CoastWEB: Valuing the contribution which COASTal habitats make to human health and WEllBeing, with a focus on the alleviation of natural hazards

Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Department Name: Plymouth Marine Lab


Despite increasing recognition of connections between natural environment and human health and wellbeing, these links are still poorly understood. There is a real need to develop methodological approaches to fully elucidate natural environments for health and wellbeing. To address this need the CoastWEB project aims to holistically value the contribution which coastal habitats make to human health and wellbeing, with a focus on the alleviation of coastal natural hazards and extreme events. The research is ambitious in its interdisciplinary scope, including art, social and environmental psychology, environmental economics, governance, policy, a suite of natural sciences, and non-academic stakeholders. It also covers a range of scales from local Welsh case study sites to UK national. We are proposing a circular 4 step process:
1. The proposed research begins with the definition of a set of "real world" future interventions for Welsh salt marsh ecosystems, with a particular focus on coastal defence, and set within a broader national policy context. It is critical that the outputs of this research are useful to end users, and not just academic, as such the definition of these options will be made in close collaboration with a broad range of stakeholders.
2. The impact of these interventions on saltmarsh coastal defence capacity will then be explored using natural science and modelling techniques, improving our understanding of the key ecosystem processes and attributes which influence this capacity. The impact on other ecosystem services will also be documented using existing literature. A key output of this step will be the production of Wales-wide maps of changes in salt marsh coastal defence services, under differing interventions.
3. The impact of these changes in coastal defence, and broader ecosystem service delivery, will be linked to changes in human health and wellbeing at both a local community and national scale. The local wellbeing impacts will be explored through the application of qualitative dialogue based techniques, whereas the national scale impacts will be explored through quantitative (monetary and non-monetary) survey techniques.
4. Through mapping and workshops, using both an interactive artistic approach (local) and the established modelling platform, TIM (national), the health and wellbeing results will then feed directly back into the stakeholder base and the management of the salt marsh, as they will provide a unique insight into the broader health and wellbeing aspects of salt marshes, under the future interventions proposed in step 1.

The mixed methods approach proposed will provide a greater understanding examining health and wellbeing in different ways, enabling our ability to handle different understandings and interpretations of value. However, the aim is not to use different disciplines to translate for each other, or to combine results into one metric, but rather to embrace the differences in the approaches and outputs and to explore how they can complement each other. Using these complementary approaches and scales is beneficial in providing managers with a diverse array of information for making decisions.

Planned Impact

Our research will contribute to the knowledge base both locally and globally, in both academic and applied terms. Key outcomes and benefits of this research include: (1) novel developments in academic fields of environmental valuation, environmental and social psychology, and salt marsh ecology with at least 12 peer-reviewed publications and presentations at international conferences; (2) a fundamental advancement of our understanding of the relationship between human health and wellbeing and the natural environment, through the development, integration and application of academic disciplines, focused on coastal defence functioning of salt marshes, but with lessons learned that can be directly transferred across ecosystems. This will be evidenced through 1-2 high level over-arching academic publications; (3) provision of new health and wellbeing values, at local to country wide scales, to support environmental management, including coastal policies (SMP), with implications to monetary spending on climate change mitigation, coastal defence, managed realignment and spatial compensation for habitat loss. (4) establishment of long standing collaborative legacies.
These prospective outcomes will have direct impact on a number of beneficiaries, including:
a. National environmental managers (NRW, Defra, MMO) will directly profit from improved information regarding the coastal defence capacity of salt marsh, and the resultant health and wellbeing values, developing understanding of the comparative value of these habitats under different interventions. This information will enable the raising of awareness and transparency of trade-offs in decision making in an environmental context.
b. Local environmental managers such as county, city and town councils with substantial salt marsh in their jurisdictions will be able to use both the collected health and wellbeing values and the methods developed in this project for better understanding of trade-offs and environmental value in coastal management.
c. Academics, environmental managers and NGOs will benefit from improvements in both intra-disciplinary methods, and also inter-disciplinary collaborations, for specific application to health and wellbeing valuation as methods and values of improved accuracy and utility will be provided.
d. Public and wider society will benefit from the project results as they will help to ensure that the public's valuation of important natural assets are meaningfully represented in future development decisions. These insights will also be relevant to the work of many environmental NGOs such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and county wildlife trusts.
e. International initiatives including The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and Natural Capital Initiatives (NCI) and Projects (NCP) in the UK, US and across world will be informed by the health and wellbeing valuation methodologies and outputs. There is a well-documented need for primary valuation research such as this, particularly in the coastal sector, to support such initiatives.


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