SWEEP Studentships

Advancing early research careers through supporting studentships is a key part of the SWEEP programme.

We’re pleased to say that seven PhD studentships have commenced since SWEEP began, covering a diverse range of natural-capital focussed assignments.
The students work directly with partners/sponsors in industry or environmental action to help resolve key challenges through research.

Roger Auster
Roger Auster profile

Download a summary of all the outputs resulting from Roger’s PhD Studentship.

Roger’s PhD works in partnership with the River Otter Beaver TrialCornwall Beaver ProjectPlymouth City Council and SWEEP. Roger’s project is looking into the human dimensions of reintroducing the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) into England. He explores the potential interactions between humans and beavers in the event of reintroduction to England, thus developing an understanding of the potential benefits and conflicts that may occur. In 2020, UK Government announced that a population of beavers on the River Otter is permitted to remain permanently, with decisions due soon on a national approach to beaver reintroductions and management.

His work has included undertaking a nationwide survey of attitudes towards beaver reintroduction, followed by a series of more focused studies. These include: interview research with individuals who reported direct conflicts with beavers; Q-methodology research into the perspectives of the angling community in the River Otter catchment; and a mixed methods investigation into beaver tourism in the lower Otter. He also contributed towards a collaborative literature review on beaver impacts.

Roger was among the team that compiled the final science and evidence report from the River Otter Beaver Trial. It is a prominent document regarding beavers in England and makes good further reading on the outcomes and potential of Roger’s work. The report is available to read at: www.exeter.ac.uk/creww/research/beavertrial/

Ben Balmford
Ben Balmford profile picture

The main aim of Ben’s PhD is to develop mechanisms for increasing the efficiency of  delivering environmental services. Ben will investigate how devices such as regulation and subsidies (both publicly and privately funded) can be designed to improve environmental outcomes, with a particular focus on water services.

This project is a partnership between SWEEP and South West Water, but also involves many other stakeholders in the sector who are looking at purchasing environmental services – this includes water companies, environmental auction facilitators and government organisations.

There are two key questions that the PhD will aim to answer:

  1. How can group-level incentives combine with devolved monitoring decisions to better regulate pollution?
  2. What is the optimal way of distributing funding for the provision of environmental services – for example – is it through auctions or fixed price schemes? Should these subsidies be targeting? How should auctions be designed to be both simple and efficient?

Ben will employ a number of complementary methods, including using: lab experiments, simulations, theory, and real-world trials in his research.


Sophie Corrigan
Sophie Corrigan profile

Sophie’s PhD is in partnership with SWEEP, the Marine Biological Association (MBA), the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Services (CEFAS), the Fishmonger’s Charitable Trust and the Cornish Seaweed Company. Her project focuses on how commercial seaweed farms influence local biodiversity, physical conditions and dissolved nutrient chemistry in the South West. Sophie will be conducting field work at a Cornish Seaweed Company’s farm in Cornwall working alongside the company to maximise benefits for both their harvest and the local environment.

The main aims of the project are to:

  • understand how seaweed farms support local biodiversity, i.e. by creating a novel nursery ground habitat which could enhance recruitment of species that are of conservation or commercial importance to benefit the wider area
  • understand how seaweed farms may influence the wave dynamics and chemistry of the bay area i.e. by absorbing excess nutrients and increasing sedimentation rates.

Drawing on her PhD literature review, Sophie contributed to the recently published Natural England Report, Seaweed aquaculture and mechanical harvesting: an evidence review to support sustainable management (NECR378); leading on section 3.6 Artificial Habitat Creation. This document will be used to  inform best practice.

Hannah Forbes
Hannah Forbes profile

Hannah’s PhD is in partnership with SWEEP and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). The project focuses on how outdoor sites, including wetland visitor centres and open access nature reserves can be used to promote health and wellbeing through nature based social prescriptions. Hannah will be conducting field work at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge to gain a greater understanding of ‘blue prescriptions’ in particular.

The main aims of the project are to: gain a greater understanding of nature based social prescribing and a specific understanding of ‘blue prescribing’, to investigate the health and wellbeing benefits of blue prescribing and to identify suitable methodologies to research the outcomes of blue social prescribing.
Read more about the WWT Wetlands, human health and wellbeing project.

Matt Holden
Matt Holden Profile Picture

Matt’s PhD is a partnership between the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, a large farming estate in South East Devon, and the Westcountry Rivers Trust. The multi-disciplinary project combines academic expertise in natural sciences (from Prof. Richard Brazier) and environmental economics (from Prof. Brett Day) and focuses on understanding the state of soil, water, and pollinator natural capital on the estate.

Through his work, Matt hopes to expand the understanding of how to quantify the condition and value of natural capital assets in agricultural landscapes. He’ll acheive this through monitoring ecosystem functions and services under different land management strategies (primarily organic vs conventional farming). The main aims of the PhD are to:

  • quantify baseline soil, water and pollinator natural capital condition on targeted parts of the estate
  • determine the likely trajectory of natural capital on the estate under different land management strategies
  • identify how to incorporate a natural capital approach into land-management decision-making at field, farm and estate scales.
Josie-Alice Kirby
Josie Kirby profile

Working in partnership with the University of Plymouth and the Environment Agency, Josie’s PhD aims to identify Coastal Change Management Areas (CCMAs) for the South West coast of England in a robust and scientific manner. Josie is working alongside coastal planners and management bodies to increase consideration and implementation of CCMAs across the region, with the aim of strengthening community resilience along the changing coast.

The project will include a review of current practices and policies, an assessment of current and future coastal erosion rates in the South West, and an assessment of current and future coastal flood risk. Using these assessments CCMAs will be defined around the South West coast and recommendations given to coastal planners to aid their implementation.

Josie’s work links in withe the SWEEP Coastal Change Management Area project if you’d like to find out more.

Cara Patel
Cara Patel

Cara’s PhD is all about the impacts of pollution on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) at the river catchment scale, based at the University of Exeter (Penryn Campus).

The project is supervised by Prof. William Gaze, Dr Anne Leonard at the University of Exeter, and Dr Andrew Singer (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). Cara’s project is funded by the Medical Research Foundation and the University of Exeter.

The aim of this research is to provide evidence to support decision making and environmental policy to minimise environmental AMR, and therefore maximise natural capital of river catchments. The interdisciplinary nature of the project will integrate biology, policy, and economics methods to deliver these aims.

Find out more about Cara and her work at:

@CaraPatel19 on twitter