Scientific challenge and project aims

TREE project logoWe need to be able to assess the transfer of a range of radionuclides to different terrestrial and aquatic wildlife species and to human foodstuffs, and improve our understanding of the long-term effects of exposure to ionising radiation.

The aim of the TREE project is to reduce uncertainty in estimating the risk to humans and wildlife associated with exposure to radioactivity and to reduce unnecessary conservatism in risk calculations.

We will achieve this through four interlinked science components, beginning with improving our understanding of the biogeochemical behaviour of radionuclides in soils, through to studying the transgenerational effects of ionising radiation exposure on wildlife. Our studies will combine controlled laboratory experiments with fieldwork, most of which will take place in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) in an attempt to understand how animals are utilising the contaminated environment.

Wildlife trap camera deployed in the Chernobyl exclusion zoneWorking with Ukrainian collaborators, we have deployed several wildlife trap cameras in the area. Some large mammals will be fitted with GPS trackers, while we will carry out faecal DNA analysis to quantify internal exposure rates. Early results from trap cameras show a variety of mammal activity in the area, including footage of a brown bear and wolves attacking deer.

Project components

  • Biogeochemical processes and radionuclide behaviour in soil-plant systems
  • Novel approaches to estimate the radionuclide activity concentrations in the human foodchain & terrestrial and aquatic wildlife (led by Prof Nick Beresford of CEH)
  • Exposure of wildlife under field conditions
  • Mechanisms of biological effect and trans-generational impacts of exposure to ionising radiation

CEH is:

Lynx photographed by wildlife trap camera in Chernobyl exclusion zone

  • leading the development of alternative models to predict radionuclide transfer to wildlife and human foodstuffs. We are sampling wildlife from defined taxonomic families to define our models. The University of the West of the England are conducting greenhouse studies. More details.
  • collaborating with the University of Salford and the Chornobyl Center to determine how animals utilise their environment and investigate the impact of this on their radiation dose. We will fit animals with collars attached with GPS units and dosimeters and we have already deployed 42 wildlife trap cameras. This will enable us to investigate diversity and abundance of medium and large mammals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone scientifically for the first time. More details.

Consortium members

  • Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
  • Lancaster University
  • University of Nottingham
  • Plymouth University
  • University of Portsmouth
  • University of Salford
  • University of Stirling
  • Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
  • University of the West of England

The project has seven PhD students associated with core research and funded by the RATE programme, as well as two other students. The TREE studentships include significant cross-consortium activities providing the students with wide insights and experience into the topic of environmental radioactivity.

TREE is one of three consortia funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Environment Agency (EA) and Radioactive Waste Management Limited (RWM) under the Radioactivity And The Environment (RATE) programme.

Funders: 

  • Environment Agency
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Radioactive Waste Management Ltd

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