The Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources (SMMR) Strategic Priorities Fund is a £12.4m initiative dedicated to funding marine research in order to address critical gaps in understanding that have been identified by UK policy makers. 

The programme aims to bring together marine scientists, policy makers, industry representatives, wider stakeholders and the public to build a strong marine research community and, ultimately, bridge the gap between science and policy. It is hoped that this highly collaborative and critical programme of research will give rise to new approaches for managing UK marine environments, whilst informing and invigorating UK marine policy.

The programme has three core themes: understanding values associated with the marine environment, building tools to support management and designing interventions to support policy.

The call for applications to the fund opened in early 2020 and closed on 20 October 2020. Research proposals could bid for up to £1.5 million for 36 months and were required to address at least two of the programme’s three themes. Policy stakeholders shared their priorities for the fund, in order to guide project proposals. These can be found here.

Successful applicants to the fund were announced in July 2021, and these six research projects can be read about here

Understanding Values

People value the marine environment in many different ways, whether it be as a place for coastal walking, swimming, commercial fisheries, wildlife watching or dining on local seafood. However, it can be difficult to determine the monetary value of these personal connections with the ocean. To inform and direct policy development, we need to better understand the ways in which people value the marine environment. Particularly, how these ‘value systems’ affect decision-making. By taking people’s values into account, we can develop more effective and transparent means of marine management.

This SMMR programme will:

  • Increase understanding around value systems and provide recommendations on how they can be used to supplement and support decision-making. In particular, how they can support natural capital accounting (which places a monetary value on nature’s services and benefits).
  • Deliver approaches and scenarios that take value systems into account (with a focus on systems that may affect the success of marine management interventions).

Building Tools

Incorporating natural capital approaches into decision-making is challenging. As the UK government seeks to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals alongside other environmental milestones, new insights and capabilities are required to evaluate environmental, economic and social trade-offs. Particularly trade-offs between different ecosystem services that result from marine resource use.

The SMMR programme will develop new tools that build on existing data, observation networks and scientific models. These tools will underpin the integration of powerful modelling techniques linking marine processes to economic activity and society. Such tools are necessary to support coastal and marine natural capital accounting. Ultimately, this will support evidence-based management of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone – a system that upholds multiple services, including fishing, recreation, transport, climate regulation, energy, flood defences, and building materials. By applying new modelling tools to UK marine policy, we can improve environmental management.

This SMMR programme will:

  • Deliver tools that enable natural capital and trade-off approaches to be used to support decision-making across multiple economic sectors and social groups, taking implications of global change into consideration.

Supporting Policy

There is a need for ambitious, coordinated actions to sustainably manage and protect the ocean for future generations. UK policy seeks to reverse the loss of – and restore – marine biodiversity. National policy also aims to increase the resilience of ecosystems and the services they provide.

Interventions are required to ensure that public goods arising from the marine environment are sustainable, and that current and future generations can continue to engage with them.

The SMMR programme will develop and evaluate new incentive schemes and approaches to improve the quality of marine and coastal environments. It will engage directly with relevant UK marine and catchment management regulators to ensure that approaches are fit for purpose and address high priority issues for the UK Government.

This SMMR programme will:

  • Deliver approaches and tools for improved environmental, social and economic outcomes, focusing on public goods and net gain. These tools and approaches will inform policy interventions and management scenarios
  • Make recommendations on future policy concerning interventions to improve the marine environment and achieve net gain.
  • Utilise social, economic and environmental metrics to enable interventions to be evaluated.