REGENYSYS: Designing regenerative regional living systems - enabling a circular bioeconomy of wellbeing in the Thames Estuary

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Planning


REGENYSYS will create the enabling ecosystem for a circular bioeconomy of wellbeing (CBW) in the Thames Estuary. In a CBW organic resource loops are closed (material reuse/ recycling and energy recovery) to produce biomass or bioproducts, whilst also restoring local ecosystems and ecosystem services (provisioning, support, regulatory and cultural). The well-being of the local community improves due to increased access to locally produced, sustainable food and clean energy (provisioning services), healthier ecosystems (healthy soils, clean water, diverse local wildlife - supporting services), improved environmental regulation (carbon sequestration, hydrological management) and access to a beautiful environment with diverse recreational opportunities. The CBW provides new training, economic opportunities, and jobs for local people, creating new life paths for future generations living in the Estuary. This transformation increases the community's resilience to climate change and resource scarcity.

The region of study stretches from Grays (Essex)/ Dartford (Kent) to the North Sea, encompassing the riverside areas of Kent and Essex, identified as being home to some of the most deprived wards in the country. Organic materials (sewage, food and agricultural waste) are currently under exploited in the region, yet could be used more effectively to produce biomass and bioproducts. Parts of the infrastructural system, activities and logistics chains required for a CBW are emerging. However, they are nascent and not linked-up. Local food producers are amongst the poorest groups in the Estuary. Food scarcity and energy poverty, due to dependence on fossil fuels and imported food, is problematic for the wider community. Yet there is local access to agricultural and marine food systems and renewable energy resources. There are innovative projects (aquaculture, fish local etc), spare capacity (e.g. under utilized greenhouses and agricultural land) and wasted potential (organic waste streams) in both food and energy systems, which could enable the CBW.

Marine and land-based ecosystems are threatened by climate change (sea-level rise, flooding, and drought), development, agricultural and industrial pollutants. The adoption of a circular bioeconomy could improve this situation. However, the interactions between closing resource loops (biomass/bioproducts), ecosystem health (supporting, regulating, provisioning services particularly) and community wellbeing must be better understood, to determine the overall impact. The next generation will be responsible for implementing the CBW. However, currently there are limited job opportunities for the younger generation, perpetuated by skills shortages within the group. There is also a lack of awareness or interest in the stewardship of the local ecosystem amongst the young, which might be addressed by creating clear CBW development pathways.

The project will create a regional Living Laboratory, with local stakeholders, in which to explore the potential for implementing the CBW. We will map current systems, their dynamics and identify leverage points supporting the emergence of the CBW in the Estuary. We will determine the synergies and conflicts between closing resource loops, restoring healthy ecosystems and generating community wellbeing. Together with local stakeholders we will co-design living experiments, building on existing local potential, to facilitate the emergence of a CBW. These experiments will help us to understand the factors affecting implementation and scale-up, whilst establishing a development pathway for young people wanting to engage in the CBW. The project will ultimately produce a development strategy, policy and design toolboxes, design process, training and outreach programmes, enabling the Estuary to transform, and helping other communities to do the same.


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