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Staff spotlight: Lee Merchant - Head of Estates and Facilities

16 June 2024

Who manages the day-to-day running of our four-storey laboratory; brimming with an assortment of experiments and research spanning seven science departments? Meet Lee Merchant, Head of Estates and Facilities at PML, who kindly took some time to tell us more about his work here looking after the spaces of the laboratory to support the delivery of our world-class science. 

Above: Lee planting new trees in PML’s grounds with students from St Andrews Primary School 

Lee has been with us at PML for five years now, and our first question for him was to ask what originally attracted him to the role, and what it involves. 

“I joined PML in May 2019. With a keen interest and passion for the marine environment, this role presented a unique opportunity to bring together my personal interests and professional work.”  

“The Estates & Facilities group is responsible for making sure that PML's buildings and the services that they provide meet the needs of cutting-edge scientific research. My role is to oversee this operational department and ensure that our facilities are fully functional and well maintained to give staff and students the best possible spaces to complete their work, whether this is bespoke laboratories or modern office spaces.” 

“I am also part of PML’s ISO management team overseeing ISO standards in health and safety, quality and environmental management. These standards have continual improvement embedded within them to increase efficiencies, comply with industry standards and regulations, and mitigate risk.” 

It’s certainly a role with a broad range of responsibilities! We next asked Lee what he enjoys most about the position, and whether he could tell us about any special moments during his time with us. 

“I most enjoy working with a range of highly skilled and motivated colleagues, to deliver long-lasting and significant improvements to PML. This includes building refurbishments, environmental improvements, or advancements in processes and procedures. No two days are the same, and it gives me great satisfaction that I’m contributing towards the bigger picture of protecting our ocean.” 

“Special moments include building the largest solar carport in Plymouth, improving our grounds to the thriving biodiverse environment it is today, and integrating and maintaining our ISO standards which auditors often state is the best management system they’ve seen.” 


Above: PML’s solar carport. 

Lee is also on the Environmental Management Team, and environmental sustainability is a large part of his work, with environmental responsibility one of the four pillars of PML’s 2020-2025 strategy. And there has been great progression in this area in recent years. We next asked Lee if he could tell us more about some of the energy saving measures and environmental initiatives he’s been working on. 

“In the past four years, we have taken substantial action to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the biodiversity value of our grounds.” 

“In May 2021, we installed solar photovoltaic arrays on our building, followed last Summer by constructing the largest solar carport in Plymouth. PML’s solar carport is a flagship project for the area and is expected to save 65 tonnes of carbon dioxide throughout 2024.” 

Find out more about PML’s solar carport here >> 

“Our solar arrays combined have a peak power of 160.52kWp and it is predicted that 17% of PML’s power per year will be generated by our on-site solar panels. To date, the solar panels have generated over 150MWh, which is enough to power the average house for over 55 years!*” 

*Reference based on a Medium house with typical annual electricity use.  

Watch video: Plymouth Marine Laboratory's New Solar Carport 


“Aside from the solar panels, all fluorescent light fittings have been replaced with LED lighting, generating a further saving of 4.4 tonnes of CO2 per year, and we’ve also installed eight electric vehicle charging points and built a large bicycle compound (40 spaces) to cater for the increased number of staff and students commuting to PML sustainably.” 


Above: PML’s bicycle compound built in 2023, with space for 40 bikes, supporting more sustainable travel for colleagues. 

“Following these active measures, PML’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions have decreased by 24% over the period 2019-2023.” 

“Grounds wise, our five-year Biodiversity Action Plan aims to benefit native flora and fauna on our estate. To date we’ve planted a new native perimeter hedgerow, replanted 200m2 of lawn as wildflower meadow, and installed multiple bird boxes and tables. Employees organise a ‘Bioblitz’ survey every 6 months to document the different species within our estate, and we are already seeing new species occurring.” 


Above: A bug house, compost heap, hedgehog house and a selection of native plants have been added to the grounds to encourage biodiversity. 

“Following these environmental projects, we have won 2 environmental awards. The first being the ‘Environmental Success of the Year’ at the Plymouth Live Business awards in 2021, and most recently the ‘Planet Saver’ award at the Devon Chamber Awards 2024.” 


Above: PML’s Head of Estates and Facilities Lee Merchant (left) with Director of Operations Beverly Tremain (right) collecting the ‘Planet Saver‘ award at the Devon Chamber Awards 2024. Image credit Jay Stone Photography.   

It’s safe to say that he’s been busy, and the hard work is paying off! Our final questions for Lee were based around getting to know him away from work. We asked him if he could tell us about any hobbies or interests, or what he likes to do to unwind after a busy day in the office. 

“Outside of work, I love playing most sports, but primarily football and cricket. I’m an avid Bristol City fan and go to as many games as I can throughout the season. I’m also a keen fisherman, whether that’s chasing tuna with another PML colleague Andy Rees, or sitting in a bivvy for 24 hours waiting for a big carp!” 

“My wife and I also love travelling, and in between the endless stag-do's I’ve been attending, we try and get away to see as much of the world as possible.” 

And finally, we asked Lee if he could tell us what he enjoys most about living and working in Plymouth. 

“The best part of living in this area of the country is the close proximity to the beaches and beautiful coastlines we have on our doorstep. From walking around the Hoe during lunch, to attempting to paddleboard around Burgh Island on a weekend, there are so many activities that Britian’s Ocean City has to offer.” 

A huge thank you to you Lee for taking the time to share your story with us! 


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