Scientists search for value of coast communities
Marine scientists will this week launch a multi-million pound international project to help communities make the most of living along the South West coast and parts of France while protecting the English Channel.
Academics from the South West and France will work together on the VALMER project due to be unveiled at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth on Thursday.
The scheme looks specifically at Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and the northern coast of Brittany and how communities can help forge new, sustainable ways to manage marine and coastal development.
Money for the £3.8 million project has come from Europe, local councils in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall, the UK Marine Biological Association and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Similar bodies in France have also thrown money into the pot to pay for the scheme.
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Dr Steve Fletcher and Dr Gill Glegg from Plymouth University lead the project.
Dr Fletcher, Associate Professor at the School of Marine Science and Engineering, said the Channel was under increasing pressure from a wide range of competing sectors and interests. Managing it effectively was critical to enable future sustainable use.
Dr Fletcher said: "We aim to show how placing monetary and non-monetary values on ecosystem services can enhance policy, planning and management of marine and coastal environments.
"The benefits to health of being, or living, by the coast have long been recognised but the economic values for individual communities are far more difficult to quantify.
"If an inland community is run down, you can say invest in its infrastructure or build offices to generate employment and income. But for coastal communities it is more difficult because they do not have the same land base available.
"At the same time, building an offshore wind farm, for example, may work for some areas but not others.
"This is about developing a joined-up approach that we hope will help coastal communities thrive in the future."
Six communities from both sides of the Channel will be selected to act as case studies for researchers.
After it is completed in 2015 the team hope the project will be adopted by the Environment Agency, Marine Management Organisation and Natural England among others.
Ness Smith, project manager on the scheme said a similar approach had been applied to land management and planning for several years, but there was none in place when it came to valuing marine ecosystems.
She said: "Marine planning is becoming a vital area of focus for coastal communities as it covers how they use the areas above, in and under the sea's surface. What we want to do is work with communities to integrate the value of their marine ecosystem into that process."