CDTS327: Can habitat restoration deliver effective mitigation for marine and estuarine fish?

   The School of Biological and Marine Sciences

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  Dr Benjamin Ciotti, Prof Mel Austen, Dr Ida Nielsen, Prof Jan Hiddink  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Numerous restoration projects are currently seeking to reverse losses of seagrass, saltmarsh and other coastal habitats. These habitats are considered to be important nurseries for juvenile fish and therefore critical for sustaining coastal fish populations. However, it is unknown whether restorations offer similar benefits as natural counterparts. This field-based project involves working directly with managers and policy makers to deliver key evidence on the nursery role of restored habitats and guide effective decision-making in conservation and fisheries management.

Aims and objectives

This PhD aims to investigate whether habitat restoration can deliver effective mitigation for marine and estuarine fish, specifically by addressing three objectives:

O1) Review threats to marine and estuarine juvenile fish habitats, the diversity of fish species affected and the potential for compensation by existing natural or restored habitat.

O2) Combine traditional netting surveys with novel camera surveys and biochemical indicators of growth rate to quantify fish production from restored habitats relative to natural counterparts.

O3) Work with fishing and coastal communities to evaluate the broader socioeconomic values of different natural and restored habitat types.

Project Structure

The student will initially work under close guidance of the academic supervisors, the associate partners (Natural Resources Wales, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts) and a wider forum of stakeholders to review threats to coastal habitats, status of knowledge about the role of restored habitat as juvenile fish habitat and priorities for research in this area. There will follow the opportunity for field studies investigating the value of selected restoration projects relative to natural reference habitats. These field studies will take place in Cornwall and North Wales and will involve traditional netting techniques, application of biochemical growth indices and deployment of a smart camera system. The final step will be to implement socioeconomic research tools that put estimates of ecological habitat quality in context of the broader economic and cultural values.


The student will be trained in a range of skills to estimate the juvenile fish habitat quality, building on core expertise of the supervisors in juvenile fish ID, fish netting techniques, benthic invertebrate surveys, biochemical growth indices and underwater camera technology. They will also learn how to perform economic and cultural evaluation of ecological systems. Finally, by working closely alongside management and regulatory organisations the student will acquire a firm appreciation of stakeholder evidence needs and how to direct research towards meeting them. The PhD is therefore an unrivalled opportunity to develop and apply expertise in a suite of interdisciplinary research tools and work with key management bodies to support the sustainable management of natural resources.


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)

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.
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