CDTS308: I do like to be beside the seaside: Understanding how environmental assets influence who and how people engage with the coast and its wellbeing benefits

   The School of Psychology

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  Dr Kayleigh Wyles, Prof Ian Baxter, Ms Lauren Molloy, Prof Mel Austen  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The UK coastal and marine environment has a rich recreational and cultural value. It facilitates many ways in which people can engage and use it, and studies have shown this has many benefits to people’s health and wellbeing. However, these benefits are not shared equally and means different things to different people. This poses a challenge when managing these environments to promote access for and enhance wellbeing of multiple communities. A further key gap in the literature is whether management decisions influence these experiences. For example, there are unknowns regarding how dependant these benefits are on the extent and condition of natural capital assets such as charismatic species for wildlife watching or coastal intertidal and subtidal habitats with which people might engage. By taking a transdisciplinary approach, this PhD will apply social science (environmental psychology, recreation/visitor experience studies), health science (applied health) and natural science (natural capital (ecological) assessment) to understand who is engaging recreationally with the UK coastal and marine environment and how (and in contrast, who is not) and what role the different features or assets have on these engagements and experiences.

Aims and objectives

Working closely with JNCC and Natural England, this PhD will conduct a policy-relevant investigation into how environmental assets influence who engages with the coast, how, and the wellbeing benefits of such engagement. Specifically:

  • Who is recreationally engaging with the UK coastal and marine environment (i.e., demographic profile), how (what activities are they engaging in), and what is the benefit (i.e., health and wellbeing outcomes)?
  • Who is not engaging with the coast? And why?
  • How important is the ecological quality of the environment for these recreational users and non-users? What are the assets that are particularly important to our experiences with the coast (e.g., the benefits we derive)? What is the optimum dose (e.g., if looking at biodiversity, which species are more influential, how many need to be seen)?
  • What types of interventions or management strategies can be put in place to achieve an equitable balance between recreational and cultural benefits and environmental protection? 

Project Structure

The PhD will take a mixed-method approach, including quantitative analysis of large datasets to identify who is engaging with the UK coast, in what way, and to what benefit; qualitative interviews to further unpick the key reasons and features why people engage and don’t engage with the coast and marine environment; and experimental studies to manipulate and test the role certain environmental features have on people’s engagement and experiences. The project will therefore contribute to science and provide recommendations for decision makers.

The project will be supervised by Dr Kayleigh Wyles, Prof Mel Austen, Dr Nicolas Farina (University of Plymouth), Prof. Ian Baxter (Heriot-Watt University), Lauren Molloy (JNCC), and Dr Tara Hooper (Natural England). In addition to the wealth of training opportunities provided by the CDT SuMMeR programme and the associated universities, the student will also be offered specialist skill development and to complete internships within JNCC and/or Natural England. 


Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree in an appropriate subject and either a relevant masters qualification or a wider range of experience in a relevant career path (which is equally as important).

Each applicant may apply for a studentship on up to three CDT SuMMeR projects. Where more than one project is applied for, the supervisors of all those projects will be made aware that other applications have been made.

The studentship is supported for 3 years and 8 months. All UKRI-funded PhD students (UK, EU, International) will be eligible for the full award – both the stipend to support living costs (£18,622 per academic year at full time equivalent at the 2023/24 rate), and fees at the research organisation’s UK rate. International students are eligible for UKRI-funded postgraduate studentships but UKRI will limit the proportion of international students appointed each year through individual doctoral training programmes to 30% of the intake per cohort. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover international fees set by universities; applicants normally required to pay international fees may have to cover the difference between the home and the international tuition fee rates (approximately £12,697 per annum). Please enquire with the lead supervisor on the situation regarding international fees for the project you are interested in. CDT SuMMeR’s funding will not cover costs associated with visa application or health surcharges, or additional costs associated with entry to, and living in, the UK. For EU and international eligibility for UKRI studentships, see UKRI’s guidance.

In case of uncertainty, applicants should contact the planned university of registration for eligibility advice, or the CDT SuMMeR Programme Office: [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17) Nursing & Health (27) Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

CDT SuMMeR studentships are partially funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which applies the eligibility criteria laid down by its parent body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and co-funded by the respective Hosting Partner institutes. UKRI provides details on its training grants in its Terms and Conditions for Training Funding document, including its Training Grant Guide, which can be found on the UKRI website.