Fera Science completes Europe’s most advanced flow-through mesocosm

Translational science and research organisation, Fera Science Ltd has announced that building work has completed on a new testing facility in Sand Hutton, near York in the UK. The E-Flows mesocosm is a ground breaking project developed in partnership by Fera, the Centre for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) and supported by Innovate UK. It has been designed, developed and will be managed and operated by Fera for use by the agri-tech industry and researchers, supporting the race to improve crop productivity.
Launching in summer 2018, the outdoor experimental system will perform simulations of natural aquatic environments under controlled conditions. As plant protection products, such as pesticides, are developed, manufacturers will use the mesocosm to demonstrate that their products are safe for aquatic environments as part of higher tier testing.
In October 2017, work commenced on a 40-metre-deep borehole which, when operational, will feed clean water into five, one metre deep lagoons. Filled with invertebrate life and plants, the lagoons naturalise the water, before distributing it across a series of 30 rushes, simulating the drainage on farmland. Each of the rushes consists of two, ten metre lengths, which the naturalised water will flow through. During testing, they will feature the relevant protection products. 
The rushes have been constructed with a wood frame and polystyrene filler, before being reinforced with metal and then filled with concrete. As the rushes drain naturally, it is important that they don’t distort and move. Concrete casing ensures that each unit remains durable, throughout all weather conditions. 
The majority of existing mesocosm facilities are static or simply recirculate water. However, this is not representative of what actually happens in a natural environment, where fresh water is constantly flowing in streams and ditches. To overcome this, the E-Flows mesocosm is supplied with a continuous flow-through of aged, fresh water. 
Once the water has been tested and it has passed through the rushes, it must then be purified before it can be re-introduced into the surrounding environment. A three- pump recycling system has been installed onsite at the Yorkshire facility to undertake this activity. Storage tanks in the recycling system collect water before it is passed through granulate activated carbon filters. Any chemicals in the water will be filtered out and collected by the carbon, before being re-introduced into the local environment. 
“As building works completes, Fera is one step closer to launching Europe’s most advanced, fully flow-through mesocosm,” said Peter Gilbertson, special projects manager at Fera. “This ground-breaking facility will drive a new era of research that will allow testing under a variety of conditions that we were just unable to do before. A combination of the wet summer and autumn we experienced in 2017 and the site being located on a perch water table, resulted in it being incredibly waterlogged when we commenced work. High concentrations of sand, silt and clay in the ground meant that it was difficult to drain the rain water. To tackle this and to ensure the mesocosm operated in the required controlled conditions, we built a raft for the rushes. In a standard mesocosm they would typically be located in the ground. With building work now completed, the next step is to integrate the various species of invertebrate and plants to replicate an edge-of-field pond and stream.”