Coastal processes research group cliff monitoring, porthleven, cornwall

The South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) is a partnership project that will help deliver economic and community benefits to the South West, whilst protecting and enhancing the area’s natural resources.

Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) Regional Impact from Science of the Environment programme for five years, SWEEP will bring academic experts, businesses and policy makers together to solve some of the challenges involved in managing, utilising and improving the natural environment. 

SWEEP is a collaboration of three research institutions: the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Plymouth – working together with a large group of highly engaged business, policy and community partners.

SWEEP logo


SWEEP aims to generate benefits or avoid costs for businesses, policymakers or communities across five broad areas – our ‘Impact Themes’. Underpinning all SWEEP work is the aim to address the long-term decline in the natural capital on which our economic growth, well-being and prosperity depend.

How we will achieve our aims

Impact Projects: Co-designed and delivered with partners from the business, policy or community sectors, SWEEP academics and team members will deliver a diverse set of projects to realise environmental, economic and/or community benefits in the region. Projects may be for any length of time, but will typically last around eighteen months.

Impact Fellows: A team of ‘Impact Fellows’ will be central to delivering the Impact Projects. They will act as the conduit between the academics and partners, to translate and apply knowledge, solutions and tools.

Tools: SWEEP will harness new technology and research to create practical solutions for partners working with the natural environment.


Impact Projects

SWEEP is currently delivering 13 Impact Projects, all of which are delivered collaboratively by inter-disciplinary teams from across the three key partners. Below are a few examples of projects the University of Plymouth is most closely involved with.

Wave Forecasting 

(SWEEP 001)
A team from the University of Plymouth’s Coastal Processes Research Group is working to improve the level of detail and accuracy when predicting coastal flooding and other hazards around our coastline.
Coastal flooding data is an important decision making tool used by organisations including environmental agencies, highways and service providers and our emergency services. Currently, this data isn’t detailed or location-specific enough to be relied upon.
Working closely with the Environment Agency, Met Office, RNLI, Plymouth Coastal Observatory, Channel Coastal Observatory, Cornwall Resilience Board and Cornwall Marine Hub, the team will produce a tool that gives clearer information around the location and risk level of coastal flooding events than ever before. The model will help organisations assess and protect vulnerable areas of coastal and habitat, but also has the potential to play a vital role in saving lives and resources.
Wave Forecasting

North Devon Marine Pioneer

(SWEEP 002/012)
In 2016, Defra initiated a number of nationwide ‘Pioneer’ projects, the aim of which is to provide a set of case studies, or exemplars, that can inform government environmental policy and practice in the years to come.
Four pioneer projects will take place, the locations of which have been carefully chosen to represent areas of significant environmental interest. The North Devon biosphere is the subject of both a land-based pioneer, and a co-located marine pioneer along with a section of East Anglia coastline.
An interdisciplinary project team jointly led by Professor Martin Attrill from the University of Plymouth’s Marine Institute, and Professor Mel Austen from Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Sea and Society Group, is helping the wide range of partners involved to achieve their aims. By providing guidance, expertise and tools, the team plan to embed natural capital approaches into policy and decision-making.
North Devon Marine Pioneer

25 Year Plan and North Devon Biosphere 

(SWEEP 005)

The North Devon Biosphere Reserve has been designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme to inspire a positive future by connecting people and nature. This area also aligns with Defra’s Pioneer initiative (part of its 25 year Environmental Plan) to identify innovation and test natural capital approaches.

Working across four main research areas (identifying priority areas, Farming Futures, improving woodland management and modelling terrestrial and marine environments), the team support the Biosphere partners to achieve ongoing environmental benefits for the region.

25 Year Plan and North Devon Biosphere

South West Marine Planning 

(SWEEP 014)

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is currently preparing Marine Plans for inshore and offshore areas around England. These Plans indicate what activities should be prioritised in a specific area, providing a context in which businesses can confidently plan their activity for the future. 

To date, the potential for natural capital approaches has not featured strongly in this process, so the SWEEP project team will work directly with the MMO to aid the preparation of these plans and provide access to the science that will underpin them.

South West Marine Planning

"The South West draws much of its socioeconomic potential from its ‘natural capital’, and so as a region, it relies heavily upon the natural environment. SWEEP will bring together a diverse range of groups from academia, business and other sectors to look at how we enhance our natural capital, how we preserve and restore it, and maximise the economic return. It will draw upon the research strengths of Plymouth, Exeter and PML, who together represent a genuine centre of excellence in marine and terrestrial science."

Professor of Marine Ecology, Martin Attrill

Martin Attrill

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