A NEW advanced training centre in agri-food robotics will create the largest ever cohort of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) specialists for the global food and farming sectors, thanks to a multi-million-pound funding award.
The world’s first Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) for agri-food robotics is being established by the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £6.6m for the new Centre which will see a massive influx of high-level robotics expertise at a vital time for the agri-food industry. The CDT will provide funding and training for at least 50 doctoral students, who will be supported by major industry partners and specialise in areas such as autonomous mobility in challenging environments, the harvesting of agricultural crops, soft robotics for handling delicate food products, and ‘co-bots’ for maintaining safe human-robot collaboration and interaction in farms and factories.
Professor Tom Duckett, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Lincoln, is the new Centre Director. He said: “Automation and robotics technologies are set to transform global industries – within the UK alone they will add £183bn to the economy over the next decade.
“Agri-food is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK – twice the scale of automotive and aerospace combined – supporting a food chain, from farm to fork, which generates a Global Value Added (GVA) of £108bn, with 3.9m employees in a truly international industry.
“However, the global food chain is under pressure from population growth, climate change, political pressures affecting migration, population drift from rural to urban regions, and the demographics of an ageing population in advanced economies.
“Addressing these challenges requires a new generation of highly skilled RAS researchers and leaders, and our new CDT will be dedicated to delivering that expertise. It will be a real focal point for robotics innovation in the UK.”
At Lincoln, the CDT represents an important partnership between robotics researchers from the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) and agricultural experts from the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology (LIAT), as they work together to combat these pressing issues facing the global food chain.
Director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology, Professor Simon Pearson, said: “It is widely agreed that robotics will transform the food and farming industries in the coming years, but there is still a major skills gap in this area. Working with our industry and academic partners to design the 50 PhD scholarships will enable us to expand the UK’s science and engineering base, delivering a flood of skills and expertise that will drive our food and farming industries into the future.”
Professor Richard Harvey, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at UEA, added: “Agriculture remains an important and atavistic activity in the UK but it the most dangerous of all the main UK industry sectors. Given that, isn’t it astonishing that so much effort is devoted to robots for driving and delivering parcels to your door?
“This project will initiate a new movement to build robots to handle the unpleasant, difficult and repetitive aspects of farming. At UEA our expertise is in Computer Vision which is making computers that see. We’d like to build robots that can see when an ear of corn has ripened or be able to measure the amount of sunlight falling on a field of wheat or to tell when beans are ready for picking. We look forward to developing new systems that handle the challenge of being on a farm.”
The Centre brings together a unique collaboration of leading researchers from the Universities of Lincoln, Cambridge and East Anglia, together with the Manufacturing Technology Centre, supported by leading industrial partners and stakeholders from across the food, farming and robotics industries. These include John Deere, Syngenta, G’s Growers, Beeswax Dyson, ABB and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.
The Prince’s Foundation’s 7 for 70 project in Ceredigion gathers speed
Representatives of a charity behind a new centre to celebrate Welsh heritage, craft and culture have been encouraged by the progress made at the sacred site in Ceredigion.
The conversion of The Beudy ‒ pronounced “bay-dee”, meaning a cowshed ‒ at Strata Florida will mark the completion of the first phase of a project to restore the farmhouse and farm buildings owned by the Strata Florida Trust and supported by The Prince’s Foundation. The completed conversion will be officially opened later this year.
The wider project at Strata Florida is one of seven across the UK undertaken by The Prince’s Foundation to coincide with The Prince’s 70th birthday in 2018 in a campaign known as 7 for 70. Spearheaded by communities and supported by The Prince’s Foundation, the seven projects focus on landmark buildings and sites, whether neglected, in need of a new use, or requiring construction.
Mark Webb, fundraising and development manager for The Prince’s Foundation, visited Strata Florida, 16 miles south-east of Aberystwyth, alongside Peter Mojsa, representing the grant-giving charity Allchurches Trust, and was heartened by the impressive conversion work completed so far.
He said: “We share a vision with the Ceredigion community whereby Strata Florida regains its place as a foremost cultural heritage site in Wales, and the progress being made in the conversion of The Beudy is really encouraging.
“We hope to generate a renewed awareness of the significance of the site and establish it as a symbol of celebration of Welsh heritage, language and culture. Strata Florida Trust is aiming to create opportunities for a wide range of residential educational activities associated with the legacy of the site, its buildings, landscape and rural context.”
The Strata Florida Archaeology Field School is being run in partnership with Breaking Ground Heritage, an organisation that specialises in promoting wellbeing and rehabilitation through heritage-based activities, specifically to individuals with severe physical and psychological challenges. The school forms part of a three-year pilot project that has received £177,400 in grant funding from Allchurches Trust and is designed to encourage people to consider and pursue careers in archaeology.
Kim Hitch, director of projects for The Prince’s Foundation, said: “The Prince’s Foundation is proud of its contribution in preserving traditional skills, arts, and crafts, through its education and training programmes. In the same way that much of the training we offer helps to fill skills gaps and address the issue of shrinking workforces in certain industries, we hope that by supporting Strata Florida Trust run this archaeological field school, we can help address the dearth of new talent emerging in archaeology in the UK.”
Paul Playford, grants officer for Allchurches Trust, said: “We’re proud to support this exceptionally exciting project that is helping to halt the decline in practical archaeological opportunities and skills in the UK, breathing new life into this fascinating profession as well as enriching the local economy and protecting an important cultural site in Wales for future generations.
“We’re very much looking forward to seeing what treasures will be unearthed as the trenches open for a second summer and students and visitors discover the secrets of this ecclesiastical heritage gem, benefiting from the rich knowledge of the experts on-site and hopefully inspiring a love for archaeology and history that will last a lifetime.”
The Prince’s Foundation launched its 7 for 70 initiative to identify and undertake seven high-impact community regeneration projects throughout the United Kingdom. Drawing on more than 20 years of experience of heritage-led regeneration, project management, community engagement and architectural design, the charity, based at Dumfries House in Ayrshire, is working in partnership with local communities to support them in regeneration projects. The work also builds upon the successful community outreach work undertaken at Dumfries House – the restoration of nearby New Cumnock Town Hall in 2016 and the rebuilding of New Cumnock’s outdoor swimming pool in 2017. Both projects were completed in partnership with the local community in response to an appeal for assistance in saving these two much-loved local assets.
Successful 7 for 70 projects include The Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion, a Braemar-based showcase of Scotland’s rich history of traditional highland sports, and a summerhouse at the centre of a renovated walled garden at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland. While projects are owned and operated by the local community, The Prince’s Foundation offers its fundraising, development and communications expertise to help identify funding options and deliver the capital phase. The Prince’s Foundation lends its wealth of expertise and knowledge in the heritage and built environment sectors, and in doing so to add the necessary value to ensure the projects’ successful completion.
The chief objective of The Prince’s Foundation is to create sustainable communities. The charity aims to achieve this by developing and managing places to visit, running a diverse programme of education and training for all ages with particular focus on traditional and heritage skills, and offering employment, most notably at its headquarters at Dumfries House in Ayrshire and in London. Its activity spans the world, with education programmes and placemaking initiatives in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.
Lampeter Green Infrastructure projects funding plans to be submitted after Cabinet approval
The council will submit funding applications for two green infrastructure projects in Lampeter after the Cabinet approved the submission of the plans on 28 January 2020. The plans will be submitted to the Welsh Government.
It comes after Welsh Government recently announced the availability of a £5m ‘Green Infrastructure Fund’ for all Local Authorities in Wales to apply to.
Green Infrastructure is a design principle where greenery and vegetation is introduced into built up areas to increase urban greening and help urban cooling, reducing water run-off and improving residents well-being.
One of the proposed projects is the ‘Lampeter Green Corridor’ which involves the improvement of an all access path linking the North and the South of town through the University. The other proposed plan is the ‘Market Street Pedestrian Prioritisation’ which would see the area enhanced with a sustainable drainage system, tree planting, seating and spaces for market stalls and pop up stands.
Rhodri Evans is the Cabinet member responsible for Economy and Regeneration. He said, “This investment in Lampeter demonstrates how Green Infrastructure investments can both help our environment and be extremely beneficial for the town. As well as improving pedestrian accessibility, it has the potential of bringing more business in to the town with market and pop up stalls.
This decision supports the council’s corporate priorities of Promoting Environmental & Community Resilience and Boosting the Economy.
More slaughter as TB strategy fails
THE LATEST data relating to bovine TB in Wales has revealed an alarming and unsustainable rise in the number of cattle slaughtered due to this disease.
According to recent data, the number of cattle slaughtered in Wales in the 12 months to October 2019 was 12,742 and this is the highest number on record.
Indeed, whilst the most recent data reveals a 12% fall in New Herd Incidents in the 12 months to October 2019, the number of cattle slaughtered over the same period was 24% higher than the previous year.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Although the data from TB Dashboard shows improvement in some areas, the number of cattle slaughtered remains unsustainably high. Just 917 cattle were culled in 1996 due to this disease and it is a sad and disturbing fact that the Welsh cattle sector has now become somewhat used to cattle slaughterings reaching the many thousands each year.”
The Union President added that losing TB-free status is devastating to farming families and their businesses. “The loss of precious stock and the restrictions on a farm business can be incredibly destructive and it is extremely distressing for our members who have worked hard to gain TB-free status, only to lose it again in the subsequent years.
“A TB breakdown is not only financially crippling for the farm, but also impacts more widely as struggling farm businesses are less able to contribute to both the local economy and further afield.”
High sensitivity testing, such as gamma testing and the removal of inconclusive reactors at severe interpretation, is blamed for some of this rise. However, this will be of little comfort to FUW members, many of whom have seen a huge number of cattle removed from their farm, he added.
“Despite a wealth of evidence on the important contribution of wildlife control to TB eradication in some places, the current TB programme continues to focus almost entirely on cattle controls.
“The FUW has continued to reiterate members concerns regarding the implementation of measures such as high sensitivity testing, without significant measures to tackle the disease in wildlife.
“The number of cattle herds registered in Wales has declined by 43 per cent since 1996. Bovine TB is one of the most serious issues facing Welsh cattle farmers and a more holistic approach, which seriously tackles the wildlife reservoir, is required urgently,” said Glyn Roberts.
Andrew RT Davies AM/AC – Shadow Minister for Environment, Sustainability, and the Environment – said: “Each month, farmers and others in our rural communities anticipate these figures with apprehension, and with good reason.
“The stats for the year to October 2019 show that 12,742 animals were slaughtered because of bovine TB, which – up from 10,303 – is a rise of 24 percent on the same period in 2018. England, by contrast, saw a drop of two percent.
“Clearly, the Welsh Labour Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs has not got to grips with her brief in the almost four years in her post, and farmers – and the rural economy – here in Wales suffer as a result.
“But the suffering is not only financial.
“In the Senedd last week my colleague Paul Davies AM/AC spoke passionately on the subject of farmers enduring mental health problems. Bovine TB is another pressure, another cause of stress that our hardworking farmers and their families suffer, and it’s time it ended.
“A Welsh Conservative Government would develop a new, holistic approach for the eradication of bovine TB and look at all options to achieve this.
“Until then, we will harry this Welsh Labour administration to listen to farmers – as well as the Farmers’ Union of Wales and NFU Cymru – to step up its efforts to control this disease and bring this crisis to an end.”
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