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Building resilience in coastal governance: ethics and justice in responsible innovation (FORSTER_UDEV20AS)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

This competition is open to UK and EU nationals only, subject to certain conditions.

Apply to the University of East Anglia for a place to study by Monday 20 January 2020.
Apply for SeNSS studentship funding by 12.00pm on Monday 2 March 2020.

This innovative and exciting interdisciplinary funded PhD project addresses urgent environmental issues that encompass improving coastal management and governance interventions for UK coasts, and developing a better understanding of the direct and indirect impacts for communities and the natural environment.

Project and research team

Coastal zones are some of the most vulnerable areas to impacts from climate change in the UK. Sea level rise, erosion, frequent storm surges and flooding already put pressure on coastal infrastructure, communities, and the natural environment. Consequently, innovative and strategic approaches to coastal management focused on adapting to the effects of climate change are urgently needed (CCC, 2018). The introduction and application of these approaches raises questions and issues for coastal managers and policy makers on the effects and impacts of innovative approaches on different temporal and spatial scales, for example:

• Which actors and communities do these innovative projects directly aim to benefit? Over which timescales? Which trade-offs are made in the choices to implement these innovative projects?

• Could some of these projects be ineffective or even harmful in the longer term?

• Are these projects able to enhance social and ecological resilience of coastal areas? If so, how and over which timescales?

Developing a stronger understanding of these complex issues requires bringing together natural science data, such as modelling of geomorphological change, to underpin understandings of social change and implications for environmental justice, which this studentship focuses on.

This project focuses on the Norfolk coast, an area particularly at risk from erosion and storm surges, and one with a long and, at times, contested history surrounding its coastal management practices (O’Riordan et al. 2014). Since the turn of the century, along this coastline, coastal management approaches have moved towards a greater acceptance of ‘soft engineering approaches’, which operate more in tune with natural processes occurring at specific sections of the coast. One ‘soft’ alternative that has been promoted to protect vulnerable coastlines and build resilience to environmental change for coastal communities is ‘sandscaping’ (Vikolainen et al. 2017). Sandscaping was attempted for the first time in the UK at Bacton and Walcott (, on the North Norfolk coast, during the summer of 2019. This provides a unique case study to specifically explore and understand the environmental justice issues and other implications of innovative coastal management responses, in relation to adaptation, coastal management practices and decision-making.

The student will work with social and natural scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) (, and North Norfolk District Council (NNDC). This research will bring together multiple academic disciplines and areas of work, including coastal management and governance, adaptation, resilience, community perceptions, environmental justice, sedimentology, geomorphology, ecology and marine biology. The project provides a unique opportunity to study and train in an area of timely and policy-relevant social and ecological environmental research, in collaboration with an interdisciplinary supervisory team.

Training and research skills

This PhD will provide the student with a range of highly transferable research and training opportunities spanning the natural and social sciences (e.g. mixed methods, engaging with community and other stakeholders, analysing modelling data and developing novel methods for future scenarios).

The student will be based at UEA with supervisors (social, coastal and marine scientists) based within two highly rated Schools (International Development ( and Environmental Sciences (, as well as close engagement with practitioners and implementers (NNDC).

Studentship structure

This studentship is available on a 3.5 or 4-year basis, depending on training needs. It is also available part-time or full-time.

How to apply for this studentship

First, apply for a place to study at UEA by 20 January 2020. Please go to for more information. Next, make a separate application to SeNSS for studentship funding by 12.00pm on Monday 2 March 2020. Please email David Craythorne at UEA () for access to the SeNSS application form.

Starting date

On or about 1 October 2020.

For further enquiries

For queries relating to the UEA application process, please email David Craythorne (). For queries relating to the SeNSS application process, please email Dr Felicity Szesnat (). For queries related to the project itself, please email Dr Forster ().

Funding Notes

This studentship is jointly funded by SeNSS ( (an Economics and Social Research Council ( Doctoral Training Partnership) and ARIES ( (a Natural Environment Research Council ( Doctoral Training Partnership). The student’s tuition fees will be paid and, if eligible, they will receive tax free living costs of approximately £1,250 per month throughout the studentship. For eligibility rules, see They can also apply for up to £5,000 additional funding to support their research. Other opportunities include competitions for funding for spending time at academic institutions overseas, and for spending time on a placement or internship.


Committee on Climate Change (CCC) (2018) Managing the coast in a changing climate. CCC, London.

O’Riordan et al. (2014) The difficulties of designing future coastlines in the face of climate change. Landscape Research 39(6): 613-630.

Vikolainen et al. (2017) Governance context for coastal innovations in England: The case of Sandscaping in North Norfolk. Ocean & Coastal Management, 45: 82-93.

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