Our flagship report, the POSTnote, is a four-page briefing reviewing emerging areas of research.

Large-scale woodland creation is being promoted internationally to mitigate climate change. It can also supply other benefits, such as improving biodiversity, air and water quality. This POSTnote summarises key factors influencing how much carbon is taken up by woodland, the different objectives of woodland creation, constraints to increasing UK tree cover and different finance options.

Devices with screens include game consoles, laptops and televisions. Screen use refers to activities undertaken on such devices and the time spent on them. Children’s screen use has increased over the past decade. Policy-makers and parents have expressed concerns about possible effects of screen use on children/young people’s development and health. This POSTnote provides an overview of how children/young people use screens, the opportunities and risks of this use, evidence on the possible effects on health and development, and evidence on ways to support healthy screen use.

Media headlines have predicted an increase in mental ill health among NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. This POSTnote gives an overview of the scale and quality of current evidence on the mental health and well-being of NHS staff before and during the pandemic. It also discusses how staff are supported and the options for introducing other effective interventions as the pandemic continues.

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    Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

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    A heat network provides heating and hot water to an apartment, commercial site or series of buildings close together. It can also provide cooling. There is interest in using them to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. This POSTnote looks at the technology of heat networks and their sources of heat. It looks at considerations when building new networks. It also outlines a potential future market framework.

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    Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.

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    There is increasing interest in using machine learning to automatically analyse remote sensing data and increase our understanding of complex environmental systems. While there are benefits from this approach, there are also some barriers to its use. This POSTnote examines the value of these approaches, and the technical and ethical challenges for wider implementation.

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    The food system underpins many aspects of our society. It feeds us and shapes the economic, social and natural environments that we live in. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of resilience in the food system. This POSTnote defines resilience and why it is needed, describes what a more resilient UK food system would look like and explores possible ways of achieving this.

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    Marine renewables are technologies that generate electricity from tide and wave motion. They produce electricity without greenhouse gases, and could provide economic benefits for the UK. However, the technologies have been slow to develop, despite previous projections of growth. This POSTnote examines the causes of this delay and how the sector might develop.

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    The UK’s flood risk from rivers, surface water and ground-water is projected to increase with climate change. Natural flood management (NFM) can be described as using the natural features of the land to store and slow down the flow of water. NFM is being piloted across the UK and its expansion is an objective of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. This POSTnote examines the evidence for the effectiveness of NFM at reducing flood risk, and successful governance approaches to implementing NFM measures.

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    Extremism is possible in any ideology, including (but not limited to) politics and religion. Extremism can affect mental well-being, amplify hostility and threaten democratic debate. The global reach of the internet poses social and technological challenges for safeguarding citizens from extremism online. When the Commission for Countering Extremism surveyed over 2500 members of the public in 2019, 56% agreed that a lot more should be done to counter extremism online. This POSTnote outlines how the online environment can be used for extremist purposes, how exposure to online extremism can influence people and potential strategies to counter extremist content online.