Intertidal seagrass meadows in South west England: the ecological and socio-economic benefits of restoration

CASE award with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and The Westcountry Rivers Trust (AUSTEN_PPML20ARIES)

Intertidal seagrass meadows in South west England: the ecological and socio-economic benefits of restoration

CASE award with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and The Westcountry Rivers Trust (AUSTEN_PPML20ARIES)

Project Description


Prof Melanie Austen, Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)

Prof Martin Attrill, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Prof Steve Widdicombe, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Lauren Biermann, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Lush, intertidal seagrass meadows appear to be spreading in SW England estuaries, replacing harmful, smothering green macroalgae. How can we evidence the changes (locally/globally) and how important are these new estuarine habitats?

With a multidisciplinary team from PML, University of Plymouth, JNCC and Westcountry Rivers Trust you will do research that covers everything from satellites to drones, benthic invertebrates to birds, and ecosystem services to socio-economic impact to identify the value of intertidal seagrass restoration.

What are the causes and ecological implications of the change?

Climate change may be a factor, but also changes in agricultural land management to reduce nutrient loads in upstream waters that drain into estuaries.

Subtidal seagrass has high conservation importance. We know it has positive impacts on biodiversity and provides ecosystem services including blue carbon storage and a nursery ground for fish and shellfish.

In contrast, the ecosystem services from intertidal seagrass are unknown!

This exciting and novel PhD project will

  • Provide evidence for the change in intertidal vegetation
  • Identify drivers for increases in intertidal seagrass meadows in SW England
  • Determine which factors can be managed to support seagrass restoration efforts elsewhere
  • Provide understanding of the ecological consequences of this change
  • Consider what ecosystem services are supported by intertidal seagrass and what are the implications of seagrass recovery for natural capital

This new knowledge will support and justify wider restoration and recovery of seagrasses.

You will receive training to take an interdisciplinary approach e.g.

  • Earth observation image delivery and analysis via satellites and aerial drones to identify extent and rate of development of seagrass
  • Case studies to identify causes of development of meadows
  • Benthic surveys and experiments
  • Quantification of ecosystem services, including climate regulation
  • Natural capital
  • Potentially, use of drones to monitor intertidal seagrass through citizen science

To do this project you will need: good understanding of marine and estuarine ecology and of basic biogeochemistry; basic skills to process data in R or Python; sufficient numeracy to be able to learn to analyse earth observation, ecological and ecosystem service data. Understanding of ecosystems services, natural capital and the use of remote observations will be advantageous.


  • Broszeit, S., Beaumont, Nicola J., Hooper, Tara L., Somerfield, Paul J., Austen, Melanie C. (2019). Developing conceptual models that link multiple ecosystem services to ecological research to aid management and policy, the UK marine example. Marine Pollution Bulletin 141: 236-243.
  • Hattam C, Atkins JP, Beaumont N, Bӧrger T, Bӧhnke-Henrichs A, Burdon D, de Groot R, Hoefnagel E, Nunes PA, Piwowarczyk J, Sastre S, Austen MC 2014. Marine Ecosystem Services: linking indicators to their classification. Ecological Indicators, 49, 61-75 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.09.026
  • Hirst, J.A., Attrill, M.J. (2008). Small is beautiful: an inverted view of habitat fragmentation in seagrass beds. Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science 78: 811–818
  • Watson SCL, Beaumont NJ, Widdicombe S, Paterson DM (2019) Comparing the network structure and resilience of two benthic estuarine systems following the implementation of nutrient mitigation actions. Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science
  • Sunday JM, Fabricius KE, Kroeker KJ, Anderson KM, Brown NE, Barry JP, Connell SD, Dupont S, Gaylord B, Hall -Spencer JM, Klinger T, Milazzo M, Munday PL, Russell BD, Sanford E, Thiyagarajan V, Vaughan MLH, Widdicombe S, Harley CDG (2017) Ocean acidification can mediate biodiversity shifts by changing biogenic habitat. Nature Climate Change 7(1): 81. DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE3161

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

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