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home grown food production

Active project

Project start: April 2022  |  Project end: March 2027
Funder: Jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) which
Principal Investigator: Dr Andy Rees
Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) is a partner in a major five-year £13.8 million research programme, named ‘AgZero+’, to support the UK’s transition towards home-grown food production that is sustainable, carbon-neutral and has a positive effect on nature.  

AgZero+ will bring together a community of researchers and farmers to test innovative farming systems. It will balance the need to produce nutritious food with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, while at the same time enhancing biodiversity and soil health (a holistic approach known as ‘net zero+'). 

The programme will provide data from national sensor networks, satellites and a network of commercial study farms and study catchments. These will be made available to the research community and other stakeholders through data portals and advanced digital tools to support environmental planning and management. 

As a part of AgZero+ PML is making regular measurements throughout the rivers, estuary and coastal waters of the River Tamar catchment.  We are also measuring the efficacy of a nature-based flood-defence improvement scheme at Calstock, Cornwall. This newly created wetland is very much in transition between farmland and estuarine marsh. To date this system has seen some loss of carbon through the production of carbon dioxide and methane, though over time it is expected that it will stabilize and gaseous loss will reduce as solid carbon is trapped and locked into the marsh sediments.

One thing that was quickly established was the capability of the wetland to ‘clean’ the water that flows in and out of it by reducing nutrients. This is important because excess nutrients from agriculture and wastewater treatment can cause blooms of microorganisms during a process known as eutrophication. This uses up the oxygen in the water and makes it difficult for other species, including fish and other important microorganisms, to survive. The team at PML will be closely monitoring this story and how it might affect climate relevant processes now and into the future. managed coastal realignment is one of many Nature-based Solutions being delivered across the UK and internationally to restore lost habitats, increase biodiversity and respond to the impacts of climate change. It is important that we understand how these solutions impact water quality and climate regulating ecosystem services. This involves investigating rates of carbon storage and the production or consumption of greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide and methane, in the water. 

Above: The PML team in the Falkland Islands, collecting samples from the estuary of the River Murrell. The fieldwork involved taking measurements of dissolved greenhouse gases and their fluxes to the atmosphere in this pristine environment, which receives little pressure from human activities.

This fieldwork was undertaken to coincide with the team’s recent journey to join the RRS Discovery for the AMT30 cruise between the Falklands and the UK. The team made the most of this opportunity by collecting samples, and connecting up with AgZero+ colleagues from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and also with the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute.


Funded by

The programme it is jointly funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) which will work with PML,  Rothamsted Research, the British Geological Survey and the National Centre for Earth Observation.


Other partners include the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the NFU, the Agricultural Industries Confederation, RSPB, National Trust, Natural England and Defra.

AgZero+ builds on the success of the £12 million ASSIST (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) project, which addressed the challenge of feeding a growing population by making food production more efficient and resilient to climate change, and reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint.