Ralph Fyfe

Academic profile

Professor Ralph Fyfe

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

The Global Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Ralph's work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

Goal 02: SDG 2 - Zero HungerGoal 04: SDG 4 - Quality EducationGoal 06: SDG 6 - Clean Water and SanitationGoal 07: SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean EnergyGoal 09: SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and InfrastructureGoal 11: SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGoal 13: SDG 13 - Climate ActionGoal 14: SDG 14 - Life Below WaterGoal 15: SDG 15 - Life on LandGoal 17: SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

About Ralph

My role at the University of Plymouth is to provide a broad-based education to undergraduate and postgraduate students, to undertake world-class research and provide strategic leadership of research within the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FoSE). My teaching is designed to promote geographical thinking and spatial literacy, particularly through leadership of programmes of learning in GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and long-term environmental change. Graduates from our GIS modules enjoy considerable success, obtaining jobs across a variety of sectors applying geospatial knowledge and practical experiences learnt at Plymouth. The teaching is informed by my research expertise and interests, and delivered through formal lecture classes, practical workshops, tutorial sessions and field-based teaching ranging from one-day local excursions to overseas residential field classes (including leading groups in Iceland and Western Ireland). I am Associate Dean for FoSE with responsibility for research, was the UoA14 (Geography and Environmental Sciences) coordinator for REF2021, and am a member of the Centre for Research in Environment and Society at the University of Plymouth.

My research broadly lies in reconstructing past environmental change. In particular I study how past societies influenced and shaped their surroundings, and apply this information to conservation and management of current and future environmental change. Understanding the past offers exciting insights into possible futures for people/environment relationships, and contributes to improved understanding of interactions in the whole earth system, including human disturbance of natural systems. As such much of my work is interdisciplinary, with strong links to archaeology, ecology and conservation management, and climate science. I have authored more than 100 academic papers and book chapters.

I have received more than £1.3M of funding to support my research since my appointment at the University of Plymouth (2006). Recent major programmes of research have focussed on transformation of the European landscape over the past 10,000 years through successive Leverhulme Trust-funded projects on: Deforesting Europe (2011-2014), Transforming the Face of the Mediterranean (2015-2018), Biodiversity and human land use (2019-2022) and Reclaiming Exmoor (2020-22) with key publications in Global Change Biology, Scientific Reports and a thematic special issue of The Holocene.I am currently involved with major international research programmes, including the Past Global Changes Landcover6K working group, the H2020 TERRANOVA International Training Network, and the ERC-funded COREX project.


My teaching supports three key areas of the student learning experience at Plymouth:

(i) development of GIS skills and spatial literacy;
(ii) palaeoecology, environmental change and archaeology; and
(iii) development of wider employability skills

My teaching is divided between formal taught classes, practical skills development in the physical geography and IT labs, and fieldwork. Problem-based learning and research-led teaching develops the independent learning and creates ownership of the learning experience for my students. I have coordinated local field teaching (for example collecting air temperature data around Plymouth city centre for use within GIS labs, excursions to Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor to explore upland environmental change) and international residential field trips to Iceland and western Ireland.

Graduates from the GIS module are well equipped for employment, and enjoy success within a variety of industries including global management, engineering and development consultancy, and forensic sciences.