Facilitating a Natural Capital Approach in Marine Protected Area Governance in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Geosciences


Marine Protected Area designation and management has significantly advanced over the past decade in the UK. In response to a range of EU, UK and devolved drivers, considerable progress has been made over the spatial protection of marine biodiversity in the inshore and offshore environment. A number of policy processes have unfolded across UK jurisdictions with differing regulatory drivers and management approaches. In many cases emerging designations have been contested by coastal communities and industry sectors as they infringe on existing use rights. What has emerged is a complex mosaic of spatial designations that interact and overlap in space, share multiple objectives and common challenges.

Add to these complex arrangements a number of emerging reforms and drivers (Brexit; UK 25 year Environmental Strategy; Scottish Environmental Strategy) that will shape MPA governance into the near future. This includes post-Brexit management of the network; increasing pressures in context of the 'Blue Economy'; developing efficient management, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and facilitating natural capital and 'whole system' approaches into MPA governance. There is a substantial need for multidisciplinary trained graduates who can work across different sectors and interests to maximise the social and ecological potential of marine protexted areas.

This study will examine a range of integrated governance challenges that face MPAs in the Atlantic UK region. Cross jurisdictional, overlapping and regionally co-located cases will be selected from West Scotland, Northern Ireland, NW England and Wales. It will examine the social, economic, geographical and policy settings and drivers in MPA governance in both the inshore and offshore context. It will explore the current challenges facing cross border and geographically entwined MPA governance and articulate improved governance modalities that incorporate an ecosystem approach. The project will include a placement within a UK government agency JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Comittee); formal training in science-policy engagement and integraiton; training in stakeholder engagement practices and policy analysis. The PhD will be housed within the newly created Green Economy Research Centre (https://www.abdn.ac.uk/geosciences/gerc) in Aberdeen that brings together multidisiplinary expertise to explore and facilitate green transitions in a variety of sectoral settings and will also spend significant time at Queens University Belfast training in social and non-market valuation techniques.

Specifically the study will explore the following research questions:

1. What are the features of successful MPA governance from the perspective of statutory bodies and key stakeholder communities? Are they consistent across jurisdictions and sectors?
2. How can natural capital and ecosystem service concepts be can applied to MPA designation and management?
3. How can ecosystem services provided by individual sites be evaluated, monitored and managed? How do they change over time in response to multiple pressures and societal demands?
4. How can evidence and the narrative around Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services influence the positions and engagement of different interest groups?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007377/1 01/09/2019 31/08/2027
2323408 Studentship NE/S007377/1 01/10/2019 13/12/2023 Natasha Simmonds