Experts secure 5m to protect the South West’s natural capital

Experts secure £5m to protect the South West’s natural capital


A partnership of PML, the University of Exeter and Plymouth University have secured a £5m award to help protect the beautiful natural resources and the jobs dependent on them in the South West.

Experts from all three research institutions will work with businesses, policy makers and other organisations in the region to help them enhance their activities and decisions by applying the latest technological advances, scientific research and understanding of the environment.

Many businesses in the South West are reliant on the natural resources of the area and assets, including land, air, fresh water and seas, to be successful. More than half of all jobs in the South West are directly dependent on this ‘natural capital’, and the region is more dependent on farming and tourism for employment than any other in the country. But the area is vulnerable to natural hazards such as extreme weather, flooding, and pollution.

The new South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, will allow experts and businesses to work together to solve some of the challenges caused by these natural hazards. This will drive sustainable economic growth, help create new products and services, safeguard jobs and create new employment, improve policies, and enhance the health and wellbeing of people living in the South West.

The PML led element of the SWEEP project is headed up by Professor Melanie Austen, to work in collaboration with the partner academics providing the science expertise required by the non-academic partners. Businesses, policy makers and organisations in the region have already invested £11m of their own funding in the project. These partners include the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Marine Management Organisation, South West Water, Network Rail, the National Trust, RSPB, the Dartmoor National Park, Natural England and the Environment Agency, as well as small businesses such as Offshore Shellfish, a company developing the UK’s first large-scale offshore rope cultured mussel farm. A website will be launched in 2017 to help other partners join in SWEEP projects.

Projects will include use of models and data as tools that support development of the South West Marine Plans and economic use of marine resources, and also tools derived from satellite observations and models that inform development of aquaculture sites in the region.  
Professor Austen said: 'As a marine organisation wholly based in the southwest, PML is excited by this opportunity for our researchers to work with South West businesses and regulators to enable our research to truly inform and support innovative development of the regions marine economy in an environmentally sustainable way, and at the same time improve the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors in the South West.'

The project is funded under a new NERC scheme, the Environmental Science Impact Programme, which aims to bring research organisations, businesses, policymakers and the third sector together to use their extensive knowledge, experience and contacts to boost regional economic growth. Another project, Yorkshire Integrated Catchment Solutions Programme (Yorkshire iCASP), has also been given financial support.

NERC’s Chief Executive, Professor Duncan Wingham, said: ‘I’m particularly pleased to be announcing these two awards. They entirely encompass the aims of our new Environmental Science Impact Programme, being ambitious, forward-thinking, and potentially transformative. NERC’s world-leading science can and should be used to create both economic and societal benefits in the UK’s regions, in this case, the South West and Yorkshire. I look forward to seeing how SWEEP and iCASP will help to solve some of the biggest environmental challenges facing the country.’

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