Research strategy and priorities at The Living Coast.

Why do we support research?

Research and monitoring are key activities in supporting the development of The Living Coast, particularly in terms of improving understanding of the local environment.

It means we can establish a “baseline” level of knowledge and make it accessible to everyone who is involved in the biosphere. It also means that we can help to address important applied local environmental issues, many of which will also be relevant to other biospheres, in the UK and beyond.

Understanding impact

One of our major challenges is to develop adequate baseline information to enable future monitoring of changes, and attribution of this to our planned positive measures. This applies both to physical enhancements of the environment as well as changes in people’s attitudes, knowledge and behaviours.

Our research also needs to address the broader aspirations of UNESCO and generate information for local use, alongside making a wider – global – contribution to the field of environmental management.


Blue spaces – how and why water can make you feel better

Dr Catherine Kelly, University of Greenwich

This book presents an accessible and personal overview of the latest research into the physical, psychological and social factors that connect water and wellbeing.

Visit the website

BioCultural Heritage Tourism

Dr Timothy Wilkinson, Dr Carolyn Peterson, Dr Stephan Price, University of Exeter

Research related to this project is exploring management of visitor impacts of environmentally and culturally sensitive sites via a variety of tools including GIS mapping & business coaching.

BCHT website
University of Exeter website

Sussex Sustainability Research Programme

University of Sussex

Providing international, national, and local stakeholders with integrated research results (encompassing natural science, social science, and the humanities) to deliver science for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Visit the website

UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Project: biospheres in practice

Updates on research and projects from across the biosphere network published by UNESCO.

Visit the website

Changing Chalk ecological survey report

Graeme Lyons for The Living Coast / BHCC

The report details the findings of professional ecological surveying of the 19 Brighton & Hove ‘B Banks’ (for bees, butterflies and other pollinators), assessing their effectiveness and management condition.

Visit the website

Soil Carbon assessments

Prof Dave Goulson, Dr Chris Sandom, University of Sussex

Project aiming to compare and contrast soil carbon composition across closely comparable local landscapes under varying management regimes to extrapolate impacts & identify potential of land management techniques on soil carbon sequestration.

Sandom Lab
Goulson Lab

Priority research themes

Our current research priorities are detailed here.

Evolution of human-ecosystem relationships

Research in this theme explores how the Biosphere’s ecosystem has evolved since the last Interglacial to the present. Specifically, it seeks to identify:

  • how climate change and human activities have impacted the environment
  • how these changes have fed back to impact society

The reconstruction of palaeoenvironments is a difficult process reliant on the presence of deposits with the potential to preserve proxy palaeoenvironmental indicators such as pollen, molluscs etc. The research theme therefore seeks to identify such deposits within the Biosphere, understand the periods they represent, establish their potential to reconstruct past environments and explore what lessons could be learnt to better integrate natural and human processes in the future.

The research seeks to determine how natural processes such as predation, herbivory, disturbance, pollination, seed dispersal, hydrology, soil development and fire have been altered or replaced by human activity, expansion and development in temperate climates.
Such research could enable the creation of ecosystem temporal baselines against which current observations could be quantified. This would aid the future restoration of natural processes and provide a greater understanding of ecosystem change.

Freshwater and marine environments

There are several areas of research interest in this theme:

  • Water and wastewater quality and treatment, including the use of nano-technology for water quality remediation, the use of microbial source tracking techniques for identifying sources of pathogens in waterbodies, and the use of biomonitoring tools to identify specific pollutants in freshwater ecosystems.
  • Groundwater processes, including the quantification and modelling of groundwater dynamics, including groundwater flooding and groundwater biogeochemistry.
  • Improved understanding of the characteristics of the local groundwater resource in relation to surface impacts (especially nitrate pollution) on drinking water.
  • Surface processes, including the quantification, modelling and management of the hydro-morphological and ecological dynamics of riverine, estuarine, wetland and coastal environments.
  • Marine ecosystems and management, including baseline information on the structure and function of marine ecosystems, assessing impacts of marine management on target habitats, species and processes, and identification of sustainable marine ecosystems.
  • Assessment of local flood risk, including the effects of climate change, and the efficacy of different responses, including the use of Sustainable urban Drainage Schemes (SuDS).
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of different measures to increase water efficiency through behaviour change. 

Society and environment in The Living Coast

Research in this theme assesses:

  • Changes in the attitudes, knowledge and behaviours of people in relation to understanding of and engagement with the local environment
  • How this is happening in particular for children and young people
  • The impact of using different communication and engagement methods

The Biosphere is about people and the environment – it is about understanding, enjoying and reaping the benefits the environment provides in a sustainable way. Getting people engaged in the environment, whether that be through volunteering, learning, or simply increasing awareness of the recreational opportunities, is key.

The challenge for this research theme is to stimulate interest in the local environment by effectively demonstrating and communicating its relevance to the lives of people in the community.

Built environment and sustainable development

Research in this theme informs:

  • local sustainable development policy and practice
  • realised and proposed aspects of policy and practice

The main urban areas in our Biosphere are the City of Brighton & Hove and the towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Telscombe, Southwick, and Shoreham-by-Sea. They are home to around 358,500 people.

Local authorities and other bodies are actively working with local organisations and communities to promote sustainable development by encouraging more eco-friendly lifestyles of both residents and visitors to reduce our ecological footprint. Initiatives are being pursued that span energy, transport, food, water and local economics, among other elements.

The challenge is to advance sustainable development as part of the extensive socioeconomic regeneration programmes planned, which represent an opportunity to raise environmental quality through exemplary sustainable urban development in new built infrastructure and planning projects.

Ecosystem services and green infrastructure

This research theme encompasses:

  • the benefits the range of ecosystems in the Biosphere provide to society
  • the increasing capacity of such benefits by developing green infrastructure, especially in urban areas.

Projects include mapping, modelling and assessing ecosystem services for such benefits as air purification, carbon storage, local climate regulation, noise regulation, flood risk management, pollination, food production including fisheries, water purification, green travel, education, and accessible nature.

Evaluating the natural capital of the coastal/marine Biosphere is also a focus within this theme, e.g. fisheries, shellfisheries, water quality services, carbon sequestration, transport and recreation. Green infrastructure projects could be linked to biodiversity (e.g. green roofs), connectivity, and ground water quality (e.g. new pilot ‘rain gardens’ SuDS).

Climate change and resilience

Research in this theme will encompass:

  • climate change impacts on The Living Coast
  • different potential local approaches for effective mitigation and/or adaptation

In terms of impact, climate change in south-east England is projected to lead to milder, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers, as well as increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, changes in rainfall distribution and seasonality, and a rise in sea levels. It’s likely we’ll experience more widespread flooding (both freshwater and coastal) from increased winter rainfall and more frequent intense storms. Reduced periods of groundwater recharge through the drier summer months may lead to drought.

Human impacts are likely to be greater on vulnerable groups, including the very old and very young, people with health conditions, and those who live in poor housing conditions.

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