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Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​In the School of Natural and Social Sciences, pure and applied research into climate and environmental change is promoted under the marque of the Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research (CECQR). This centre, which was established in 1995, integrates the activities of several colleagues here and abroad who work on geochronology, climate change, environmental change and human impacts, covering a range of different timescales — from the mid-Pleistocene to late Holocene.

Specialisms within CECQR include fluvial, lacustrine, loess, and mire environments. We carry out environmental reconstruction using a variety of techniques including luminescence dating, tephrochronology, pollen analysis, diatom analysis, dendrochronology and elemental analysis. Recent projects have been supported by funding received from the European Commission (TIMECHS and ACCROTELM), the Natural Environment Research Council, the Faroes Fund, and sponsorship.

​​Our research activities in environmental reconstruction are supported by the Cheltenham Geochronological Laboratories (led and managed by Dr Phil Toms) and by Environmental Geochemistry laboratories.

Our research into past environmental change can provide the scientific base to inform effective environmental policy and management. For example, recent research contracts have been from Countryside Council for Wales and from Natural England, concerned with assessing recent human impact on blanket bogs and on moorland. Another strand of research concerns recent changes in species distributions and phenology, particularly birds (on population and individual-level responses to climate change), but also other taxa including plants. We also work with a number of Archaeological Trusts and Archaeological consultancies.​

You can find out more about current CECQR staff and research students below.

CECQR staff


Professor Frank Chambers

Professor in Physical Geography and Head of the Centre for Environmental Change and Quaternary Research

Frank moved to Cheltenham in 1994 from Keele University where he had for six years been Director of the Environmental Resear​ch Unit. Frank’s principal research interests are in (i) the magnitude, rate and direction of climatic change, especially the generation and interpretation of Holocene ‘proxy’-climate records from mires; (ii) the nature of Late-Quaternary vegetation history, as reconstructed from lakes and mires; (iii) assessment of human impact on the landscape, particularly during the mid–late Holocene, including the application of palaeoecological techniques to assist in habitat- and landscape conservation; (iv) dating techniques in Late Quaternary palaeoecology.

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Professor Anne Goodenough

Professor of Applied Ecology and Academic Course Leader: MSc Applied Ecology

Prof. Anne Goodenough is an ecologist specialising in quantifying linkages between species and their biotic and abiotic environments, as well as how these change in response to external stimuli. Part of her research focuses on establishing recent (since 1950s) change in species distributions and phenology as a result of current climate change. Recent work has centred on population versus individual-level responses to climate change in resident and migratory bird species and establishing the ecological impacts of Mediterranean faunal species becoming resident in the UK as a result of changes in their climatic envelopes.

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Dr Lucy Clarke

Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography

Lucy is a fluvial geomorphologist with broad research interests fluvial systems and geomorphological hazards. Her primary research interests are in the field of process geomorphology and fluvial landform evolution, the influence of vegetation on geomorphology and water hazards, as well as recent work on 20th Century glacial change in Antarctica. Methodologically, much of this work involves a combination of field studies, image analysis and experimental physical modelling. Lucy is on the Executive Committee of the British Society for Geomorphology as the Secretary for the Publications Sub-Committee, and as part of this role is the editor of the online book Geomorphologyical Techniques.

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Professor Phillip Toms

Professor of Physical Geography and Academic Subject Leader, Environmental Sciences

Prof. Phillip Toms is a Professor in Physical Geography, leader of Geography & Environment courses and director of the Geochronology Laboratories in the Department of Natural & Social Sciences. He is formerly of Royal Holloway University of London, where he undertook a NERC-funded Ph.D. developing Optical dating of single quartz grains. He was then attached as geochronologist to Leverhulme and Royal Society projects in central and northern Argentina, establishing tephrochonologies and examining the environmental significance of loess-palaeosol sequences. In his time as member of the CECQR, his research and consultancy has remained focussed on the development and application of Luminescence dating.

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Julia Webb

Senior Lecturer in Biology and Academic Course Leader: Ecology and Environmental Science

Julia joined the department in 2003. She previously studied as an undergraduate at the University before completing her M.Sc. in Quaternary Science at Royal Holloway, University of London. Julia’s main areas of interest lie within environmental change and its associated mechanisms. Her laboratory skills range from analytical analyses using ICP-OES for studying changes in chemical compounds and contaminants, to particle size analysis and nutrient cycling and levels.

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Dr Mark O'Connell

Lecturer in Practical Ecology

Mark has undertaken research in many parts of the world and across different parts of the conservation sector. This includes as an ecologist for the British Antarctic Survey and as the Head of Research at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (Slimbridge). He was also the Director of an independent ecological research and training organization focused on conservation science and capacity building in developing countries. He currently undertakes research on the factors underlying extinction risk and landscape-level population changes in bird species (often using GIS). He is a keen fieldworker and spends many hours bird ringing and undertaking local and national bird surveys.

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Dr Matt Wood

Senior Lecturer in Biology

Matt’s research focuses on the population biology of seabirds, managing the long-term monitoring of six seabird species on Skomer Island, Wales. Current work includes studies of the effects of climatic variation on the population biology of seabirds, the ecology of disease in wild populations, and the development of new technologies in monitoring seabird populations.

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Dr Louise Best

Lecturer in Physical Geography

Louise is a Quaternary scientist interested in reconstructing environmental changes. Her primary research interests are in the fields of sea-level change and coastal environments, and how these have changed since the last glaciation, and environmental changes recorded in sediment sequences. Louise’s research involves a range of field, laboratory and palaeoecological techniques, and particularly the use of diatoms. Her research has involved reconstructions of Holocene environmental changes recorded in lake sediments in Greenland, Holocene relative sea-level changes in the Humber Estuary, and records of environmental and relative sea-level changes in Scotland following deglaciation.

Louise joined CECQR and the School of Natural and Social Sciences in 2018, from Durham University, where she was a Teaching Fellow, having earlier completed a PhD NERC CASE-studentship at the University of York.

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Patricia Wiltshire-Hawksworth Hon DSc

Research Associate

Patricia Wiltshire became a research associate at the university in 2004, and has pioneered techniques of environmental profiling—a method of forensic analysis based on matching pollen, spores and seeds found on artefacts with crime scenes, or the location of missing persons based on environmental evidence. The techniques derive largely from ecology and palaeoecology but require new methods of interpretation. She has been responsible for establishing methods and protocols that have become standard in criminal investigation in Britain. Patricia has professional status as a forensic scientist and is a Fellow of the Linnean Society. She is an experienced expert witness.


Rob Jarman

Research Associate

Rob recently completed a PhD by publications concerning the origins of the sweet chestnut tree in Britain, based on palaeoenvironmental, archival, historic and genetic evidence. Rob used multiproxy methods to attempt to ascertain when this tree first grew in Britain, where it came from in Eurasia, who brought it, and for what it was used. He is continuing to research new evidence for the earliest presence of the tree in Britain. The research has particular implications for the status of sweet chestnut in both Britain and Ireland, including as a potential component in new forests. Rob previously worked in nature conservation, environmental management and sustainable resource management, most recently as Head of Sustainability and Environmental Practices at the National Trust.​

CECQR ​​research students


Jamie Wood

PhD student

Jamie is a Ph.D. student in Luminescence dating and is researching the palaeoflood chronology of blocked-valley lakes in eastern South Africa. This region is affected by large tropical storms that cause floods, resulting in the distribution of large volumes of clastic sediment across coastal floodplains. These clastic storm deposits have been preserved within blocked-valley lake sediment profiles that have formed over the past c. 4000 years. There is therefore the opportunity to use these features as proxies for tropical storm activity through the mid- to late Holocene. Jamie’s research aims to provide a high-resolution chronology for tropical storm activity in eastern South Africa by directly dating the clastic deposits.


Robyn Welsh

PhD student

Robyn is a part-time PhD student in Luminescence Dating, specifically researching the potential to extend the optical dating range in the UK. She will be using the feldspar mineral to attempt to date sediments back to the Early Middle and Middle Pleistocene, between 1 million and 600,000 years ago. This research has not yet been successfully attempted in the UK as the application of feldspar luminescence is still relatively new to the field. If successful, Robyn will be able to apply this technique to undated sediments in the UK, which will improve understanding of the British Quaternary.​