Europe’s most advanced, fully flow-through ‘mesocosm’ environmental testing facility for agrochemicals is scheduled to launch later this year at Fera Science’s UK headquarters near York.
The ground-breaking project, which is being developed in association with the Centre for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), Innovate UK and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will provide scientific research opportunities across a wide range of industries, including the farming and agricultural sectors.
In order for products such as pesticides and fertilisers to be approved for market, they must be tested to prove they are safe for the environment. Many manufacturers use higher tier testing, such as mesocosms, for this process. A mesocosm is an outdoor experimental system that examines and monitors simulations of natural aquatic environments under strictly controlled conditions.
Mesocosm testing methods provide several advantages, particularly for the agrichemical industry. Gradients of interest, such as temperature and pH level, can be controlled and manipulated to help understand the effects of different chemicals on the environment, according to Fera.
So far, many standard mesocosm facilities lack the scale, water flow and realism of real-life aquatic environments as they are often too small to support the abundance and biodiversity required to deliver valid data. These small-scale studies also encounter issues with consistency in statistical data as variation across multiple studies is prevalent. This lack of credibility to the studies can mean some chemical products are prevented from being launched to market, despite being deemed safe had more rigorous testing be conducted, says Fera.
To overcome this issue, the Fera Science E-Flows mesocosm has been developed to provide a realistic and large-scale testing facility.
Dr Rachel Benstead, senior aquatic ecotoxicologist at Fera, says: “The testing facilities that are used to provide data for new agrichemical and land-based products should replicate, as well as possible, the actual environment that the products could encounter.
“This includes diverse aquatic communities, the flowing of fresh water and an edge-of-field environment.”
The E-Flows mesocosm will provide a test-bed of 60 realistic water streams, in which the flow can be varied independently to replicate real-life conditions. It will have a total experimental area of 1.2 hectares (3 acres) and include a series of lagoons to allow borehole water to naturalise for five days before entering the experimental streams. The streams measure 10 metres long and up to 2m wide with each one being able to be independently varied and regulated according to the chemicals being tested, according to Fera.
In the E-Flows facility, it will be possible to simulate fast flowing, slow flowing and almost still bodies of water, replicating the movements of streams, ditches and pond-like environments, giving full flexibility and control to testers, according to Fera.
The development of the mesocosm gives the capabilities across the farming, agricultural and agrichemical industries to change how chemicals are tested, risk assessed and registered. By testing under such controlled, yet life-like conditions, it is hoped that a new era of research will be developed, giving a deeper understanding of the actual effects on the environment.
This new investment is set to serve the agrichemical industry by providing high quality regulatory evidence and supporting the development of novel crop products that are safe for aquatic environments. Testing will be fairer, more flexible and more representative of real life than previously, providing the best possible opportunities for leading research in agriculture, according to Fera.
The new testing method may also provide an opportunity for previously discarded chemicals to be tested under more realistic conditions. Therefore, more agrichemical options may become available, it says.
For more information on the E-Flows mesocosm, visit www.fera.co.uk.