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Edge Hill alumni’s dissertation given wider recognition

Lewis Charters, from Formby, during his research in Malaysia

An Edge Hill University Geography graduate has seen his dissertation on palm oil sustainability in south East Asia endorsed through its publication in an internationally-renowned publication.

Lewis Charters (24), from Formby, who achieved First Class honours in 2018, has been included in the long-running International Journal of Remote Sensing, a key scientific periodical publication.

His final-year dissertation was based on fieldwork undertaken around North Selangor Peat Swamp Forest in Malaysia. Findings highlighted the unsustainable pace of land conversion, due to the rate of tropical forest being destroyed for agricultural use.

“We are exploiting our natural resources at an unsustainable rate”, Lewis said. “I realised I could help raise awareness, by marrying my passion for sustainability with that of earth observation technology.

Lewis presented his findings at a major conference in Athens, Greece, while a second presentation was made by his dissertation supervisor and now co-author, Professor Paul Aplin, in Birmingham – and his first journal paper was published soon after.

“Palm oil has become an issue close to my heart”, Lewis said. “Having the opportunity to witness its associated benefits as well as its consequences first-hand, it is evident that its future sustainability is of upmost importance.

“Despite the issues, if produced sustainably, palm oil can be grown in ways that are beneficial to nature as well as the people which depend upon its revenue.

“The fact that the research has helped raise awareness and in doing so, has started to get people thinking about the environmental and social impacts of the products they buy, is a rewarding outcome.”

The project experience gave Lewis the opportunity of managing an international team of leading academics, industry representatives, government officials and non-profit organisations, which included both Professor Aplin and Dr Chris Marston from Edge Hill, as well as UK and Malaysian researchers.

After completing his studies at Edge Hill, Lewis is studying towards his Masters in Climate Change and Environmental Policy (at the University of Leeds). He aspires to work at the heart of tackling the biggest global sustainability challenges. He is collaborating with WWF-UK as part of his Masters dissertation project, which aims to promote best practice amongst the business community, to help eliminate deforestation from key commodity supply chains such as beef, palm oil, soy, timber and cocoa.

Dr Paul Aplin commented: “In 20 years of lecturing, I’ve never published with an undergraduate before. It was a genuine research collaboration, with Lewis leading on the palm oil sustainability angle, while I advised principally on the technical image analysis. We are delighted for him and have no doubt he will continue on to further research success.”

Lewis added: “I would like to extend my thanks to Professor Aplin for his guidance and encouragement as well as that of my fellow co-authors; without whom, none of this would have been possible. If it were not for the continued support and dedication of the Geography department, I simply would not be standing where I am today.”

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