothamsted Research.


Telephone: 01582 763 133

Professional sites

Research gate: Patricia Ortega

LinkedIn: Patricia Ortega



Modelling landscape quality and configuration effects on natural enemy communities and the provision of pest regulation services

carabid larvaePhD Student: Kelly Jowett

Project description:

Natural enemy pest control has considerable potential to contribute to sustainable crop protection, however many unknowns challenge successful implementation.

One of the key agents of pest control in farmland are carabid (ground) beetles. Their utility in predation of both invertebrates and weed seeds has led to a considerable amount of research on their occurrence and characteristics. Yet key gaps remain to extend this usefully towards farm management decision making to boost populations.

Most studies have worked at a plot or landscape level, not the farm- scale which is of most use to guide on site management or land management collaborations. Much of the literature to guide management practice is based on extension and assumptions upon a few species in limited studies, particularly concerning carabid diets. Carabid larvae live primarily in the crop area, are generally more carnivorous than the adult forms, are active at different times to adults, and are more sensitive to environmental parameters. Thus, their contribution to pest control may be substantial. However, there exists very little data on their occurrence and characteristics in the field.

This project will use existing datasets to model carabid distributions in farmland, identifying the key landscape and management factors driving species assemblages. Fieldwork will seek to validate the models, and add additional detail on occurrence of carabid larvae and adult community composition. Additional experiments will determine specifics of ecosystem service delivery in quantification and specification of predation to species and life stage specifics.

This can then be brought together to identify management practices to encourage beneficial communities, specific to particular farm situations. It is also hoped that the project will further implementation of conservation measures in farmland by providing evidence and quantification of carabid utility.

The project aim is the production of a robust model of carabid distributions in farmland, to identify management factors that may be manipulated to encourage beneficial communities delivering pest control services in crops.

Project team:

PhD profile - Kelly Jowett Kelly Jowett

Research Interests

Entomology, conservation, sustainable agriculture, farmer engagement

Career and academic qualifications:

2017-date PhD Student, Rothamsted Research

2016-2017 MRes Global Food Security and Development, Nottingham Trent University (University award: Top MRes student in School).

2013-2016 BSc H Environmental Conservation, Nottingham Trent University (NFU award: Top student on course. University award: Best research project).

2012-2013 National Certificate in Forestry and Arboriculture, Derby College.

2000-2003 National Diploma in Countryside Management, Derby College.


2017 Tree species verifier (contracted), Forestry Commission England.

2011-2013 Gardener, Self employed.

2004-2011 Heritage gardener, Nottingham city council.


2015 Butterfly and Bee surveyor, Derbyshire wildlife trust.

2015 Wildflower surveyor- National plant monitoring, Plantlife.

2014-2015 Breeding birds survey, BTO.

2014-2015 Tree disease surveyor- Observatree, Woodland trust.

2013-date Committee member and webmaster, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Entomological Society.



Contact Details

Based at: Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Rothamsted Research.




Optimising nitrogen use in UK beef systems

North Wyke Farm LivestockPhD Student: Angelos Angelidis

Project description:

Recent evidence shows that nitrogen (N) fertilisation and protein fed to beef cattle, which excrete over two-thirds of N intake, are beyond requirements, thus posing economic threats to beef farms and an environmental burden (e.g. N leaching to ground water, and ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions from manure). Guidelines to producers to reduce N fertilisation in N vulnerable zones and use less dietary protein in beef cattle have been posed. However, this may risk grassland and animal productivity, and deteriorate economic performance of beef farms. Economic loss and environmental impact can be minimised by (i) understanding animal/diet parameters (e.g. breed, stage of growth, production system) that improve N use efficiency in beef cattle, in a context broader than individual studies, and (ii) accurately predicting manure N output, and subsequently ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions, to revise current emission factors that do not account for management practices.

This PhD programme therefore aims to (i) investigate the effects of, and interactions between, the main animal, diet, and production factors on manure N output, NUE and nitrous oxide emissions in beef cattle, (ii) develop equations for N output, N use efficiency and nitrous oxide emissions with varying complexity for different classes of animal, diet and production characteristics, with accuracy that outcompetes existing models, and (iii) provide data to inform the Nitrates Directive according to different UK beef systems. For this, existing data from digestibility studies from the University of Reading, Rothamsted Research (North Wyke Farm Platform) and Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute will be analysed. Outcomes will provide knowledge and guide the sustainable reduction on feed and fertiliser N inputs without compromising profitability of beef farms. Beneficiaries from the proposed work will be producers, feed industry, researchers, policy-makers and public.

Project team:

Angelos AngelidisPhD profile - Angelos Angelidis

Research Interests

Ruminants Health and Production

Career and academic qualifications:

2016-2017: Resident in Animal Pathology, Laboratory of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Thessaly, Greece

2015-2016: Conscript Sergeant Veterinary Surgeon, Hellenic Air Force

2010-2015: Faculty of Veterinary Science, School of Health Sciences, University of Thessaly, Greece


Contact Details

Based at: School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading.


Planetary Health Alliance

The University of Reading is a member of the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA), a group of organisations committed to advancing planetary health.

The University of Reading is a leading research and teaching institute for environmental science, including meteorology, agriculture and ecology. We are integrating these disciplines into our health and biomedical sciences research by supporting interdisciplinary funding proposals and through developing extensive collaborations with partners worldwide.

To find out more, follow this link:

​Apply now

The quickest and easiest way to apply for postgraduate study at the University of Reading is through our online application service.

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