Blog & Newsletters

#3 21st December 2022 (Rosalind Bark)

Pyramids of Life Newsletter #1

Newsletter December 2022.pdf

#2 22nd August 2022 (Andy Poyer & PoL Coordination Team)

Pyramids of Life Project Meeting, York, UK, 4th-5th July 2022

After nine months of Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings it was a pleasure to welcome a sizable contingent of the Pyramids of Life community to University of York for the first in-person project meeting. With everyone together in the same room for the first time this was an excellent opportunity to take stock of our progress to date, and to consider some of the main challenges that lie ahead.

We are fortunate to have numerous excellent early career researchers within the team, and thanks to the super work of colleagues at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the input of some extremely talented undergraduates undertaking summer studentships. The meeting therefore provided an opportunity for some of the younger members of the Pyramids of Life community to showcase their work, and to explain the contributions they’re making to the project. Rebecca Mulhern, a recently graduated undergraduate student, talked about her research looking at the supply and consumption of fish on the UEA campus using a student survey and interviews with campus food retailers and the sustainability team. Rebecca has also played a central role in the development of a Q methodology survey, which aims to help us understand peoples’ perceptions of sustainable seafood consumption and production. The Q survey, incorporating the artistic skills of another UEA undergraduate student Minh (Mia) Ta - who is also working on the campus research project - was piloted with attendees at the meeting with the help of Maria (Serena) Russo, am Erasmus trainee visiting student from the University of Siena.

Rebecca and Serena review the outcome of a Q methodology survey

Further contributions came from Max Dixon, a UCL MSc student undertaking his dissertation with Silvia Ferrini, who talked about his plans for research into the state of fishers’ trust in UK fisheries governance institutions, with a focus on two east coast shellfish fisheries at Whitby and Cromer, and Zelin Chen, a PhD student at the University of Essex under the supervision of project Co-I Eoin O’Gorman, gave a talk on the ecological implications of decommissioning strategies of man-made structures in the North Sea. Kennedy Osuka, a postdoc at the University of York rounded things off with an introduction to the Mizer model ( and the challenges of reconciling prey selection in the model with the reality of fish stomach contents data.

We were particularly pleased to be joined by three of our project partners, Bill Lart from Seafish, Andy Boulton from Waitrose, and Mike Cohen from the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO). The meeting was a valuable opportunity for the whole team to learn more about the work of our partners and to hear about their aspirations for the project. All three partners understand the aims of the project and it’s great that they are engaged and keen to collaborate. This has already manifested in practical terms with plans for both the co-production of a national consumer survey with Waitrose and the short term secondment of Pyramids researchers Kennedy Osuka and Gaetano Grilli, to Seafish and Waitrose, as well as through gaining access to trusted networks of fishers to participate in surveys. Face-to-face meetings allow our partners to be frank and to the point with us about the practicalities of what the project can achieve. It’s a real boon to have partners that are both able and willing to educate the research team about arcane aspects of the UK fisheries sector.

Of course another part of meeting up in-person is getting to enjoy social networking in the beautiful city of York. I think I can honestly say that the group looks happy and we all enjoyed the tapas.

Members of the Pyramids team enjoying some Tapas in York

#1 19th July 2022 (Andy Poyer & PoL Coordination Team)

Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources Inaugural Annual Conference, Bristol, UK, 9-11th May 2022

777 Days Later

With the small matter of 777 days separating the announcement of the first Covid-19 lockdown in the UK and the start of the inaugral Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources (SMMR) annual conference, it was with much excitement and enthusiasm, and perhaps no small degree of trepidation - at least amongst those presenting - that 100 or so attendees (plus 60 virtual ones) gathered in the early afternoon of Monday 9th May 2022 on the panoramic 5th floor of the Holland House Mercure Hotel.

This was the first opportunity for members of the SMMR programme including researchers from the funded SMMR projects along with other marine scientists, policy makers, and wider members of the UK marine stakeholder community, to meet in person since the six projects commenced on 1st October 2021. With 22 talks spread over four sessions – 1. SMMR-funded project updates, 2. Understanding the values of the marine environment, 3. Building tools to support management, 4. Designing interventions to support policy – a veritable smorgasbord of marine management topics was covered, with the six funded projects encompassing such diverse subjects as Seagrass restoration (ReSOW), green coastal engineering (Co-Opt), marine spatial planning (MSPACE), coastal community resilience (ROCC), the integration of diverse values into marine management (link), and last but not least, fish (Pyramids of Life).

Day One

Following a warm welcome by David Paterson and Mark James, the SMMR Champions - or ‘Facilitators’ as favoured by David - in the first of two keynote talks Sir Ian Boyd delivered a clarion call for UK Marine Scientists to work together ever more closely to build enhanced capacity within the community. Citing the high levels of awareness of the Climate Crisis in the public consciousness, Sir Ian laid out a vision for a more dynamic and impactful future for Marine Science research in the UK and beyond, achieved through the integration of expertise across disciplines, creating a truly transdisciplinary approach to research. Sir Ian argued that under strong and effective leadership, this approach could deliver the impactful research required to influence policy and affect positive change of marine management practices in the UK.

Delivering the 2nd keynote talk, Sarah Adcock, Deputy Director in Ocean Sustainability at Defra, also focused on the importance of Science in delivering high quality evidence to inform policy decisions. Sarah highlighted the integration of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Marine Science as a real strength of the SMMR programme, producing research that takes into account impacts on everyday lives. Sarah also stressed how the programme embraces another novel form of integration, that between policy and research. Defra was embedded in the programme from the start, and as a result, it already feels like a ‘shared community’, the importance of which can not be understated if the programme is to achieve its lofty ambitions.

With the introductions and key notes delivered, it was time for the researchers to take centre stage. Whilst numerous presenters commented on the strangeness of standing in front of a large audience for the first time in many months, the succession of superb talks belied any lingering nerves or ring rustiness. The Monday afternoon session was dedicated to the six funded SMMR projects with the six principal investigators all providing excellent overviews of their respective research.

Day Two

The short 10 minute talk format ensured that a great breadth of topics could be covered on day two across three themed sessions. Personal highlights from the values of the marine environment session included talks on the representations of the coast in social media (Eva McGrath, Plymouth University), the relationship between a marginalised coastal community and the nearby ocean (Lindy Brown, Plymouth University), and the contrasting values and meanings associated with the Goodwin Sands (Kathryn Collins, Newcastle University). The tools to support management session saw a focus on Marine Natural Capital accounting, with Jo Bayes (Natural England) providing an interesting overview of how such an approach has been applied to the North Sea sandeel fishery, with the outcomes influencing policy decisions. The final session on interventions to support policy included talks on the influence of legislation on adaptive governance for inshore marine conservation (George Hoppit, Bristol University), the potential risks posed to High Seas marine ecosystems under the currently negotiated terms of the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Agreement (David Ong, Nottingham Trent University), and a suitably enthusiastic introduction to the Motion for the Ocean, a means for local authorities to declare their commitment to a clean, healthy and productive ocean (Pamela Buchanan, University of Exeter and Nicola Bridge, Ocean Conservation Trust).

Day two proceedings were rounded off by Louisa Evans (PI for the ROCC project, University of Exeter), with an introduction to the SMMR Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT SuMMeR)..

Pyramids of Life at the SMMR Conference

The Pyramids of Life project was superbly represented at the conference on many fronts. Prof Jon Pitchford, Dr Murray Thompson, Dr Gustav Delius, and Dr Silvia Ferrini all delivered excellent talks, Dr Sarah Collings (University of West of England) - who deserves a special thanks - facilitated a thought provoking workshop on behavioural change, and Amy Shurety and Zelin Chan – PhD student’s from the University of Essex – presented posters on the environment impacts of overfishing and climate change on northern marine food webs (Shurety), and the ecological implications of decommissioning strategies of man-made structures in the North Sea (Chen). Richard Law, Kennedy Osuka, Gaetano Grilli, and Andy Poyer were also in attendance.

The four talks

Talk 1 (Jon Pitchford) - Do not adjust your monitor! This talk is about fish.

Perhaps a risky opening gambit for a presentation at a conference dedicated to the sustainable management of UK marine resources, but our intrepid PI Jon Picthford pulled it off with aplomb, even finding time to talk about the Pyramids of Life approach, outlined in the slide below.

Murray Thompson kept on topic from the off, building on Jon’s introduction by taking the delegation on a deeper dive into marine ecosystem structure and function, which included a first preview of some embryonic biomass and species pyramids based on otter trawl fish survey data.

Talk 2 (Murray Thompson) - Spinning Tops of Life? Small fish are under-represented at the base of the pyramids because otter trawls are not designed to survey smaller fish, or flat-fish. We’ll be working on how to generate better estimates of their populations from other survey data including acoustic and beam trawls.

With the Pyramids of Life approach now indelibly inked on everyones’ minds, Gustav Delius set about extolling the virtues of Mizer (Multi-Species Size Spectrum Modelling in R), the means by which we can encode our knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems in a mathematical model, then numerically simulate changes in anthropogenic pressures, for example, increasing or decreasing fishing effort, to predict the consequences on that ecosystem.

Talk 3 (Gustav Delius) - why we need multi-species size-spectrum modelling - in a nut(mollusc)shell.

And last but by no means least, joining us from her kitchen table, Silvia Ferrini laid out a suite of interventions and instruments that could help support a more sustainable approach to UK fisheries.

Talk 4 (Silvia Ferrini) - a more balanced pyramid of policies would encourage consumers/producers to eat/source fish sustainably: locally caught and diverse species

Overall, the SMMR conference represented an excellent few days spent meeting new people and learning about the varied and interesting marine based research currently being undertaken in the UK. The SMMR management team and Mindfully Wired did a great job organising the conference and ensuring everything ran smoothly.