South Coast sustainability: Capacity building to create sustainable land use systems


Transitioning to sustainable land use is essential to meet the diverse needs of people and nature, and to balance competing interests such as food security and biodiversity. This project seeks to lay the groundwork needed to form a transdisciplinary research system to address regional tensions blocking the just transition towards achieving  sustainability at a local and national level. Using an interconnected system of living labs and incorporating bottom-up processes, the project aims to encourage active and meaningful participation and engagement of stakeholders  to co-design context-specific solutions to sustainability barriers across the South Coast.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project addresses the following SDGs:

    SDG 2 – Zero Hunger
    SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
    SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 14 – Life Below Water
    SDG 15  Life on Land

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

The needs of people and nature are diverse and changing. In the UK, the homogenisation and intensification of land use systems have resulted in adequate levels of food production and self-sufficiency, but at the cost of ecosystem function and services. Effective sustainable land use systems are essential in meeting these, but are frequently marred by complex and dynamic problems often related to an individual’s  specific situation. Transitioning to sustainable land use systems is challenging due to these tensions and much of current mainstream policy framework lacks the adaptive and collaborative processes needed to address context-specific issues. By consolidating current collaborations and developing stakeholder capacity, the project team will aim to establish and formalise a regional research system within SSRP to catalyse the development of sustainable land use systems along England’s South Coast.

Research systems take an adaptive transdisciplinary approach to complex and dynamic challenges. Inspired by a wide range of methodologies and perspectives, transdisciplinary research systems can be used to formulate learning-centred frameworks to explore and resolve different locally specific barriers to sustainability. Living labs are conducive to analysing real-world circumstances and co-designing appropriate solutions. This project framework generates data from the field by equipping practitioners with tools, training and resources needed to address concerns and continually generate new and relevant data to help future sustainability processes.

The main purpose of establishing this research system with a wide range of stakeholders is to facilitate knowledge exchange and action-oriented research with the potential to address all SDGs. The specific focus of the hub will be directed by co-identified regional priorities. Research undertaken to date suggests key focal areas are likely to include SDGs 2 (Zero Hunger), 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water) and 15 (Life on Land).

The team will also focus on gathering evidence and sharing knowledge to determine how tensions between different sustainability goals and needs can be balanced. Whole estate plans produced for regional estates such as the Brighton & Hove Downland Estate, Knepp Estate and Wiston Estate highlight the diverse goals held by society, estates and small-hold stakeholders and the difficulty in providing for all these needs with finite resources. New regional projects seeking collaboration across large landscapes, such as Weald to Waves, are demonstrating tensions centred around sufficient affordable food production and life below water and life on land. The research conducted for the situation analysis will broadly assess the current performance of the land use systems in meeting sustainability goals and articulate the tensions and concerns of different stakeholders to facilitate the creation of a shared vision and pathways to delivery that balance sustainability goals. 

Timeline and funding


February 2023 - July 2023


SSRP funding (£16,752)


  • Organise exploratory meetings to discuss establishing the regional research hub with at least 40 potential partners, including: Sussex & Brighton University academics, land owners/managers, NGOs, community groups, government, and businesses
  • Conduct regional situation analyses, including a literature review and GIS analysis to identify the main needs for achieving sustainable land use systems
  • Facilitate workshops to 1) agree a common purpose and commitment statement, 2) to develop a plan of action and fundraising strategy, and 3) to formally establish the research partnership with stakeholders. 

Expected outcomes and impacts

The project is designed to build capacity within the South Coast region for society to transition to a sustainable future, with the primary outcome of creating a regional transdisciplinary research system. This partnership will offer important research opportunities to address specific context-related questions such as assessing how land management can balance the need for food production, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation and adaptation at different landscape levels. The partnership also aims to co-create a shared vision of a regional sustainable land use system, develop pathways, and establish a monitoring, assessment, and knowledge sharing system to support adaptive management to achieve the shared vision. The team hopes to equip stakeholder communities with the knowledge, training and tools to act semi-autonomously and overcome transition obstacles.

Co-developing a policy brief with local actors will help regional policymakers understand land use system sustainability tensions and needs, with the opportunity to consider potential policy solutions. The development of the research system will help policymakers and all engaged stakeholders to achieve individual and collective sustainability goals related to land use through co-created research and knowledge sharing. 

Opportunities for decent work and the financial viability of organisations is one of the diverse needs of people that will be a central consideration for transitioning to sustainable land use systems. The research system will provide the opportunity to investigate the economic outcomes and impacts of transitioning to different sectors and individual businesses. The project team will also aim to secure the long-term continuity of the hub by working on application outlines for relevant funding opportunities and already identified supportive philanthropists.

Moreover, the team will focus on consolidating partnerships with researchers and regional stakeholders established through previous projects, including: University of Sussex academics such as Adrian Ely, Beth Nicholls, Fiona Marshall, Lokendra Karki, Anna Rabinovich, Fiona Mathews, Mika Peck, Alan Stewart, Alice Eldridge; University of Brighton academics such as Rachel White, Nick Gant; Land owners and managers from Wiston, Knepp, Slindon, Goodwood, Danefold Farms, and others; NGOs such as the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership, Sussex Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Sussex Local Nature Partnership; Regional Government such as the South Downs National Park, Living Coast Biosphere, County Councils; and businesses such as Southern Water, So Sussex, Shoreham port.

In short, the project team aims to achieve the following:

  • Establish a South Coast sustainability research system through a network of living labs with a focus on sustainable land use systems
  • Conduct various situation analyses of different land-use practices and their potential to become more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable
  • Provide a funding application outline for relevant UKRI opportunities and already identified supportive philanthropists to support the partnership and research to resolve specific tensions
  • Develop a policy briefing highlighting the current regional land use system, research gaps and needs, and policy implications.

Related work

This proposal builds on the success of the SSRP project Delivering food security and biodiversity conservation through rewilding and community agriculture and has been catalysed in collaboration with project partner Richard Goring who contacted the PI having read the SSRP paper.

Read the full Policy Brief [PDF 2.31MB] about this SSRP project.

The team

Where we worked

South East England, UK.