Group Convenor: Prof Clive Potter

The Environmental Security and Governance Group brings together staff and research students working on biosecurity, land use policy, food security issues and the linkages between them. We are an interdisciplinary team, made up of plant pathologists, applied ecologists, rural sociologists and environmental social scientists. Members of the Group share a common interest in exploring the relationship between predictive science, risk assessment and public policy development. As applied researchers, we are involved in (1) developing the toolkits and elaborating the empirical evidence base that policymakers need to make effective policy decisions, (2) refining the concepts and contributing to the debates that frame and provide justifications for policy reform (3) seeking to impact on the future direction of policy and international regulation through advocacy and argument informed by research. 

We work on biosecurity, land use policy and food security issues and the links between them. Biosecurity is one of our core themes and it is an area that is moving rapidly up the policy agenda. The expanding international trade in plants and plant materials is a major underlying cause of the increased threat to food supplies, biodiversity, ecosystem function and other public goods from plant pests, diseases and invasive pathogens and a new and exciting research agenda is emerging around how we conceptualise, measure and regulate the risks to food security, biodiversity and human health from various pathogens.

Our research has contributed internationally both to the development of epidemiological modelling techniques and to risk assessment tools. John Mumford, Jon Knight and colleagues, for instance, are involved in an EC Framework 7 project (PRATIQUE) which is improving the European plant health risk assessment process by more explicitly dealing with uncertainty in assessments.  They are also working on an EC Network of Excellence project (PLANTFOODSEC) in the Security theme that will broaden the conception of risk to include the threat from bioterrorism to food supplies and food distribution systems from lethal or potentially lethal biological agents and consider the implications of adding securitization to the other motivations for plant and food security.

Members of the ESG Group are also interested in the way risk is communicated to stakeholders and the public and in ways of raising public awareness of the threat to biodiversity, landscapes, human health and food security from invasive pathogens. The current UNPICK project, funded as part of the UK’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative, and led by Clive Potter, is assessing the nature and extent of public awareness and concern about tree pest and disease outbreaks and how respond to official risk notifications about outbreak events. A previous project led by Prof Potter, funded by the UK research councils under its Relu programme, looked at tree disease epidemics and the link between the public and institutional memory of past tree disease outbreaks, our ability to anticipate and predict future epidemics and the public's role in monitoring and reporting disease spread. See more information about our tree health projects

Members of the group have a long-standing interest in land use policy and food security. Steven Wolf and Clive Potter have worked extensively on sustainable land use in Europe, North America and Australia. Steven Wolf is currently involved in work looking at the links between biogeochemical and social processes in agricultural landscapes in the United States, while Clive Potter has undertaken a long series of empirical investigations into contemporary land use change in Europe. Ongoing research in the agriculture field as part of Ag4Impact includes Gordon Conway's work for the Gates Foundation on food and farming partnerships in Africa. This project is exploring how European support for agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa can be better coordinated and implemented through instiutional change.