Professor Ralph Fyfe

Professor 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)