Skip to content


Natural capital at the heart of decision making: how the SWEEP project changed the South West for the better

20 February 2023

The South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) project ran from 2017 – 2022, here we celebrate its impact to the benefit of the environment, society and economy in the South West and beyond.

What is the SWEEP project? 

SWEEP has been a highly successful and impactful research-focused partnership; a collaboration led by the University of Exeter with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the University of Plymouth, working together with a large group (300+) of highly engaged business, policy and community partners across the South West. 

The SWEEP approach applies environmental research to bring natural capital into the heart of decision making, to benefit the environment, society and economy. 


Image: Illustrative Science 2022 

Jennifer Lockett, Head of Integrated Research, Impact and Support Services (IRISS) at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, explains: 

“We are truly delighted to have been part of such an impactful project, which has transformed environment-led decision making in the South West region.” 

“SWEEP has supported decision-makers to adopt a ‘natural capital approach’ - thinking of nature as an asset, or set of assets, which benefit people. This approach has been applied to investments and policy, and includes bespoke guidance, decision support and mapping tools. Ultimately, this guidance enables a more resilient and enhanced natural environment, producing gains for business, government, and society.” 

“Just from our side at PML, we’ve had a cross-disciplinary team of scientists contributing to the project, from teams including our ‘Marine Ecology and Biodiversity’ group, ‘Sea and Society’ group, and ‘Marine Systems Modelling’ group, along with impact experts from IRISS. Each person brings with them unique skills and expertise from different areas of marine science and delivery to ensure a truly comprehensive approach.” 

“We have been working with over 300 highly engaged business, policy and community partners across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This collaboration has paved the way for true impact, on a large scale.” 

The SWEEP project has been funded with thanks to the Natural Environment Research Council’s Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE) programme during 2017-2023.   

SWEEP was delivered through a series of sub-projects, below are some highlights of the projects PML contributed to. You can read about all of the sub-projects and their impact at 



Project: Marine Natural Capital

SWEEP has pioneered marine natural capital approaches to enable a new way of considering, valuing and managing the marine environment in the South West and beyond.   

The SWEEP team have collaborated with multiple partners in the South West of the UK, to co-create innovative tools and approaches that are changing the way the marine environment is managed. You can read more about the project and work involved here >> 

Some of the incredible achievements are illustrated below. 


Image: Illustrative Science 2022 (download here

Lockett adds: 

“By applying holistic natural capital approaches that consider the multifaceted benefits and services the marine and coastal environment  provides to society, as well as the risks to those servicesyou can realise sustainable benefits for the environment, economy and society.” 

“The marine project realized significant impacts; from influencing £50 million of new funds and investments (with £28 million more anticipated), to informing projects to restore habitats and strengthen management of marine protected areas. The work in North Devon has led to the development of the World’s first Marine Natural Capital Plan, the UK’s first ‘World Surf Reserve’ and business plans to identify the capability of 1,000 new jobs. On a national scale it has strengthened 17 governance policies and programs and provided key evidence for the Marine Natural Capital Ecosystem Assessment. . This really is a case where everyone wins.” 

“It has been a privilege to work with leading scientists, such as Dr Sian Rees, at Plymouth University on realising and monitoring these impacts”. 

Find out more about the Marine Natural Capital project and impact here >> 

Project: Enhancing seafood labelling schemes that support sustainable fishing practices

‘The seafood industry is worth almost £100m to the Cornish economy with more than £30m of fish landed every year in Newlyn alone. Seafood labels (or certification) schemes can play a key role in promoting more sustainable fishing practices, by allowing consumers to choose to purchase products that are produced more sustainably. The increased demand for sustainable seafood can also translate into direct benefits for local fishermen e.g. providing access to new markets and decreasing price variability.'  [Source: SWEEP website

The project lead, Dr Oceané Marcone, Social Science Researcher at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, has said: 

“I worked with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to evaluate the benefits for fishers from participating in the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide (CGSG) and recommend improvements to maximise these benefits and enhance the CGSG scheme. During 2019-20, we employed two key data collection mechanisms. Firstly, we interviewed Cornish fishers to collect data about their fishing activities, and opinions regarding the CGSG and other labelling schemes. Fishers both participating and not participating in the scheme were interviewed and the data was then analysed using thematic analysis. Secondly, a survey aimed at seafood consumers was run over three weeks in January 2020 to understand public attitudes towards labelling schemes. The results fed into a report by Rose Regeneration, informing their independent evaluation of and recommendations for the CGSG.” 

“I produced a bespoke report containing 5 key recommendations from the study. As a result of this the Cornwall Wildlife Trust were awarded £20,000 funding to appoint a part-time ‘Fisheries Advisor’ to deliver the ‘Wilder West Project’,to put the report’s recommendations into action. The Fisheries Advisor has been in post since October 2021, and they have developed collaborative relationships with fishers in the Fal and Mevagissey area of Cornwall. They have also been promoting sustainable fishing practices through targeted workshops, discussions and collaborations.” 


“By strengthening the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, SWEEP has provided new opportunities for local fishermen in Cornwall to contribute to its vision of a more sustainable marine environment. CGSG hope to influence continued improvement in the industry for years to come.” 

Find out more about the enhanced seafood labelling project to support sustainable fishing here >> 


Project: Supporting the sustainable expansion of aquaculture in the South West

A cross-disciplinary team from PML have been involved in the SWEEP project ‘Supporting the sustainable expansion of aquaculture in the South West’, including Dr Yuri Artioli, Dr Giovanni Galli, Dr Ricardo Torres, Dr Peter Land and Dr Peter Miller

The project has involved policy and evidence contributions towards meeting the ambitions targets of Seafood2040 and the English Aquaculture Strategy (relating to marine spatial planning and Marine Protected Areas), Exe Estuary Catchment Management Plan and Natural England seaweed culture sector review. 

‘Sustainable growth in marine aquaculture (mariculture), involving the farming of seaweeds, shellfish and finfish, will be essential in helping to provide global food security for the ever-expanding human population. Shellfish and seaweed mariculture are highly sustainable; they use natural sunlight, available nutrients and/or marine planktonic microalgae to grow.'  [Source: SWEEP website


The team developed policy briefs for links between mariculture and MPAs – and this work informed policy recommendations within Seafish’s ‘English Aquaculture Strategy’, setting out vision and plan for ten-fold increase in food production from sector 2020-2040. 

Find out more about the ‘Supporting the sustainable expansion of aquaculture in the South West project here >> 


Project: Investing in Nature for Health

‘Increasing evidence shows that spending time in nature leads to longer term improvements in our physical, and mental health and wellbeing, and delivers £2.2bn health benefits each year in England via physical activity alone.  With rising public health challenges such as obesity, poor mental health and the impact of the recent pandemic, there has never been a greater need to access the health benefits of nature. Yet many of us live more disconnected from nature than ever before.  

The UK Government’s 25 Year Plan outlined a need for strengthening understanding of health outcomes of interventions through environmental investments. A growing and diverse range of policy and practice has ensued, but lacks key elements for maximising human health and nature benefits – critically, cross-sectoral working between the health and environment sectors and strong scientific evidence underpinning how best to invest in green and blue spaces.’  [Source: SWEEP website

We had a cross-disciplinary team working on this SWEEP project, including Andrew Edwards-Jones , Elaine Fileman and Dr Elizabeth Gabe-Thomas

The SWEEP team worked in collaboration with key partners - Dorset Local Nature Partnership, Public Health Dorset, Cornwall Council, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, the Dartmoor National Park Authority, Plymouth City Council - as well as a wider network of stakeholders. 
humanhealth.pngHarnessing the latest scientific evidence, the SWEEP team delivered innovative resources and approaches that have strengthened a large network of cross-sectoral partnerships and influenced more robust and equitable investments, policy and practice, in the environment for health outcomes. 

Find out more about the ‘Strengthening investments in nature for human health and wellbeing in the South West and beyond’ project here >> 

Share this story: