Local focus global challenges 

Sustainability challenges are global, but affect us locally. 

Rail lines under increasing threat as sea levels rise, meaning South West of England could be disrupted for more than ten per cent of each year by 2040, bee numbers in decline globally due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and disease, and tiny plastic microbeads being released into waste water during each use of a domestic washing machine, with many of them likely to pass through sewage treatment and into the environment. 

These are some of the greatest sustainability challenges we face today.

Nicole Woods

Student winner

Swaling on Chagford Commons (Portrait of Andrew Davis)

Student - Sustainable South West


For over 5,000 years the practise of swaling has been part of our Dartmoor tradition. Between November and March, gorse and scrub are set alight to make way for new growth, providing a more suitable habitat for our British wildlife and grazing for livestock. Swaling is undertaken by the commoners (farmers with common rights) of each parish, whose duty is to contribute to the care of the moorland. To control the burn, fire breaks are pre-cut into the landscape, and farmers use beaters (as above) to extinguish the flames. Without swaling, it would be difficult to enjoy Dartmoor as the beautiful landscape it is today.

This photograph is a portrait of Andrew Davis who is a member of the Chagford commoners.

SEI photography competition image: Nicole Woods

Bridey Borda

Public winner

Waste to Energy

Public - Sustainable Plymouth


My photograph represents a sustainable Plymouth, as it shows the waste left over after the process that happens at Plymouth's Incinerator. Incineration is helping reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, therefore lowering the amount of carbon emissions.

SEI photography competition image: Bridey Bora

Marie Lavelle

Staff winner

Matter matters: Horse hair on barbed wire

Staff - Sustainable South West


The horse hair on barbed wire brings together the human and non-human. The metal barbed wired smelted in factory, twisted by machine and worker, snipped into shape, the farmer who nailed it to the fence post, the horse who took pleasure in a rub to ease the summer flies, the photographer, the camera, the light, the frosty morning and the sun angled low in the winter sky to transform water droplets into tiny rainbows held in small prisms, softening the wire's harshness. The picture is one of hope that beauty can emerge from this entanglement if we are prepared to challenge human exceptionalism.

Marie Lavelle, staff winner of the SEI photography competition 2017

Andrew Bryne

Public highly commended

Green Odyssey

Public - Sustainable South West


To me, this photo represents possibility. This is one of the first photos I had the confidence to post online and after a particularly tough week of my dissertation and life in general; I wasn't expecting any kind of response. Yet, the feedback was immense and literally thousands of people saw it! This gave me the confidence to keep taking photos and pursue this path further.

Since then, I have come to realise that this photo represents more than my own experience. From another perspective, this photo represents the path towards a Green future. That the path towards sustainability is a beautifully curling road, intertwined with countless avenues and decisions, all leading towards the same point.

Each leaf may represent an idea or project with sustainability as it's goal. A collective movement and cognition, supported by a network of like-minded individuals and groups, helping construct the ongoing road towards a better future for all.

SEI photography competition image: Andrew Bryne

Nicholas Cade

Student highly commended


Student - Sustainable Plymouth


It looks at the environmental crises we are facing in relation to flooding. Photographing flooded areas on a self built floating platform, the wind and the water where in control of the camera.

SEI photography competition image: Nicholas Cade

Alexandra Albrighton

Frozen in Time

Student - Sustainable Plymouth


This photo is a frozen moment in time preserving the natural forms within the world. This is important due to the core of the earth warming, this moment may not happen again. Capturing a part of history with the back and white contrast helping to emphasise the documentary feel and the importance that is often over looked.

SEI photography competition image: Alexandra Albrighton

Jayne Buchanan

At War with Plastic

Student - Sustainable South West


My photograph “At War with Plastic” shows a collection of plastic objects which were found on a beach in the Southwest of England.

Initially plastic was seen as such a great material; cheap durable and easy to make into objects, but the fact that plastic takes so long to break down is resulting in an environmental nightmare. There are sustainable alternatives to plastic being developed but individuals, retailers and manufacturers have to play a part in securing a future without it.

The little plastic soldier seems to be wading through a sea of waste. He reminded me of the many people who I now know are fighting to keep our beaches clean, to keep plastic from destroying marine life. But unless there is a change in the way we use and perceive plastic the future could see plastic outweigh the fish in the sea.

SEI photography competition image: Jayne Buchanan

Xavier Craze


Student - Sustainable South West


I’m Xavier, a second year in the BSc Nursing (Mental Health) degree, I’ve never entered a photography competition before, but I have a passion for photography and plan on getting into it more. Taken in Penzance on my lunch break during on placement, I hope to enter this for the sustainable south-west category.

My photo represents the progress that needs to be made in the movement of the seagulls across the shot, but also how the we’re not taking the steps we need to, in the sense that there is a missing bird in a space which should be occupied given the natural progression of their movement. Drawing your eyes to the bottom of the shot, the stony beach has pieces of litter in-and-amongst the pebbles, this shows the damage we’re doing to our seas (and planet on a greater scale).

The picture forms a tricolour, which, being boundaried, represents the social obstacles we have to overcome to make a concerted effort to live and grow as a society in a sustainable way. The clouds in the background evoke impressions of the difficulty ahead.

SEI photography competition image: Xavier Craze

Adam Guy

Plymouth Civic Centre – masterwork or monster?

Student - Sustainable Plymouth


A lesser definition of sustainability denotes upholding or defending something. I uphold and defend our own 'soviet-style' city centre. My picture, taken on my way home from the University of Plymouth, is of the Plymouth Civic Centre, looming out of the mist and drizzle. Under construction during a credit-crunched 1957-1962, this was the last bit of the 1943 Abercrombie Plan for Plymouth to be completed, and an indication of a might-have-been post-blitz London (with the 1944 Abercrombie Greater London Plan). Brutally dividing even local people, and contributing to Plymouth's image of domination by concrete, the winged tower-block stands as an ever-to-hand example of the significance of architectural taste to metaphors of cohesion and division. Was the Abercrombie Plan a colossal mistake, or is Plymouth unique as a result?

In the 1950s did this slab of a building signify the hope promised by the benevolence of the war-scarred austerity state, or the destruction of dearly held British traditions by invasion from a domineering 'foreign' aesthetic? Sound familiarly like a current debate? The Civic Centre still sustains controversy, long live the Civic Centre.

SEI photography competition image: Adam Guy

George Harding

Tower of Pollution

Student - Sustainable Plymouth


Eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown into the ocean every year. As a coastal city, Plymouth needs to take a leading role in the reduction and recycling of harmful plastics polluting the sea.

This image shows Smeaton’s tower represented as a plastic bottle. It’s contents includes stones, shells, glass and a range of plastics. The mixture of these contents represents the ocean and its shores and the man made items that cause so much harm.

SEI photography competition image: George Harding

Rob Hardman

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Public - Sustainable South West


Cutting and baling hay is a tried and tested way of sustaining cattle through the winter. A simple and successful farming method used in the South West for over a century.

SEI photography competition image: Rob Hardman

Judy Harrington


Public - Sustainable South West


A family of blackbirds have nested in my garden for the past four years, and kept me company and entertained during a prolonged period of illness. Each year they have built a new nest, but it was only after the leaves dropped last winter that I realised what materials they incorporated into the latest construction: strips of plastic. It is quite frightening to consider what might happen if the birds get the strips caught in their throats of wrapped around them. We see photographs of sea-birds, fish and animals caught in nets and fishing lines, plastic obstructing their guts, and learn of zooplankton eating microplastics which then get into the food chain for human consumption. Most plastics take centuries to degrade and then often end up as microplastic particles which are an environmental hazard in themselves. Over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, of which around 40 per cent is for single use packaging.

Plastics are useful and some we may consider indispensable, but we can do something to reduce the volume of plastic packaging we tolerate and switch to biodegradable alternatives.

SEI photography competition image: Judy Harrington

Jamie Henderson

Eden - Ladybug

Public - Sustainable South West


I took this photograph at the Eden Project a few years ago, whilst walking around one of the tropical biomes with my family. Taken just a few centimetres away with a macro lens, this little guy was clinging on for dear life, but seemed to appreciate the humidity and staggering variety of flora around him. He was just one example of the many insects and birds that had chosen to make their homes within the amazing inflated ETFE spheres. Set in the South West, the Eden project exemplifies the importance of nature and sustainability in all aspects of our lives. It demonstrates the paramount importance of educating people (of all ages) about our impact on nature and our usage of natural resources. It does all this in such an entertaining and visceral way, and it is the reason that I return yearly.

SEI photography competition image: Jamie Henderson

Jessica Horner

Nature: Irrepressible, Resilient, Defiant

Staff - Sustainable Plymouth


I love that nature can be so noncompliant, give it the smallest of cracks and it will find a way to flourish, exploiting every opportunity to bring life to where there was none.

This photograph shows Mexican Fleabane growing from cracks in the wall of my tiny courtyard garden. A native of Central America, this resourceful little flower has become quite at home in the South West and it’s not uncommon to find it on a sunny stone wall or rocky cliffs. Initially I mistook the spring foliage for unwanted weeds making the wall look messy and so I cut it back. Thankfully my foolishness caused no lasting damage and it quickly regrew, complete with lovely white flowers.

I think we all have a duty to ensure our gardens, no matter how small, make a home for nature; with this in mind I specifically planted wildlife friendly flowers, but quite amusingly many of the bees I spotted seemed to prefer the flowers of this Mexican Fleabane!

Just as Mexican Fleabane grows out of concrete, so must Plymouth as a city, we need to find opportunities to imbed sustainability in to the heart of our city and ensure a sustainable future.

SEI Photo competition entry from Jessica Horner

Jena Richeldis Parkin

Daisy Days

Student - Sustainable Plymouth


I attach a photo I’ve taken as part of my coursework research, it’s a photo of a daisy, taken in Central Park, Plymouth. I’m using the daisy in my work as a symbol of sustainability as they are such a source of nostalgia for many, yet I personally believe we see less of them at certain times of the year than we used to. I am proposing the daisy to become a symbol for sustainability due to their abundance; when their numbers start to dwindle it is a very obvious indicator that something is wrong, be that as a result of climate change, water quality, soil contamination etc. The artist Gustav Metzger also calls for the daisy to become a symbol against mass extinction, which is what inspired me to begin my own research into daisy’s having links to sustainability.

Gustav Metzger died earlier this year, at the age of 80, and I’d like to dedicate this daisy, and my work for the fine art degree show this year, to his memory. I also believe flowers, and plants in general, are a great way to inspire people to really think about the power of the sun.

SEI photography competition image: Jena Richeldis Parkin

Ilaria Torre

Breathing colours

Student - Sustainable South West


According to the 2015 FAO global forest resources assessment [1], the UK woodlands cover 13 per cent of land area of the country, thus making the UK one of the least wooded countries in Europe. Even though, according to the same census, deforestation in the country has not increased in the last 15 years, climate change poses a threat to trees, mostly because trees planted today will face different and unpredictable climatic conditions tomorrow. Westonbirt Arboretum, in Gloucestershire, is taking part in an international project funded by the European Union [2], aiming at growing and monitoring a selected range of trees in order to study how they adapt to changing climatic conditions.

The picture is a collage of foliage taken at Westonbirt last autumn; as my eye (and camera lens) wandered from tree to tree and leaf to leaf in search of the ever changing hue, I hope that future generations will be able to walk under those, and other, trees tomorrow, and keep being stunned by such a spectacle.

SEI photography competition image: Ilaria Torre

Ilaria Torre

Fish for thought

Student - Sustainable Plymouth


Plymouth Fisheries at Sutton Harbour is the second largest fresh fish market in England. Not only do they sell local catch, thus reducing the miles that the food has to travel to get to local retailers and consumers, but they also employ non-invasive fishing techniques, such as using large enough meshes to allow younger fish to escape the nets (represented in the picture). Also, they collaborate with Food Plymouth to achieve the goal of becoming the world’s first Sustainable Fish City [1]. By buying fish at Sutton Harbour, instead of a supermarket, perhaps with the aid of a 'good fish guide', such as the one provided by the Marine Conservation Society [2], everyone can contribute to reducing intensive fishing of endangered species, while enjoying the best possible quality on their plate.

SEI photography competition image: Ilaria Torre

Chloe Wallis

The Scouting Fox

Public - Sustainable South West


My street happens to neighbour a small flooding plain, and over the twenty years my family have lived there, it has seen little of anyone from the local council. Consequently, it became a wonderful, overgrown home for various animals alike: deer, foxes, rabbits, badgers, and so on. To the dismay of the local residents, however, the council suddenly turned their attention to the plain, and cut the entire field to the ground over the most recent winter; and suddenly, the wildlife that had been residing, reproducing, and disturbed only by dog-walkers over the past two decades, was left with a flat, open field.

Later on, we discovered that a couple of foxes had managed to claim some of remaining territory that was left (a small selection of bushes at this point), even though food for them was significantly scarce. Over the particularly cold period, my father took to making sure to save edible leftovers - Sunday roast's remains, stale dog biscuits, bones - and dropping them in the plain. Over the weeks, the foxes became smart to this and learned to greet us, as photographed. My father stopped this practice with the introduction of warmer weather and, sure enough, we have since spotted a much bigger group of foxes in the area.

In regards to sustainability, this story reflects the importance of supporting wildlife in built up areas. In cities, we often see animals roaming dangerous roads, or we regularly invade their natural habitats without thinking. It is so easy for society to forget all the other beautiful beings that we share the world with. We should be pushing for the bigger picture and protecting precious life.

SEI photography competition image: Chloe Wallis

Nicola Yeo

Nature's Gym

Public - Sustainable South West


This was captured as the autumn sun was setting over Perranporth beach in Cornwall. These four have just completed an (exhausting!) two mile run along the sands. What I love about this shot is that it shows you don’t need an expensive gym membership (or even trainers, in this case!) to get active; a few friends and a simple dose of nature can be enough to boost health and wellbeing in a fun and sustainable way.

SEI photography competition image: Nicola Yeo

John White

Beauty and the Litter

Staff - Sustainable South West


The image encapsulates the impact mankind and consumption is having on the habitat of animals, in the world and specifically in this case a swan.

SEI photography competition image: John White


A huge thank you to all the judges to helped with the competition:

  • Iain Stewart - Director, Sustainable Earth Institute, University of Plymouth
  • Paul Hardman - Manager, Sustainable Earth Institute, University of Plymouth
  • Heidi Morstang - Lecturer in Photography, University of Plymouth
  • Samantha Davies - Sustainability Manager, University of Plymouth
  • Paul Warwick - Associate Professor, Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth
  • Lloyd Russell - Senior Photographic Officer University of Plymouth
  • Jen Coles - Low Carbon City Officer, Plymouth City Council
  • Ducan Grossart - Chairman and Owner at Mint Images

Global Challenges research fund

The suggestions for this competition were based on the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF). GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries through: 

  • challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • strengthening capacity for research and innovation within both the UK and developing countries
  • providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.

If you're an academic looking for support on an interdisciplinary bid, an organisation looking for academic research support or an individual who is inspired to address global challenges through research then contact us at sei@plymouth.ac.uk to find out how we can help.