KE Fellowship: Delivering Multifunctional Natural Capital Approaches for Future Coasts

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Life Sciences


The U.K. has long stretches of sedimentary shorelines and large estuaries that are characterised by extensive salt marshes and mudflats. These environments provide important functions (called ecosystem services) for society: birds, invertebrates and fish use them as feeding grounds and nurseries, micro-organisms living in the sediments clean up water coming down our rivers and from sewage treatment works, and salt marshes store carbon (so helping to mitigate climate change) and absorb the force of waves and tides, protecting our coastlines from flooding. Yet these habitats are threatened by climate change, especially by rises in sea level (potentially up to +1 m by 2105 in south east England) and changing weather patterns. We know that if we can increase the area and quality and biodiversity of these habitats (features collectively termed "natural capital"), they can continue to provide their ecosystem services, and be more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, many of the indicators of ecosystem health are showing negative trends, so a change in policy and deliver by agencies on the coast is needed. The U.K. Government has recognised this, and has a 25 Year Environment Plan to improve our natural world.

In this project, the Fellow will work with the Environment Agency, and with local authorities (County and District councils) and with local groups (coastal forums) to develop approaches, based on the best possible science, for working with nature (called nature-based solutions) and to restore and recover our coastal habitats. This requires a blend of new tools and understanding to measure natural capital assets (how much is there, and what it does), and new policy and regulatory approaches to increase natural capital and gain the multiple benefits that healthy and productive coastal habitats can provide. These changes in policy, regulation and implementation have to take place with the understanding and support of local communities living on the coast: people who have a stake in the future and who make, or influence, management decisions. The Knowledge Exchange Fellow will thus work both at a national level with policy and research teams in the Environment Agency, but also with local area Environment Agency teams, and Local Authorities, and local estuary and coastal groups. Building understanding on the nature and value of natural capital, and how increasing natural capital can have multiple benefits to society and the environment, is key to delivering of the U.K. aspirations in their 25 Year Environment Plan, and will contribute to meeting the challenges of climate change, reaching Carbon Net Zero, and addressing the Biodiversity crisis.


10 25 50