Theme 3: Public Health and the Natural Environment
Our research explores how the natural environment supports public health through its ecosystem services, including the role of green space in improving mental and physical health. Our research also examines the effect of climate and land use change on the transmission of infectious diseases, and also NCDs (non-communicable diseases) through changes in aero-allergens and harmful algal blooms (HABs).
Project 1 – The climate and environmental determinants of infectious disease
We have reviewed the methods for quantifying the effects of climate on water-borne diseases in order to outline limitations and knowledge gaps. We have developed new methods to describe the seasonalitiy of infectious diseases using Campylobacter as a model, with links to high resolution meteorological data from the UK Met Office.
Project 2 – Land use, climate and tick-borne disease
The UK is host to a range of insect and tick vectors. Extreme weather has a significant effect on vectors even in the UK. We are currently analysing the impact of climate factors on reported cases of Lyme Disease. Ticks are sensitive to local ecology and changes in land use. The long term objective is the development of a modelling framework, to link land use models to climate risk modelling for infectious diseases in the UK, as well as explore the economic impacts of vector-borne diseases. A PhD student is studying ticks in the UK by collecting ticks throughout the year in a variety of ecological habitats.
Project 3 – Pollen and asthma
Symptoms of asthma and hay fever can be caused by pollen and fungal spores. Exposure to aeroallergens is influenced by weather factors (temperature, wind and rain), interactions with air pollution, and land cover. Future environmental change may increase the negative impact of aeroallergens to allergy sufferers. We are using epidemiological methods to quantify the associations between asthma and respiratory outcomes and observed and modelled pollen exposures, in collaboration with the Met Office.
Project 4 – Land use and pollen mapping
The spatial distribution of pollen species across the UK has been assessed by constructing a detailed UK vegetation cover map for key allergenic species, integrating existing UK wide land use and vegetation datasets from a wide range of sources with high-resolution vegetation surveys for sites surrounding pollen stations.
Researchers: Dr Deborah Hemming
Project 5 – Green/blue spaces and public health
Associations between health and wellbeing and green/blue space are being analysed using data from UK panel surveys and cohort studies (e.g. UK Biobank) which allow changes over time to be related to residence near and migration from high/low green and coastal areas. The benefits of green space may not be evenly distributed and we will investigate effects in deprived and other vulnerable sub-groups and communities. We will also explore how the health benefits of urban green space are addressed within local planning and environmental policies.
Project 6. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) and human health
Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are associated with a range of health issues, including contamination of food, diarrhoeal disease, and respiratory symptoms from inhaled particles. Oceanographic models of HAB (Met Office) will be valided against observed occurrence around the UK. The validated exposure dataset will then by analysed in relation to routine health data. A scoping literature review of climate change and human health impacts of HABs is in process. This is a NERC-funded CASE PhD studentship based at University of Exeter and the Met Office in collaboration with PHE and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).