Geared up for sustainable travel

Friday 26 April 2024

Congratulations to researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), who have successfully completed a cycle challenge to raise awareness of climate change and the need to transition to a low carbon future.

Setting off from their base at the Scottish Oceans Institute on Tuesday 9 April, the SMRU team of six researchers (Carol Sparling, Gordon Hastie, Jess Montabaranom, Katie Rapson, Emma Longden, and Philippa Wright) cycled almost 300 miles over six days to present their research at the Environmental Interactions of Marine Renewables conference in Kirkwall, Orkney.

Dr Carol Sparling, Director of SMRU, said: “We saw this as an opportunity to combine raising awareness about our marine mammal research as well as the need for sustainable travel and renewable energy to help in the transition to a low carbon future to help fight climate change.”

The journey to Orkney involved five full days of cycling, with an average total of 60 miles each day planned around four refuelling breaks and overnight stopovers in Pitlochry, Aviemore, Muir of Ord Lairg and Achiemore near Scrabster. During the journey, followers could track the team in real time using a custom built SMRU Instrumentation tag normally used to track the behaviour of seals at sea. The final day involved a cycle to the ferry, a crossing in some big swell and then a short cycle to Kirkwall where the cyclists were greeted by a SMRU colleague bearing champagne.

In addition to the cycling challenge itself and the presentation of their research at the conference, the team decided to fundraise for the Adaptive Riders Collective (ARC), which offers equipment and group cycling events across Scotland for adaptive-riders and non-disabled riders alike, supporting everyone to enjoy off-road adventures.

“We are thrilled to have raised over £3000 for the Adaptive Riders Collective,” said Carol. “Raising funds to support inclusivity in cycling adventure was an additional motivation, especially during the more challenging sections of the journey through torrential rain and strong headwinds. Thankfully the weather improved across the week, and we were treated to glorious sunshine and strong tailwinds as we cycled north through some truly spectacular landscapes before our ferry and final few miles to Kirkwall.”

Neil Russell from the ARC said: “Getting out into green spaces and enjoying all the benefits that being out in nature has to offer is something that people with disabilities don’t often get to experience. At the ARC we look to support people, both disabled and non-disabled, to come together and benefit from the physical, social, and mental health benefits that being outdoors has to offer. We are so grateful to be supported by the SMRU team and those who donate in support of their amazing challenge.”

Accommodation throughout the journey was generously donated to the team by Hostelling Scotland, a not-for-profit charity with more than 60 youth and affiliate hostels across the country.

“We are delighted to have been able to support the team with this fantastic challenge,” said Graham Sheach from Hostelling Scotland. “Sustainable active travel has been at the heart of hostelling for over 93 years, and it has never been more relevant than it is today. We’re very pleased to hear that the team were able to enjoy some restful evenings at our hostels during their adventurous and inspiring journey to Orkney.”

Reflecting on her experience of leading the challenge, Carol said: “Attending conferences to share research findings and network with others in our field is really important, and we were pleased with how well our presentations were received by the international community at the conference. We’re all aware of the carbon footprint of travelling, so using this trip to highlight some of the issues, as well as showing the options for active travel and low-cost accommodation while adventuring, was too good an opportunity to miss. We’re so grateful to Hostelling Scotland for supporting us to rest well each night, and to all the talented chefs and bakers who kept us refuelled with delicious meals and lots of cake along the way. We have each been left with memories to last a lifetime, and we’re already starting to talk about when we could do it all again!”

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Find out more about travelling sustainably in St Andrews and beyond.

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