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Award details

University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Assessing the ecological value of, and threats to marine protected areas in the Isles of Scilly. Biosciences PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded) Ref: 4004

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Kristian Metcalfe, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Prof Annette Broderick, University of Exeter.

Dr Paul Somerfield, Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Tom Hooper, Isles of Scilly Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.

Trudy Russell, Natural England.

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Falmouth, Cornwall

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Up to £750 for travel and accomodation for compulsory cohort events.

Project details

Project Background:

Marine protected areas (MPAs) can produce a wide range of ecological, economic, and social benefits, which underpin goods and services critical to the wellbeing of millions of people; thereby making them a cornerstone of most marine conservation and fisheries management strategies.

These benefits, however, can only accrue if MPAs are well designed, and anthropogenic pressures such as fisheries harvest, recreational, and other maritime activities are effectively managed[1-3]. Given the limited resources available to many management agencies it is essential that we design and implement cost-effective monitoring strategies that can be used to develop evidence-based recommendations that underpin future conservation and management strategies. This PhD will explore several of these key issues in the Isles of Scilly, UK; providing an opportunity to focus on a small number of MPAs in a limited geographical area in which to investigate how marine populations and communities respond to different levels of anthropogenic pressure, as well as the ecological and governance characteristics of MPAs.

Project Aims and Methods:

The specifics of the research will be developed with the student, but will centre around four main aims:

1. Develop a cost-effective long-term monitoring strategy to characterise the spatial distribution of marine biodiversity including habitats and indicator species, through remote sensing, citizen science data, and in-water surveys (e.g. baited remote underwater videos - BRUVs).

2. Map the fine-scale spatiotemporal patterns of activity for ocean user-groups using a combination of vessel monitoring systems for commercial fisheries and shipping, and participatory mapping and GPS trackers for inshore fisheries, tourism and recreational activities[4].

3. Quantify anthropogenic impact and ecological pressures on marine biodiversity and how that varies within and outside marine protected areas through a combination of oceanographic modelling, cumulative impact mapping[5], and fisheries surveys using landings or observer data to map fishing effort (CPUE) and assess the ecological impact of fisheries.

4. Explore the relationship between anthropogenic influence, and ecological and governance characteristics on ecosystem outcomes, both within and outside marine protected areas to identify implications on community composition, biomass, diversity, and abundance.

Isles of Scilly coastal environment Candidate requirements:

Applicants should have an undergraduate degree 2:1 level or above, or MSc qualification relevant to conservation science; and a strong interest in interdisciplinary research and marine spatial ecology. Experience of working on boats, and conducting marine surveys would be highly valued.

CASE Partner:

As a CASE studentship that involves working closely with the Isles of Scilly Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency the student will develop new skills in quantitative marine ecology (e.g. experimental design, underwater survey techniques, behavioural ecology, habitat mapping) and project management.

Collaborative Partner:

As the PhD studentship involves working with Natural England who are responsible for monitoring of protected habitats and species the student will gain applied experience of working with decision makers to translate research outputs into recommendations.


The student will be part of Exeter Marine, an outstanding research group with a thriving community of PhD and Postdoctoral researchers from around the world. As the project involves supervisors from several partner organisations the student will have the opportunity to develop a broad interdisciplinary knowledge base, encompassing conservation science, marine spatial ecology, and social sciences; with specialist training provided in processing and visualising large spatial datasets, statistical ecology and modelling, marine ecological surveying, remote sensing and species distribution modelling. Graduate research students are well supported, with skills training provided through the Researcher Development Programme, with funding allocated to support career development, including conferences.

Background reading and references:

[1] Ban, et al Social and ecological effectiveness of large marine protected areas. Global Environ Chang 2017; 43:82-91.

[2] Gill, et al Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally. Nature 2017; 543:665-669.

[3] Metcalfe, et al Evaluating conservation and fisheries management strategies by linking spatial prioritisation software and ecosystem and fisheries modelling tools. J Appl Ecol 2015; 52:665-674.

[4] Metcalfe, et al Addressing uncertainty in marine resource management; combining community engagement and tracking technology to characterise human behaviour. Conserv Lett 2017; 10:460-469. [5] Maxwell, et al Cumulative human impacts on marine predators. Nat Commun 2013; 4:2688.

Useful links

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via or

Prospective applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

Each research studentship project advertisement has an ‘Apply Now’ button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2021 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is Friday 8 January 2021 2359 GMT .  Interviews will be held between 8th and 19th February 2021.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:8th January 2021
Value:£15,285 per annum for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries