£24.3 million to boost UK environmental resilience and decision making

A group of people clearing up litter on a beach.

New place-based research projects to enhance resilience, wellbeing and sustainability across the UK and boost understanding of UK coastal communities.

The £14.8 million Resilient Coastal Communities and Seas Programme will take a transdisciplinary approach to understanding and boosting the resilience of coastal communities in all four nations of the UK. The programme is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Simultaneously, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is also investing £9.5 million in five projects that will research place-based approaches to an environmentally sustainable future, providing evidence to support local and national decision making.

Collaboration and partnership

Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor Gideon Henderson said:

I am delighted that Defra, through our Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment programme, is contributing to the new UKRI programme on Resilient Coastal Communities and Seas. This is a timely and critical research area requiring transdisciplinary work to understand the links between the coastal environments, economies and societies.

Working with coastal communities, the programme will help provide clean, healthy and protected seas while supporting coastal livelihoods.  This programme is another great example of close coworking between Defra and UKRI, and builds on our strengthening collaboration and partnership, harnessing the UK’s world-leading research expertise to address the environmental challenges we face.

Head of the UKRI Creating Opportunities and Improving Outcomes strategic theme Professor Alison Park said:

Research that is firmly rooted in understanding local areas, underpinned by extensive collaboration, will be crucial to building resilient communities across the UK. Coastal areas are a particularly important part of this endeavour because of the specific challenges they face, including those resulting from climate change and economic inequality.

These exciting new place-based projects are excellent examples of UKRI’s support for impactful research spanning the length and breadth of the UK.

The two sets of projects will help communities tackle a range of issues, including:

  • landfill waste release due to erosion and flooding
  • urban net zero retrofit challenges
  • conflict in transitions to sustainable living
  • public food procurement networks
  • understanding the importance of place in responding to climate change challenges

Together, they will develop a range of policy recommendations and toolkits to help communities across the UK build resilience to environmental and economic challenges, while ensuring an equitable green transition.

Environmental and economic challenges

The resilience of UK coastal communities is of critical importance due to the escalating threats posed by climate change-induced sea level rises, storm surges and coastal erosion.

They are also areas of economic inequality that often suffer from high deprivation and acute health and wellbeing challenges.

Despite this, these communities are often rich in cultural and natural heritage, underscoring the importance of preserving and safeguarding them against future challenges.

Coastal resilience

The four Resilient Coastal Communities and Seas Programme projects span the breadth of the UK’s coastlines and are based in Edinburgh, Essex and London. The programme also includes the COAST-R network plus, based in Hull, that will coordinate their activity.

They will take a transdisciplinary approach, working with communities across the UK, including Yorkshire and Humber, the Welsh Coast and the Scottish Islands, to apply a place-based approach to:

  • transform understanding of UK coastal communities and seas
  • enable transformative decision making in collaboration with local communities

The programme will establish a coordinated network of academics, policymakers and local stakeholders that will improve the health and wellbeing of UK coastal communities.

Place-based sustainability

The five place-based approaches to sustainable living research projects will add to the evidence-base to support decision making both locally and nationally through a variety of case studies in areas across the UK.

These co-produced interdisciplinary projects will involve and benefit multiple stakeholders, including local and national policymakers, communities and practitioners across the UK. They will provide enhanced understanding of, and solutions to, the challenges and barriers to place-based sustainable living.

By improving the evidence base around environmental initiatives, the projects will:

  • result in an enhanced understanding of environmental challenges and solutions that will bolster place-based resilience
  • help the UK reach its net zero by 2050 target, as well as broader environmental, biodiversity and sustainability goals


The Resilient Coastal Communities and Seas Programme is jointly funded by UKRI and Defra.

It is part of UKRI’s Creating Opportunities and Improving Outcomes strategic theme, and is funded by ESRC, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Defra provided funding through its Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA) programme.

The five place-based approaches to sustainable living research projects are funded by ESRC.

Further information

The projects

Coastal Communities and Seas Programme

The four strategic large investments are:

TRANSitions in Energy for Coastal communities over Time and Space (TRANSECTS)

Project lead: Karen Alexander, Heriot-Watt University

As the world transitions from oil and gas to offshore renewable energy, this project studies the impact on coastal communities.

The project will examine lessons from two previous transitions. These are the transition through the use of whale oil for lighting in the 1800s, and the transition into offshore oil and gas that started in the 1970s.

Past transitions like these have often had negative (as well as positive) effects on coastal communities. For example, bringing boom and bust cycles and impacts on the quality of the environment.

By exploring how the natural environment and people in coastal communities experience these changes, TRANSECTS aims to inform approaches to the current energy transition that increase the resilience of coastal communities and seas and underpin the success of important blue economy industries.

Their research will involve collaborating with researchers across different disciplines, with coastal communities in Scotland and England and with artists and cultural organisations.

Advancing Resilience and Innovation for a Sustainable Environment (ARISE)

Project lead: Gina Yannitell Reinhardt, University of Essex

UK coasts provide recreation, natural beauty and food for coastal communities. These coastal communities face challenges to their sustainability and resilience from issues such as climate change and infrastructure development.

Around the UK, place-based policy interventions have been shown to strengthen these communities. How can we take lessons from those projects to new places, while respecting each location’s place-based history, identity and community values? ARISE is designed to practically address this puzzle.

We will design and deliver twelve place-based policy interventions throughout the Norfolk-to-Kent coastlines, including education campaigns, enforcement initiatives and community engagement events.

Our team will evaluate lessons learned to develop a toolkit of best practice advising practitioners and policymakers how to achieve transferable and scalable interventions that build sustainable resilience across communities and places.

Resilience of Anthropocene Coasts and Communities (RACC): assessing and responding to urban and post-industrial coastal risks

Project lead: Kate Spencer, Queen Mary, University of London, with the University of Glasgow

Coastal flooding and erosion will accelerate under climate change. Past industrialisation has left a pollution legacy of 1000s of historic coastal landfills and contaminated sites also at risk from coastal flooding and erosion. Many are already releasing wide-ranging pollution, including heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, medical waste, plastics and asbestos to our coasts and the marine environment.

Working in three ‘at risk’ UK geographic areas, RACC will assess the harm this pollution will do to coastal habitats and communities and investigate the future risks associated with climate change. The project will work with stakeholders and communities to understand the environmental and social challenges involved and together develop new policies and sustainable management options to protect the coast and future generations.

Transformative Research Actions for resilient Coastal Communities (TRACC)

Project lead: Tim Acott, University of Greenwich

Coastal communities in the UK are faced with many pressing social, economic and environmental resilience challenges. Addressing these in an inclusive, holistic and sustainable way requires a transformation of the way research and governance work and interact.

TRACC will bring together different forms of knowledge from diverse social groups and movements, decision-makers, researchers and other stakeholders to co-design new approaches to tackle coastal challenges and help positively shift values, goals and paradigms towards sustainability and resilience.

TRACC will work across the UK, in mid-north Wales, the Humber Estuary, Lough Foyle and the Firth of Clyde, and lessons learned will be shared nationally through a new UK Resilience Assembly.

The UK Coastal Communities and Seas Network Plus

COAST-R: COastal Communities And Seas Together for Resilience Network Plus

Project lead: Briony McDonagh, University of Hull

COAST-R puts communities at the heart of a new network of transdisciplinary research, innovation and practice.  Aiming to foster an inclusive, cross-sector community of practice, the network will improve understanding of coastal change to enhance the resilient management of UK coastal seas and communities.

Spanning five coastal universities and over 20 marine, coastal and governmental, civic and industry partners, COAST-R draws on the knowledge and experience of communities and researchers to grow, extend and nurture impactful work on resilient coastal communities and seas over 4.5 years of exciting co-devised activities and events.

The five place-based approaches to sustainable living large investments

URBAN RETROFIT UK: Scaling up place-based adaptations to the urban environment through the planning and development system

Project lead: James White, University of Glasgow, with Cardiff University, Dalhousie University, The University of Sheffield, University of the West of England and University of Ulster

URBAN RETROFIT UK will work with partners across all four nations of the UK and internationally to investigate urban retrofit successes and challenges, including barriers to scaling up.

The team will work with UK partners to identify and examine place-based urban retrofit case studies being delivered through local planning and development systems in Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Sheffield.

The team will co-produce a framework mapping the critical points of intervention required to close the implementation gap between national policy and local delivery. This will form the basis of a toolkit for planning authorities, property developers and communities. An international urban retrofit hubs network will also be established to share learning.

Governing Sustainable Futures (GSF): Advancing the use of participatory mechanisms for addressing place-based contestations of sustainable living

Project lead: Rebecca Jane Sandover, Exeter University

Delivering sustainability transitions across the UK necessarily entails changes in how we live and work.

The changes associated with sustainability transitions can be perceived in terms of winners and losers, and often act as focus of disagreement. For example the recent controversy about ‘15-minute cities’.

These ‘flashpoints’ are relevant not only to the places in which they emerge, but also for debate and policy action on delivering sustainable places nationally. They raise important issues about how common sustainability transitions are governed.

Accordingly, we need to understand what makes for a flashpoint issue on sustainable living, how such issues emerge, how they are framed and how we can work with communities to overcome them.

The GSF team will work with local agencies in Devon and across the UK to investigate ‘flashpoints’ and to make recommendations for national policy and practice. Their ultimate aim will be to find sustainable outcomes that are fair, inclusive and effective.

Place-based approaches to sustainable food supply chains: scaling socio-technical innovations as enablers for enhancing public sector food procurement.

Project lead: Moya Kneafsey, Coventry University, with Garden Organic and Social Farms and Gardens

Small-scale farmers, growers and food and drink producers have traditionally been excluded from selling to schools, hospitals and other public sector procurement contracts. Yet public sector food buyers are increasingly interested in sourcing from local producers, motivated by a desire to make their food supply systems more resilient.

This project will extend a 2023 pilot, carried out in Wales, which successfully brought together multiple small-scale producers in a single online ‘hub’ hosted by the Open Food Network (OFN). The hub sourced the produce from their local growers, farmers and producers and delivered the produce to the buyers.

Now the OFN’s platform will be extended in four case studies based across the UK that will help us learn how to increase local food procurement in ways that can deliver economic, social, nutritional and environmental benefits.  The overall aim is to help build more sustainable food systems in different places in the UK.

REGENYSYS: Designing a regenerative regional living system in the Thames Estuary

Project lead: Joanna Williams, University College London, with Cranfield University

REGENYSYS brings together leading experts in circular bioeconomy, ecosystems and ecosystem services, systems thinking, design thinking and action research.

The REGENYSYS project aims to build the capacity for a circular bioeconomy in the Thames Estuary. The circular bioeconomy restores local ecosystems to benefit local food production, wildlife, flood management, soil quality, aid in carbon sequestration and provide recreational opportunities for local people. It also harvests organic waste to produce feedstock, pharmaceuticals, construction materials and produce bioenergy. These activities offer new economic opportunities for residents living near the Estuary.

The team will create a living lab in the Thames Estuary to explore the potential for creating a circular bioeconomy of wellbeing. It will engage with local stakeholders and seek to develop experimental projects with them to benefit the local community.

The team will also develop an educational programme for young people living near the estuary, so they too can be part of his transformation process. The team will monitor the ecological and social impact of these efforts and further explore their potential to transform the Thames Estuary.

Circular Society Innovations (CSI) for place-based equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable living

Project lead: Paul Dewick, Manchester Metropolitan University, with HU University of Applied Sciences, University of Turku and the Illinois Institute of Technology

Using Greater Manchester as a test bed, the place-based CSI team will explore the processes by which places can become more equitable, inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The project’s focus goes beyond traditional notions of the circular economy to explore the development, implementation, and scaling-up of circular society innovations, where social justice and wellbeing are central and where outputs, outcomes and approaches are inclusive and participatory.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Manchester City Council, and Stockport and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Councils will collaboratively participate in the development and delivery of the project, with additional support and input from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies and ReLondon.

The CSI team will develop recommendations for UK policymakers, practitioners and civil society organisations to stimulate place-based CSI. Findings from across the project will be shared internationally through an international conference, handbook and virtual futures-thinking international workshop.

Top image:  Credit: SolStock, E+ via Getty Images

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.