Dr Ralph Fyfe

Dr Ralph Fyfe


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


I am an academic with a broad interest in past environmental change and how this can help us understand how past societies influenced and shaped their surroundings.  Understanding the past offers insights into possible futures for people/environment relationships.  This knowledge is also applied to consider contemporary issues in landscape management, such as heritage management and conservation of nationally and internationally important habitats.  I work closely with a range of organisations such as National Park Authorities and archaeological consultancies, as well as with a network of international scholars. 

My role at Plymouth University is to provide a broad-based education to undergraduate and postgraduate students to promote geographical thinking and spatial literacy.  This 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.  In addition to my teaching I am responsible for marketing activities for the Geography programmes.


I graduated in 1996 with a BSc (Hons) Degree in Geography from Durham University, and spent the subsequent year working on a variety of projects in the broad Quaternary Environmental change area.  This included excavation of interglacial sediments along the line of the A13 extension near Purfleet, opening sections of till on the Northumberland coast and coring peat sequence on the North York Moors.  I subsequently completed an interdisciplinary PhD at Exeter University, drawing on both archaeological and geographical techniques to assess the value and importance of fluvial sediments for archaeological and environmental reconstruction.

I joined Plymouth University as Lecturer in GIS in 2006 after five years as a Research Fellow then Lecturer in both Geography and Archaeology at Exeter University.  I was promoted to Associate Professor (Reader) in Geospatial Information in 2012.  I have served as an external examiner for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at Birmingham University and Royal Holloway University of London.

Teaching interests

My teaching supports two key areas of the student learning experience at Plymouth: (i) the development of GIS skills and spatial literacy, and (ii) palaeoecology, environmental change and archaeology

My teaching is divided between formal taught classes, practical skills development in the physical geography and IT labs, and fieldwork.  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.

Research interests

My current reseaarch themes fall into three main areas: (1) Development of pollen-landscape calibration datasets for the quantification of past land cover, and application to archaeology, nature conservation and climate change research (see also the Leverhulme Trust-funded Deforesting Europe project webpages); (2) Human-environment relationships in past societies, with a particular focus on prehistoric landscapes; and (3) Sustainable conservation and management of the archaeological and palaeoecological resource including involvement in the IUCN peatlands programme. In addition I have been collaborating on research into GIS pedagogy in Higher Education, and the integration of GIS into schools in the UK.

Grants & contracts

I have sought funding for my research from a variety of sources, including research councils (e.g. NERC/AHRC), other prestigous national funding agencies (Leverhulme Trust/British Academy/English Heritage) and 'third stream' funders such as National Park Authorities. My research income has helped support and develop the careers of various undergraduate Research Assistants, PhD students and Post-doctoral fellows, as well as allowed me to explore and develop my personal and collaborative research agendas.

I have received the following awards since appointment at Plymouth in 2006:

31. Leverhulme Trust (£294,146): "Changing the face of the Mediterranean: land cover and population since the advent of farming". CoI, with Roberts, Shennan (UCL) and Bevan (UCL); 30. Scottish Natural Heritage: PhD scholarship for research into river ecosystem services

29. English Heritage (£1,283): "The environment of the Glastonbury Lake Village"; 28. PU ISSR Small Collaborative Award (£4,028): "Automated mapping of river networks for ecosystem services assessment" CoI with Gilvear, Fletcher and Bolton; 27. English Heritage (£12,561): "White Horse Hill project" additional funding Cornwall County Council (£3,201): "Palaeoecological analysis at Porthloo Beach, Scilly"; 26. Mires on the Moors project (£17,720): "The context of prehistoric landscapes (phase 2)" PI, with MacLeod (RHUL)

25. Mires on the Moors project (£10,700): "The context of prehistoric landscapes: preliminary analysis of sites on Exmoor". PI with Daley; 24. NERC (£20,084): "Quantifying the biodiversity threshold for peatland carbon service delivery". CoI, with Daley (PI), Street-Perrott and Loader (Swansea); 23. Mires on the Moors project (£25,266): "The Exmoor millennium project (phase 2)". PI with Daley, Macleod (RHUL) and Smith (Birmingham)

22. Mires on the Moors project (£18,018): "The Exmoor millennium project (phase 1). PI with Daley; 21. English Heritage (£9,473): "Whitehorse Hill cist project" PI with Macleod (RHUL); 20. ENPA (£4,500): "Exmoor woodland project"

19. NERC RCL (£6,380): "A palaeoecological approach to understanding the impact of coastal change on past societies" [11 AMS radiocarbon dates]. PI with Perez, Gehrels, Charman (Exeter) and Roberts (Aberystwyth); 18. British Academy (£7,100): "Neolithic monumentality on Dartmoor"

17. Leverhulme Trust (£146,741): "Deforesting Europe: a pollen-based reconstruction of Holocene land cover change". Co-PI, with Roberts (Plymouth); 16. Trustees, FD ESA (£62,794): "Dartmoor Blanket Bog Restoration Project: Palaeoecological Analysis, 2010-12"; 15. NERC RCL (£1,560): "Constraints of late glacial sealevel change in western Ireland" [3 AMS radiocarbon dates]. CoI, with Gehrels and Edwards (TCD); 14. University of Plymouth PUP fund (£6,370): "High Upland Landscapes Project"; 13. DNPA (£910): Trial excavation, Tottiford Reservoir, Dartmoor; 12. DNPA (£1,000): Post-excavation analysis, Bellever Bronze Age round house project

11. University of Plymouth PUP fund (£5,200): "The pollen-based record of landuse change in the British Isles" Co-I, with Roberts; 10. Trustees, FD ESA (£60,340): "Dartmoor Blanket Bog Restoration Project: Palaeoecological Analysis"

9. ENPA (£9,700): "Assessment of Exmoor’s Areas of Outstanding Archaeological and Historical Importance"; 8. NERC RCL (£4,680): "Testing a preliminary event stratigraphy (30-8ka) from the southern Hemisphere" [9 AMS radiocarbon dates]. CoI, with Newnham, Callard (Plymouth) and Vandergoes (NZ); 7. English Heritage (£95,000): "Lyonesse project". CoI, with Mulville (Cardiff), Johns (Cornwall CC), Charman, Gehrels, Head (all Plymouth)

6. British Academy (£7,405 ): "Geochemical identification of prehistoric metallurgy in southwest Britain"; 5. DNPA (£6,803): "Cut Hill Project" phase 3; 4. English Heritage (£2,441): "Roman Lode iron working site: palaeoecology"

3. DNPA (£2,500): "Shovel Down Project" environmental post-excavation analysis; 2. DNPA (£4,993): "Cut Hill Project" phase 2; 1. GWR/ENPA (£55,200): PhD Scholarship for "Sustainable management of upland peat" (Dr Heather Davies)

I have published over 45 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters relating to my various research interests in environmental change and archaeology, conservation management and land-cover change. These are detailed below in chronological order.  

Fyfe RM, Woodbridge J and Roberts, N (in press) From forest to farmland: pollen-inferred land cover change across Europe using the pseudobiomization approach. Global Change Biology

Trondman, A-K, Gaillard, M-J, Sugita, S, Mazier, F, Fyfe, R, Lechterbeck, J, Marquer, L, Nielsen, AB, Twiddle, C, Barratt, P, Birks, HJB, Bjune, AE, Caseldine, C, David, R, Dodson, J, Dörfler, W, Fischer, E, Giesecke, T, Hultberg, T, Kangur, M, Kuneš, P, Latalowa, M, Leydet, M, Lindbaldh, M, Mitchell, F, Odgaard, B, Peglar, SM, Persson, T, Rösch, M, van der Knaap, P, van Geel, B, Smith, A, and Wick, L (in press) Pollen-based land-cover reconstructions for the study of past vegetation-climate interactions in NW Europe at 0.2 k, 0.5 k, 3 k and 6 k years before present. Global Change Biology

Gearey BR, Fletcher W and Fyfe R (in press) A place at the table?  Managing, valuing and protecting heritage resources in the 21st century: a case study of peatland archaeology and the ecosystem services framework. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites

Gearey, B, Fyfe, R and Van der Noort, R (in press) Peatlands as knowledge archives: intellectual services.  In: Bonn, A, Allott, T, Evans, M, Joosten, H and Stoneman, R (eds) Peatland restoration and ecosystem services: science, policy and practice British Ecological Society, Cambridge

Woodbridge, J, Davies, HJ, Blake, WH and Fyfe, RM (2014) Exploring recent environmental change in an upland catchment using evidence from reservoir sediments. Journal of Palaeolimnology 52, 229-244

Lechterbeck J, Edinborough K, Kerig T, Fyfe R, Roberts N and Shennan S (2014) Is Neolithic land use correlated with demography? An evaluation of pollen derived land cover and radiocarbon inferred demographic change from central Europe. The Holocene 24, 1297-1307

Pirzamanbein B, Lindström J, Poska A, Sugita S, Trondman A-K, Fyfe R, Mazier F, Nielsen AB, Kaplan JO, Bjune AE, Birks HJB, Giesecke T, Latalowa M, Marquer L, Smith B and Gaillard M-J (in press) Creating spatially continuous maps of past land cover from point estimates: a new statistical approach applied to pollen data. Ecological Complexity 20, 127-141

Woodbridge J, Fyfe, RM and Roberts, N (2014) A comparison of remotely-sensed and pollen-based approaches to mapping Europe's land cover. Journal of Biogeography 41, 2080-2092

Woodbridge, J, Fyfe, RM, Roberts, N, Downey S, Edinborough, K, and Shennan, S (2014) The impact of the Neolithic agricultural transition in Britain: a comparison of pollen-based land cover and archaeological 14C date-inferred population change. Journal of Archaeological Science 51, 216-224

Geach M, Stokes M, Telfer M, Mather AE, Fyfe RM and Lewin S (2014) The application of geospatial interpolation methods in the reconstruction of Quaternary landform records. Geomorphology 216, 234-246

Marquer L, Gaillard M-J, Sugita S, Trondman A-K,Mazier F, Nielsen AB, Fyfe RM, Odgaard B, Alenius T, Birks HJB, Bjune AE,Christiansen J, Dodson J, Edwards KJ, Giesecke T, Herzschuh U, Kangur M, LorenzS, Poska A, Schult M, Seppä H (2014) Holocene changes in vegetation composition in northern Europe: why pollen-based quantitative reconstructions matter? Quaternary Science Reviews 90, 199-216

Fyfe RM, Coombe R, Davies H and Parry L (2014) The importance of sub-peat carbon storage as shown by data from Dartmoor, UK.  Soil Use and Management 30, 23-31

Giesecke T, Davis B, Brewer B, Finsinger W, Wolters S, Blaauw M, de Beaulieu J-L, Fyfe RM, Gaillard M-J, Gil-Romera G, van der Knaap WO, Kuneš P, Kühl N, van Leeuwen JFN, Leydet M, Lotter AF, Semmler M, Bradshaw RHW (2014) Towards mapping the late Quaternary vegetation change of Europe.  Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 23, 75-86

Strandberg, G, Kjellström, E, Poska, A, Wagner, S, Gaillard, M-J, Trondman, A-K, Mauri, A, Birks, HJB, Bjune, AE, Davis, BAS, Fyfe, R, Giesecke, T, Kalnina, L, Kangur, M, Kaplan, JO, van der Knaap, WO, Kokfelt, U, Kuneš, P, Latałowa, M, Marquer, L, Mazier, F, Nielsen, AB, Smith, B, Seppä, H, and Sugita, S (2014) Regional climate model simulations for Europe at 6 k and 0.2 k yr BP: sensitivity to changes in anthropogenic deforestation, Climate of the Past 10, 661-680

Seremet, M, Chalkley, B and Fyfe, R (2013) The development of GIS education in the UK and Turkey: a comparative review. Planet 27, 14-20

Davis BAS, Zanon M, Collins P, Mauri A, Bakker J, Barboni D, Barthelmes A, Beaudouin C, Birks, HJB, Bjune AE, Bozilova E, Bradshaw RHW, Brayshay BA, Brewer S, Brugiapaglia E, Bunting J, Conner SE, de Beaulieu J-L, Edwards KJ, Ejarque A, Fall P, Florenzano A, Fyfe R, Galop D, Giardini M, Giesecke T, Grant MJ, Guiot J, Jahns S, Jankovská V, Juggins S, Karmann M, Karpinska-Kolaczek M, Kolaczek P, Kuhl N, Kunes P, Lapteva EG, Leroy SAG, Leydet M, Lopez Saez JA, Masi A, Matthias I, Mazier F, Meltsov V, Mercuri AM, Miras Y, Mitchell FJG, Morris JL, Naughton F, Nielsen AB, Novenko E, Odgaard B, Ortu E, Overballe-Petersen MV, Pardoe HS, Peglar SM, Pidek I, Sadori L, Seppa H, Severova E, Shaw H, Swieta-Musznicka J, Theuerkauf M, Tonkov S, Veski S, van der Knaap WO, van Leeuwen J, Woodbridge J, Zimny M and Kaplan JO (2013) The European Modern Pollen Database (EMPD) project.Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 22, 521-530

Fyfe, RM, Bray, L, Juleff, G, Woodbridge, J and Marshall, P (2013) The environmental impact of Romano-British ironworking on Exmoor.  In: Humphries J and Rehren T (eds) The World of Iron. Archetype Publications, London, 462-472

Fyfe RM, Twiddle C, Sugita S, Gaillard M-J, Barratt P, Caseldine CJ, Dodson J, Edwards KJ, Farrell M, Froyd C, Grant MJ, Huckerby E, Innes JB, Shaw H and Waller M (2013) The Holocene vegetation cover of Britain and Ireland: overcoming problems of scale and discerning patterns of openness Quaternary Science Reviews 73, 132-148

Woodbridge, J, Fyfe, RM, Law, B and Haworth Johns, A (2012) A spatial approach to upland vegetation change and human impact: the Aber Valley, Snowdonia. Environmental Archaeology 17, 80-94

Fyfe, RM (2012) Bronze Age landscape dynamics: spatially detailed pollen analysis from a ceremonial complex. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 2764-2773

Fyfe, RM and Woodbridge, J (2012) Differences in time and space in upland vegetation patterning: analysis of pollen data from Dartmoor, UK. Landscape Ecology 27, 745-760

Fyfe, RM
and Davies, H (2011) The pattern of vegetation development on Exmoor. Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society 154, 11-22

Fyfe, RM
, Roberts, CN and Woodbridge, J (2010) A pollen-based pseudo-biomisation approach to anthropogenic land cover change. The Holocene 20, 1165-1171

Gaillard M-J, Sugita S, Mazier F, Trondman, A-K, Broström A, Hickler T, Kaplan JO, Kjellström E, Kuneš P, Lemmen C, Olofsson J, Smith B, Strandberg G, Fyfe R, Nielsen AB, Alenius T, Balakauskas L, Barnekow L, Birks HJB, Bjune A, Björkman L, Giesecke T, Hjelle K, Kalnina L, Kangur M,  van der Knaap WO, Koff T, Lagerås P, Latalowa M, Leydet M, Lechterbeck J, Lindbladh M, Odgaard B, Peglar S, Segerström U, von Stedingk H, Seppä H (2010) Holocene land cover reconstructions for studies on land cover-climate feedbacks.  Climate of the Past 6, 483-499

Fyfe, RM, Caseldine, CJ and Gillings, M (2010) Pushing the boundaries of data?  Issues in the construction of rich visual past landscapes. Quaternary International 220, 153-159

Fyfe, RM and Greeves, T (2010) The date and context of a stone row: Cut Hill, Dartmoor, southwest England. Antiquity 84, 55-70

Adams, H and Fyfe, RM (2009) Sustainable conservation and management of the historic environment record in upland peat: a view from Exmoor. Transactions of the Devonshire Association 141, 39-60

Fyfe, RM, de Beaulieu, J-L, Binney, H, Bradshaw, RHW, Brewer, S, Le Flao, A, Finsinger, W, Gaillard, M-J, Giesecke, T, Gil-Romera, G, Grimm, EC, Huntley, B, Kunes, P, Kuhl, N, Leydet, M, Lotter, AF, Tarasov, PE and Tonkov, S (2009) The European Pollen Database: past efforts and current activities. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 18, 417-424

von Stedingk, H and Fyfe, RM (2009) The use of pollen analyses to reveal Holocene tree line dynamics – a modelling approach. The Holocene 19, 273-283

Votier, SC, Bearhop, S, Fyfe, R and Furness, RW (2008) Linking temporal and spatial variation in the diet of a marine top predator with commercial fisheries. Marine Ecology Progress Series 367, 223-232 

Broström, A, Nielsen, AB, Gaillard, M-J, Hjelle, K, Mazier, F, Binney, H, Bunting ,M-J, Fyfe, RM, Meltsov, V, Poska, A, Räsänen, S, Soepboer, W, Stedingk, H, Suutari, H and Sugita, S (2008) Pollen productivity estimates – the key to landscape reconstructions. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17, 461-478

Caseldine, CJ, Fyfe, RM and Hjelle (2008) Pollen modelling, palaeoecology and archaeology – virtualisation and/or visualisation of the past? Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17, 543-549

Fyfe, RM, Brück, J, Johnston, R, Lewis, H, Roland, T and Wickstead, H (2008) Historical context and chronology of Bronze Age enclosure on Dartmoor, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 2250-2261

Gaillard, M-J, Sugita, S, Bunting, MJ, Middleton, R, Brostrom, A, Caseldine, C, Giesecke, T, Hellman, SEV, Hicks, S, Hjelle, H, Langdon, C, Nielsen, A-B, Poska, A, von Stedingk, H, Veski, S and POLLANDCAL members (2008) The use of modelling and simulation approach in reconstructing past landscapes from fossil pollen data: a review and results from the POLLANDCAL network. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 17, 419-443

von Stedingk, H, Fyfe, RM and Allard, A (2008) Pollen productivity estimates for the reconstruction of past vegetation at the forest-tundra ecotone. The Holocene 18, 323-332

Amesbury, M, Charman, DJ, Fyfe, RM, Langdon, PG and West, S (2008) Bronze Age settlement decline in Southwest England: testing the climate change hypothesis. Journal of Archaeological Science 35, 87-98

Fyfe, RM (2007) The importance of local-scale openness within regions dominated by closed woodland.Journal of Quaternary Science 22, 571-578

Caseldine, CJ, Fyfe, RM, Langdon, CT and Thompson, G (2007) Simulating the nature of vegetation communities at the opening of the Neolithic on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland - the potential role of models of pollen dispersal. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 144, 135-144

Darvill, T, Morgan Evans, D, Fyfe, R and Wainwright, G (2006) Strumble-Preseli Ancient Communities and Environment Study (SPACES): fourth report 2005 Archaeology in Wales 45, 17-23.

Fyfe, RM
(2006) Sustainable conservation and management of the historic environment record in upland peat: a view from Exmoor International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 2, 146-149

Fyfe, RM (2006) Palaeoenvironmental perspectives on medieval landscape development. In Turner, S (ed.) Medieval Devon and Cornwall: shaping an ancient countryside. Windgather Press, Macclesfield, 10-23

Rippon, SJ, Fyfe, RM and Brown, AG (2006) Beyond villages and open fields: the origins and development of a historic landscape characterised by dispersed settlement in South West England. Medieval Archaeology 50, 31-70

Caseldine, CJ and Fyfe, RM (2006) A modelling approach to locating and characterising elm decline/landnam clearances. Quaternary Science Reviews 25, 632-644.

Fyfe, RM (2006) GIS and the application of a model of pollen deposition and dispersal: a new approach to testing landscape hypotheses using the POLLANDCAL models. Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 483-493.

Fyfe, RM
, Brown, AG and Rippon, SJ (2004) Characterising the late prehistoric, “Romano-British” and medieval landscape, and dating the emergence of a regionally distinct agricultural system in South West Britain. Journal of Archaeological Science 31, 1699-1714.

Fyfe, RM and Rippon, SJ (2004) A landscape in transition? Palaeoenvironmental evidence for the end of ‘Romano-British’ period in southwest England. In: Collins, R and Gerrard, J (eds) Debating Late Antiquity in Britain, AD 300-700. British Archaeological Reports British Series 365, Oxford, 33-42.

Fyfe, RM, Brown, AG and Coles, BJ (2003) Mesolithic to Bronze Age vegetation change and human activity in the Exe Valley, Devon, UK. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 69, 161-181.

Fyfe, RM, Brown, AG and Rippon, SJ (2003) Mid- to late-Holocene vegetation history of Greater Exmoor, UK: estimating the spatial extent of human-induced vegetation change Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 12, 215-232.