Research -


University Centre Askham Bryan (UCAB) undertakes research and scholarly activities across a range of land-based themes, including; Animal Science, Ecology & Conservation, Equine Science, Farm Trials, Plant Science and Rural Business Research Unit.

The work UCAB undertakes concentrates on near market, applied research which is very much about addressing the land based industries’ drivers and needs.

Askham Bryan is proud of its long tradition of undertaking relevant and practical projects that have on many levels delivered important improvements and innovations for the sector.

Our staff are skilled and accomplished, regularly contributing to scientific societies and academic publications, in the 2019/20 academic year our staff spoke at 20 academic conferences and published six peer review journal articles.

Our UCAB degree students are included within new and ongoing research projects as part of their studies and wider learning at the College.


Loni Loftus, Grace Bell, Andrew Henworth, Emily Padmore, Samantha Atkinson and Mark Hoyle. (Completed project)
The effect of two different farrowing systems on sow behaviour, and piglet behaviour, mortality and growth
Farrowing crates have traditionally been used to reduce occurrence of piglet mortality as a result of sow crushing. However the utilisation of traditional farrowing crates has been suggested to contribute to negative welfare for both the sow and piglets.

This study compared mortality rates, weight gain and behaviour of two cohorts, Freedom Farrowing (FF) and Traditional Farrowing (TF), of sows at a commercial farm.

Results indicated no significant difference in mortality rates (2-sample t-test, t24 = −0.08, p = 0.761) between systems or in weight gain of piglets (batch 1: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.01, p = 0.993; batch 2: 2-sample t-test, t12=−0.12, p = 0.904).

Behaviour of sows indicated a number of significant differences between FF and TF cohorts including TF sows spending more time lying down, χ2 (2, N = 24) = 5.69, p = 0.017 and FF sows spending more time nursing their piglets χ2 (1, N = 24) = 6.66, p = 0.01, socialising with their piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 12, p = 0.001 and exploring the pen χ2 (2, N = 24) = 6, p = 0.014.

TF piglets spent more time lying away from the sow (lying elsewhere) χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.78, p = 0.029 and engaging in agonistic behaviours with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.76, p = 0.029, whilst FF piglets spent more time feeding from the sow χ2 (1, N = 24) = 63.18, p < 0.001 and playing with other piglets χ2 (2, N = 24) = 4.37, p = 0.036.

As farmed production animals it is important that management changes to improve welfare consider both economic impacts and effect on production time; the results of this study demonstrate that both mortality rates and weight gain of piglets are comparable between the two systems giving an overall advantage to the implementation of Free Farrowing pens in a pig production environment.

• Atkinson, S., Padmore, E., Bell, G., Henworth, A., Hoyle, M. and Loftus, L. 2020. A cost, impact and efficiency investigation into the effect of two different farrowing systems on sow and piglet welfare and production, BSAS Conference.

• Loftus, L., Bell, G., Padmore, E., Atkinson, S., Henworth, A. and Hoyle, M., 2020. The effect of two different farrowing systems on sow behaviour, and piglet behaviour, mortality and growth. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 105-112.

Loni Loftus and Elizabeth Blavins (Completed project)
The nutritional contents of independently tested forage from UK farmers and potential impact on equine welfare.
The gastrointestinal system of a horse and subsequent links to the overall wellbeing of the horse still require investigation, more-so now than ever as management within the equine industry does not reflect the natural behaviours of the horse.

This study focuses on the importance of testing forages for nutritional content in order to adjust ration formulation, behaviour and health and wellbeing in equines. Data from 24/7 UK forage samples, sent for independent testing, were collected and processed to profile mean Dry Matter, Crude Protein value was 11.09%CP (Min: 8.96%CP, Max:19.31%CP). Mean soluble Carbohydrate value were 9.73%SC (Min: 9.07%SC, Max: 10.76%SC).

The results showed that there was a statistically significant difference amongst UK counties in regards to Dry Matter (DF=39; H=504.94; P<0.001), Crude Protein (DF=39; H=518.52; P<0.001) and Soluble Carbohydrate (DF=39; H=364.17; P<0.001) using a Kruskal-Wallis statistics test.

These results highlight the importance of forage nutrition testing as the results showed that county mean values were highly varied. In the future, the equine industry needs to implement the testing of forage within normal management practices, this will improve overall nutritional welfare for equines in the UK.

• Loftus, L. and Blavins, E. 2020. The nutritional contents of independently tested forage from UK farmers and potential impact on equine welfare. UCAB Change in the Animal Industries.


Thomas Welsh (completed project)
Visitor attachment to dolphins during swim programmes.
Forming emotional connections and memorable experiences with animals are effective learning tools for conservation education. Human-animal interactions (HAIs) during these programmes are generally positive experiences for the human participants, however are there implications for the individual animals involved?

Here, 41 visitors were surveyed to assess their sense of attachment to the dolphin. Alongside this, 96 15-minute continuous focal sampling observations were carried out for three female dolphins Aged 22 – >40. 80% of visitors reported forming a bond with the dolphin.

A Friedman’s Two-Way ANOVA produced significant results for some behaviour categories for each individual however, pairwise comparison showed no differences pre-post interaction.

Therefore, it can be implied that for these dolphins, participating in the HAI was neither enriching nor aversive for them. As visitors reported a sense of attachment post HAI, this could have applications in improving conservation education.

This study has provided scope for research into methods facilities can use to utilise the emotional attachment developed to individual animals to facilitate learning about conservation issues.

• Welsh, T. 2020. Visitor Attachment to Dolphins during swim programmes. UCAB Change in the Animal Industries.


Source to sea: A microplastics story (ongoing project)
This project builds on a student’s previous dissertation, looking at Microplastics in the River Foss. Our research staff have surveyed the River Dearne from source above Denby Dale to its confluence into the River Don at Denaby Main.

The River Dearne was selected as this is a fairly short river (51km) and flows through many areas of open access. The river flows through the post-industrial landscape of the Barnsley Coal Field. Access along the river is provided from the Dearne Way footpath, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and many over bridges.

Microplastics are small plastic elements, these are now being discovered in the marine environment, including isolated areas such as the Arctic and Mariana Trench. It is believed that these plastics are being transported to the sea through rivers.

Very little is known about the source of such micro plastics, this work aims to build up a picture through pinpointing the source and abundance of microplastics in one river. Using simple detection techniques.

The outputs from this project will be a “microplastics heat map of the river Dearne”, e-leaflet detailing the methodology and a journal article documenting the findings of the study.

In future further work could be undertaken by students on the conservation degrees to build up a picture over time of the change in abundance of microplastics in this river.

The Project Aims and Objectives:

  •  To map the level of microplastics at different stages of the rivers’ journey.
  •  To identify sources of microplastics in the River Dearne.
  •  To raise awareness of microplastics and their consequences in general.



Monty Roberts’ Public Demonstrations: Preliminary Report on the Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability of Horses Undergoing Training during Live Audience Events
Loni Loftus

Monty Roberts is a famous horse trainer, commonly referred to as a ‘horse whisperer’, who shares his training methods all over the world, including through large public audience events. These events have the potential to compromise the horse’s welfare. The aims of the project are:

• Measure HR and HRV of horses being trained at ‘live-audience’ events across the UK
• Measure behavioural indicators of stress in these horses
• Identify stress/no stress in these horses
• Compare data to that of other studies using other training techniques

The demonstrations were conducted at various UK land based colleges. Ten horses were used in final analysis. Polar RS800CX was used to measure heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV).

Minimum (min), average (ave) and maximum (max) RR intervals (ms), standard deviation of the RR interval (SDRR), root mean square of successive RR differences (RMSSD) and the geometric means standard deviation 1 (SD1) and 2 (SD2) were calculated and timed to pair with training steps. In the frequency domain the program computed LF (0.04–0.15 Hz), HF (0.15–0.40 Hz) and LF/HF ratio, consistent with a range of papers studying frequency domain in horses.

Generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) were used to determine the difference between stable and overall training and between Join-Up® and specific training. Horses were included as random effects, HR and HRV values as response variables and the variables of interest for comparison (e.g. location of the horse, training type, sex) as the explanatory variables.

R-R intervals during training were significantly lower (P=0.001) than studies in horses at rest but higher than horses anticipating competition highlighting a low HRV indicative of coping less or higher stress. Based on variables assessed PNS dominance was reduced during training compared to in the stable.

Frequency-domain analysis was performed to better understand the sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.

The LF/HF ratio was significantly higher in the stable compared to overall training, with no significant differences observed in the LF/HF ratio between Join-up® and specific training. The LF/HF ratio can, therefore, be used to indicate both sympathetic tone and cardiac sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.

Horses were under greater stress in training with an audience but less stress (arousal?) than when anticipating competition. There was no significant difference between join up and the rest of training. Further opportunistic studies encompassing different horsemanship styles and competitive disciplines would enable the generation of data which could complement that obtained during controlled scientific study.

Thoroughbred Racehorse Stereotypy, Progeny and Performance
Loni Loftus
There are currently over 14,000 Thoroughbred racehorses in training in the United Kingdom. These elite equines undergo intensive training and management schedules in order to produce optimum performance for owner, trainer, jockey and associates. The aims of the project are:

• To determine the prevalence of stereotypic behaviour performance in a cohort of TB racehorses over a 10 year period

• To elucidate (through official rating via Timeform) if horses performing stereotypic behaviours were rated higher or lower than their non-stereotypic counterparts and which stereotypic behaviours were linked to higher and lower performing horses.This retrospective cohort study analysed computer records for all racehorses (n=1587) trained by a specific racehorse trainer over a ten year period. Data was recorded continually onto a management system (HOMS – Horse Owner Management System) and included veterinary records, race data, age, breed, sex and reproductive status data as well as training and management schedules.

Records were also made of any observed incidences of stereotypic behaviour. Quantitative data was inputted from source and qualitative data was inputted then coded to allow for later analysis.97 individual stereotypical behaviours recorded, with an overall prevalence of 6.1%. One horse performed three stereotypic behaviours (weaving, crib biting and wind sucking) whilst the remainder (n=70) performed one (n=46) or two (n=24) stereotypic behaviours. A significant difference (P=0.005) in ratings of non-stereotyping horses, wind suckers, box walkers, crib biters and weavers was identified using a one way ANOVA.

Incidence of SB is slightly lower than the 7-15% reported by some authors however this could be due to reporter/recording error. Weavers group (Locomotor) were the highest rated which supported the hypothesis however in contrast box walkers were rated much lower. Crib-biters (oral) reported an unexpectedly high rating however this could be due to the significant proportion of SB horses performing crib biting behaviours with some horses from highly rated bloodlines.Wind suckers were below average rating as hypothesised.  Within the non-SB group there were a large proportion of non-rated horses (horses who have run less than 3 times) which may have affected the overall average rating for this group. Some sires were also identified as producing high numbers of SB progeny with particular combinations of predilections.

Further work to address the potential link between sire and stereotypy development in relation to co-dependant variables such as maternal bloodline and management systems would be of value.



Introduction to Bayesian Networks
Loni Loftus

Bayesian nets (BN) are a network-based framework for representing and analysing models involving uncertainty. They are different from other knowledge-based systems tools because uncertainty is handled in mathematically rigorous yet efficient and simple way.

They are also different from other probabilistic analysis tools because of network representation of problems, use of Bayesian statistics, and the synergy between these. Bayesian Nets are computed using R Studio software – most sensitive and complex.

Bayesian Networks consist of parent, spouse and child nodes connected by arcs. They represent the probable dependence and independence between variables.

They are used following systematic review (often Cochrane protocol) and meta-analysis of data from prior research.

Bayesian Networks are useful to analyse “Fuzzy” data, mixed data and data sets with missing data and allow for the learning of causal relationships, prediction, diagnosis, sensitivity analysis and promote repeatable and transparent decision making

In the current study they are being used to produce predictive models of stimuli which induce positive affect in horses and the sensitivity of both physiological and behavioural methods of measuring positive affect.

Project Title:
Efficacy of a natural eggshell membrane supplement on joint mobility and pain in a cohort of UK riding horses
Start Date:
January 2016
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
Project Partners:
Spanish supplement manufacturer and UK based animal feed manufacturer
Other Project Staff:
Project Aims and Overview:This study encompasses a pilot study, currently ongoing, to identify palatability and dosage regimen of this nutritional supplement. Following this a full double blinded randomised controlled trial will be conducted (due to begin Autumn 2016) to measure the efficacy of the supplement.

It is hoped that the results of this study will identify whether this supplement may be a beneficial additive to equine feed preparations to aid joint health.


Project Title:
Wearable technology in equine sports
Start Date:
June 2016
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
Project Partners:
Science City York
Other Project Staff:
Project Aims and Overview:This project is being undertaken to develop a new piece of wearable technology initially for the horseracing industry but also applicable to the equine sports industry as a whole.
The technology will primarily be aimed at advancing welfare and performance in the equine sports industry and engages with technological partners and the horse racing and equine sports industry to prototype an innovative and effective piece of equipment.


Project Title:
Ethological study of ridden, handling and stable related behaviour of horses in set management systems
Start Date:
April 2016
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
Project Partners:
Other Project Staff:
Project Aims and Overview:This study aims to collate and analyse data relating to the behavioural repertoires of horses in a set management system to identify the relative time budgets of these horses compared with natural time budgets and identify behaviours unique to these domesticated time budgets.

It is hoped that the results will indicate where allocated time budgets are appropriate for domesticated equines and where measures could be put in place to enhance and modulate these time budgets to improve the welfare and behaviour of domesticated horses in set management regimes.


The College’s farms include a significant dairy, beef and sheep heard alongside a strong arable provision. The College has a robotic milking parlour facility at Westfield Farm on the main College campus in addition to a traditional parlour. Our farms are an integral part of the college; they are well equipped with a wide selection of machinery and facilities for both commercial and educational purposes.

Research Projects

Over the past years we have conducted a range of commercial trials these include:
Winter Wheat Variety Trial

The College has planted six different varieties of wheat 24m apart, allowing students to see the different characteristics of each variety in growth, vigour and disease resistances.

Dow Agri Sciences Trial

Dow have a commercial trial at the College, trying out different herbicide actives on broad leaf weeds in small plots. This enables students to learn weed identification, identify chemical active ingredients and targeted weeds.

Fungicide Trial

In 2015 we conducted a fungicide trial at Headley Hall Farm where teams of students picked their own fungicide programme in a crop of Winter Wheat. This was a plot trial which was taken to harvest and was also conducted commercially with Bayer where the results were analysed and students could examine different diseases.

Barley Trial

In the 2015/16 academic year there is a Barley Trial commencing in April with spring barley where different herbicide choices are made to look at different broad leaf weeds.

Agro Vista Trials

In Spring 2016 the College planted some companion crops with oil seed rape and some cover crops before direct drilling maize into it. These trials have been undertaken on behalf of Agro Vista.

Oil Seed Rape Seed Treatment Trial

This trial is in partnership with the Spanish firm Modesto, who are trying to develop a phosphate seed treatment, the seed will be drilled using a plot drill operating at different rates.

Maize Trial

The College conducts a maize trial every year, where a selection of maize varieties are planted and harvested and results analysed commercially with Grain Seed Ltd and KWS.

College Dairy

The College operates a number of small scale farm trials in our Dairy Unit throughout the year. At Westfield Farm the College has both a robotic parlour and a conventional dairy parlour, this allows our students to experience these two forms of milking in addition to analysis of the output from each method. Currently the robotic milking group is yielding three litres per cow per day higher than the milking parlour stock are and they are averaging 2.8 milkings per day, whereas in our parlour we are only milking twice a day.


Micropropagation of Hardy Woody Plants
Sarah Owen-Hughes

The propagation of plants is achieved through a wide variety of means, from seed sowing to vegetative cutting. It is reasonably quick and cost effective. When conserving hardy woody plants, this process is not always as straightforward.

In conserved species where a plant has not reached maturity, seed saving will not be an option, and in cases where the parent plant is infected with a pathogen, this will be spread in standard vegetative propagation practices. Micropropagation enables the rapid bulking up of rare stock, the ‘outrunning’ of viruses, and the opportunity for students to understand the complex layers of controlled temperature, lighting and nutrient control involved in the intensive production of plants.

In re-establishing a micropropagation facility at the College, this offers an increased facility for students to become involved in research projects, particularly when their discipline involves slow growing plants. We are currently developing protocols for apple (Malus), oak (Quercus) and Rhododendron.

The Development of a Fully Integrated Irrigation System Suitable for Glasshouse Research
Tony Wilson, Sarah Owen – Hughes, Tony Peloe, George Evans
Delta-T Devices Ltd, 130 Low Road, Burwell, Cambridge, CB25 0EJ
Irrigatia, Norwoods, Long Drax, Selby, North Yorkshire, YO8 8NH

There are a range of academic papers on irrigation & lettuce cultivation under glass, linking the effects of irrigation and growth (Hakkwan et al., 2016; Yuan et al., 2001; Treftz and Omaye, 2016). Most current research involves hydroponic growing, which many organisations involved in horticultural and agricultural research are not equipped to do. However, the proposed trial aims to sit alongside existing research in terms of irrigation, but will investigate the reliability of the new Irrigatia solar powered irrigation systems and the data logging potential when used in conjunction with Delta-T Devices Ltd equipment.

The understanding is that a successful randomised trial in a glasshouse could lead to further glasshouse or field trials, where a water source is problematic or the fine control of the watering system is necessary. This trial will determine whether the combined Irrigatia and Delta-T Devices Ltd systems offer an inexpensive and easy to construct means of providing a well-controlled irrigation system for glasshouse research. By using comparable experiment methodology we will be able to describe the effect of a range of irrigation rates on soil water, plant growth, leaf development, root development, green area index and chlorophyll levels.

The plant material to be used is the butterhead, cos variety of lettuce. Three litre rosier pots will be used to grow the plant material and three lettuce maxi plugs will be planted per pot. Multi-purpose compost will be used as a growth medium. Lettuces will be sown in June and will have established by late June ready for the trial to commence. Pots will be placed on a galvanised mesh bench; this will facilitate access of the irrigation equipment and tubes carrying the water to the pots.

Three different flow rates will be used: low (sub-optimal), medium (optimal) and high (post optimal). The exact flow rate will be determined in consultation with colleagues from Delta-T and Irrrigatia. Each flow rate will be replicated four times.  A complete randomised experimental design will be used to cater for any bias in the greenhouse conditions. This design is suitable as glasshouses inherently have very little extraneous variation and therefore, this obviates the need for block factors.

Water levels in the soil will be measured using soil sensing equipment, readings from which will be logged using the Delta-T data logging systems. This will inform as to whether target moisture levels are being reached.

Staff Research

Project Title: Toxicity of a larval host plant to different insect instars Start Date: June 2016
Project Lead Staff: Anna Riach Project Partners:
Other Project Staff:
Project Aims and Overview:Aims

1. To establish if certain host plant species are toxic to the European subspecies of P. rapae larvae.
2. To determine if toxicity is dependent on the stage of larvaeOverview

Some insect host plants have not evolved alongside the European subspecies of P. rapae. It is documented that other lepidoptera larvae do not perform well on some of these plant species and there is evidence that there is a large number of metabolites in one of the plants that transfer from the plant into the larvae without breaking down (Riach et al., unpublished). It is hypothesised that these metabolites are not broken down and therefore build up to become toxic. However, toxic effects of this plant have not been investigated.

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