We are sad to report that Professor Nick Beresford, a pioneer in the field of radioecology, died on 1 May 2023 aged 58. Nick was particularly well known for the work he did in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, where he worked with Ukrainian scientists to study the consequences of the Chornobyl accident and to assess the risk to humans and animals from exposure to radioactivity.
Nick, who lived near Ulverston in Cumbria, joined the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE), a predecessor institute of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), in 1984. He studied for his applied biology degree and his PhD while working for the organisation. Following the 1986 Chornobyl accident, large areas of uplands in the United Kingdom were contaminated by radiocaesium; Nick’s PhD thesis investigated the transfer of radionuclides to upland sheep flocks.
Throughout his career, Nick made a huge contribution to the field of radioecology – the study of the behaviour and effects of radioactive elements in the environment. Following the Chornobyl accident, he carried out a series of studies investigating the transfer, exposure and effects of radioactivity on farm animals, crops and wildlife; many within the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. He conducted experiments on the transfer of radionuclides into the human food chain and led the development of models to estimate radiation exposure and risk, including the widely used ERICA tool.
Nick also contributed to the development of assessment approaches for the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
For their work as part of the TREE project, Nick, together with Professor Mike Wood from the University of Salford, were awarded the Times Higher Education award for Research Project of the Year in 2016. The judges said the research had captured the imagination and attention of people worldwide and that the collaboration with Ukrainian colleagues was impressive in the way that it used "groundbreaking radiological methods to explore the impact of nuclear radiation on wildlife in the Chornobyl area".
As part of the TREE project Nick and his colleagues used digital trap cameras to photograph Chornobyl wildlife. Images of animals, such as Grey wolves, Eurasian elks, Eurasian lynx and Przewalski’s horses provide a remarkable and memorable view of the resilience of nature. More recently, as part of the REDFIRE and CHAR projects, Nick and his colleagues conducted further studies in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone looking at the impact of wildfires. These wildfires burned much of the most contaminated area of the Zone, known as the Red Forest, presenting a unique opportunity to study the impacts of fire on radionuclide mobility and the influence of radiation on post-fire ecosystem recovery.
As well as leading major international research activities, Nick served as Group Leader for the Environmental Contaminants Group at UKCEH in Lancaster. The group studies the behaviour of heavy metals, biocides and radionuclides in the environment. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Nick also became Head of Site for UKCEH in Lancaster, helping to coordinate UKCEH’s response, support staff and ensure business continuity.
Nick was highly valued by his colleagues not only for his scientific expertise, but also for the quiet mentoring, support and encouragement he provided. He enjoyed publishing his research and authored over 450 papers, technical reports, books and book chapters. Nick’s scholarly roles included Associate Editor for the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Honorary Professor at the University of Salford and Vice-president of the European Radioecology Alliance.
Nick is survived by his wife Catherine Barnett, a fellow radioecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. He will be much missed.
Donations in Nick's memory can be made to Macmillan Cancer Trust.