Mike worked five years at Edinburgh University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources before joining Northumbria University.
As with so many ecologists it is hard to tell when the child with a net and jam-jar dabbling in a pond turned into the researcher with a net and a white tray dabbling in multivariate statistics. I am by training a zoologist (University of Bristol, 1980), the great good fortune of a doctorate from John Lawton’s lab at York, (1985) and five years at Edinburgh University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources before joining Northumbria University. And like so many academics, the occasional diversion as shop assistant, civil servant and Punch and Judy man.
0191 227 3755
BSc (Hons) DPhil Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
Ponds in a landscape are strikingly varied in their wildlife, even ponds close to one another. It may be that they are minutely sensitive to local conditions or perhaps it is occasional, hard to record events that trigger distinct changes. I’m still not sure, because I’ve got evidence for both. They make a good test bed for trying out ideas.
Research Themes and Scholarly Interests
Reconciling an interest in ponds and their wildlife with the psychogeography of street sports in the city is not so difficult: both are about time and place, whether it be the year to year variation in animal communities of temporary ponds or how skateboarders reinvent a city’s spaces. At the heart of my pond work lies the tension between events which may appear to be (perhaps are) largely random chance versus broad, predictable patterns, especially over the longer term, year to year as the wildlife of ponds responds to local variations in the climate. Some of my papers use words like “chance” or idiosyncratic”, others deal with time, perhaps a year or two or decades.. Much of this has been carried out at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, an eight mile crescent of sand between the north sea and bog skies, scattered with wetlands, Neolithic footprints and legends of French pirates. Check our blog for Druridge Bay research updates, http://pondstimeandplace.blogspot.co.uk/. Increasingly the work has focused on the power of ponds and wetlands as carbon sinks, using cores from the sediments and measures of gas fluxes to audit the value of these familiar habitats. The work combines the ecology which I know best with expert geochemistry from Dave Cooke and Mike Deary and our postgrads Pete Gilbert, Scott Taylor, Pippa Southwood and Otaigbe Inegbedion.
The skateboard (and now parkour, BMX and inline skate) work grew from a personal delight in the largely scorned modernist architecture of Newcastle, the “Brasilia of the North”. These buildings, and many of the other unloved corners of the city are a playground waiting to be used, but the spaces come and go with time or day or year. This work has allowed me to experiment with visual methods, especially photomontage and lo-fi comics. The use of visual methodologies has blossomed into wider enquiry, working with Jon Swords (Geography) and Sebastian Messer (Architecture) to explore post-representational mapping and urban psychogeography. Which may seem a long way from time and chance and ponds, except that “the spatial grammar of comics .... can open geography ....to images and meanings with a more contingent and provisional ‘event’” (Dittmer, Trans. Inst Br Geogr, 2010), which sounds very like what interests me about ponds.
Teaching Interests and Modules
Visual methodologies in action. The annual Geophotography module exhibition (left) which challenges students to use images to represent critical, complex geographical ideas and (right) video making on the Scottish Environmental management field trip.
I teach across the whole of our geography and environment programmes, from the first week new students arrive, to the end of the third year. I have two special interests, research-informed teaching and visual methodologies.
Research informed teaching is an easy mantra; I suspect most university lecturers would claim their teaching fits this model, but the effective use of RIT is harder to pin down. My preference is for so called “research based” RIT which gets the students involved as participants and doing research, rather than reading about it. Much of the time this is a matter of building students’ confidence and helping them see themselves as researchers with energy, skills and insights of their own.
Visual methods fascinate me too. This grew from a personal love of comics, zines, cartoons and photomontage. Academic research tends to privilege text, so i have experimented using photography, video, comics and maps to help students explore their world. This is not straight forward; students tend to be very visual literate and technically savvy, but lack that strong formal grasp of how to make images work. However, with a bit of practice, visual methods have revealed powerful pedagogic benefits, especially for personal and participatory work.
Sponsors and Collaborators
Who I Work With
The wetland work at Druridge Bay is in collaboration with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust and Northumberland County Council.
The visual and urban work has been in partnership with the Holy Biscuit Gallery, Dance City , Solar Learning and Northern Architecture.
My work on ponds and their wildlife mixes a fascination with the patterns and processes evident in animal communities and the wider place of ponds in the landscape. Here is a key trail of ideas.
Peter J. Gilbert P.J., Scott Taylor S., David A. Cooke D.A., Michael Deary M., Cooke M., and Jeffries, M.J. (2014). Variations in sediment organic carbon among different types of small natural ponds along Druridge Bay, Northumberland, UK. Inland Waters, 4, 57-64.
Jeffries, M.J., (2012). Ponds and the importance of their history: an audit of pond numbers, turnover and the relationship between the origins of ponds and their contemporary plant communities in south east Northumberland, UK. Hydrobiologia, 689, 11-12.
Jeffries, M.J., (2010b). The temporal dynamics of temporary pond macroinvertebrate
communities over a 10-year period. Hydrobiologia, 661, 391-405.
Jeffries M.J. (2002) Evidence for individualistic species assembly creating convergent ratios
amongst pond invertebrate communities. Journal of Animal Ecology, 71, 173-184.
Jeffries, M.J. (1994) Invertebrate communities and turnover in wetland ponds affected by
Drought. Freshwater Biology, 32, 603-612.
Jeffries, M.J. (1989) Measuring Talling’s ‘element of chance in pond populations’ Freshwater
Biology, 21, 383-393.
Much of the skate work has been events and exhibitions but check the following
Jeffries, M.J., Messer, S and Swords, J. (2013) Playing out. The importance of the city as a playground for skateboarding and parkour. Invited chapter, In Teitle, J (ed) “The other 17 hours: valuing out-of-school time”, Bank Street Occasional papers, 30, 1-14, Bank Street College, New York.
Jenson A., Swords J. & Jeffries M.J. (2012) The accidental youth club. Skateboarding in Newcastle-Gateshead. Journal of Urban Design, 17, 371-388.
Messer, S. and Jeffries, M.J. (2012) PlayToon. Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne.
A link to a video of the PlayToon exhibition http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6s5gJStdXo
My Northumbria Research Link can be found here