Influence of man-made structures in the ecosystem


Projects funded since 2014

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An estimated 30,000 km2 of the marine environment worldwide is host to manmade infrastructure and recent studies have shown that in addition to structural changes at these sites the abundance and diversity of sea-life is also modified.

After a successful foundation phase of research, the INSITE Programme is committed to developing a deeper understanding of the impact and role of man-made structures in the marine environment, specifically that of the North Sea.

Dickon Howell

The administration of the programme is led by Dickon Howell as Programme Director.

Dickon Howell is Professor of Practice at Newcastle University School of Natural and Environmental Science as well as director and founder of Howell Marine Consulting. He is an expert in policy development with a track record of bringing together regulators, scientists and politicians to find solutions on sustainability within the marine environment and has advised governments on biodiversity conservation and many other issues affecting offshore activity

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The Programme Advisory Group (PAG) is responsible for determining the scientific direction of the Programme. The PAG is made up of the following members.

Professor Sir Ian Boyd

University of St Andrews (Chair)+ Read More- Read Less

Professor Murray Roberts

University of Edinburgh+ Read More- Read Less

Professor John Shepherd

Southampton University+ Read More- Read Less

Professor Dickon Howell

Newcastle+ Read More- Read Less

Professor Rachel Mills

Southampton University+ Read More- Read Less

Professor Beth Scott

Aberdeen University+ Read More- Read Less

Professor Tracy Shimmield

Lyell Centre+ Read More- Read Less

The North Sea


The goal of the programme is to improve scientific knowledge of the effects of man’s activity on the ecology of the North Sea.

Some 98.5 percent of the North Sea is characterised by a sandy and muddy seabed, in contrast to the greater proportion of hard substrate (or rocky bottom) that existed in the past and is believed to have supported greater biodiversity of the marine ecology.

Man-made structures such as offshore platforms, pipelines and renewable energy installations are thought to have a role in increasing biodiversity, but research on this has previously been limited.

The INSITE programme is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (£5 million) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (£0.6 million), and is sponsored by an industry partnership of North Sea asset operators (£1.9 million).

INSITE Timeline

The Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) Decommissioning Baseline Study Joint Industry Project (JIP) from 2011-2013 was the starting point for INSITE.

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The INSITE Programme is created as a Joint Industry Partnership (JIP) with support from oil and gas operators with North Sea assets

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The first call for proposals is issued to scientists inviting submissions for funding for projects addressing the two areas of research as set out in the INSITE foundation phase.

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£1.8 million of funding is announced in support of INSITE foundation projects to conclude in late 2017



The first Structures in the Marine Environment Conference is held in Glasgow. Attended by over 100 scientists and industry representatives

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NERC issues an announcement of opportunity for funding worth £5 million for projects addressing 3 scientific challenges of INSITE

Latest Research Projects

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INSITE Overall Synthesis Project 2021-2023

Principal Investigator:
Paul Somerfield

Plymouth Marine Laboratory

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Autonomous Techniques for anthropogenic Structure Ecological Assessment (ATSEA)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Daniel Jones

National Oceanography Centre

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Decommissioning - Relative Effects of Alternative Management Strategies (DREAMS)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Paul Somerfield, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Plymouth Marine Laboratory

+ Read More

EcoSTAR: Ecosystem level importance of STructures as Artificial Reefs

Principal Investigator:
Dr Debbie Russell

University of St Andrews

+ Read More


What is INSITE?

INSITE is a programme of research which seeks to understand the influence of man made structures on the ecology of the North Sea.

How is the Programme funded?

The INSITE programme is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (£5 million) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (£0.6 million), and is sponsored by an industry partnership of North Sea asset operators (£1.9 million).

In what way is industry involved in the Programme?

When established in 2014 the Programme was set up as a Joint Industry Partnership with funding from a number of industry partners for Phase 1 research. In Phase 2, research for the seven main projects is carried out under the NERC/CEFAS partnership. The industry partnership provides in-kind support, site and data access for the projects, while their funds are used for programme management, communications and events, and running INSITEs impact programme, data initiative (INSITE Interactive), PhD training programme and two further applied projects (Synthesis and Plastics investigation).

Which Organisations have contributed funding to the Programme?

The Foundation Phase of the Programme was funded by a group of eight international energy companies: BP, Centrica, CNR International, ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Shell, Talisman–Sinopec and Total.

In the second and current phase of research is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, with in kind support, site and data access provided by Chevron, Total, BP, Taqa, ExxonMobil, Shell and CNRI

How do these organisations support the Programme?

The Natural Environment Research Council supports the delivery of the cutting-edge science across the Programme. The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science provide links across the scientific community as well as in-house scientists. The industry partners provide in kind support to the research projects, as well as access to offshore assets for survey work and data access to industry held data.

What are the scientific priorities for the Programme?

Under its foundation phase the INSITE Scope Framework was developed to encourage the scientific community to concentrate on delivering against the Programme’s objectives rather than a prescriptive scope of work.

Who is on the Programme Advisory Group

The Program Advisory Group (PAG) chaired by Professor Sir Ian Boyd, is made up of leaders from the marine science community. This group is responsible for the scientific direction of the Programme. Biographies of all members of the PAG are available above.

How is the Programme structured and over what timeframe?

The Foundation Phase concluded in December 2017. The findings and conclusions from these projects have informed the second Phase of the Programme awarded by NERC and are now underway (2020- 2022). Outcomes from phase 2 are expected in 2022. An additional INSITE PhD Scholarship Programme was launched in 2020 and is expected to run until 2023.

How many research projects have been awarded funding?

Seven projects, led out of UK institutions have been awarded grants in Phase 2. Details of these and Foundation projects can be found here.

Which geographic areas are of interest to the Programme?

INSITE is interested in the area known as ‘Region II, The Greater North Sea’ under OSPAR’s definition. It is the region which has the most man-made structures in it and excludes west of Shetland. The east Irish Sea may be included if it can be demonstrated that it is relevant to the Greater North Sea region. It includes all national jurisdictions within this area.

How have you sought input from other stakeholders to the scope of the project?

Meetings were held in December 2013 to gather feedback from a broad cross-section of stakeholders on the proposed scope framework for the Programme. This feedback has been included in the RfP and is available in the Downloads section, together with lists of the organisations which were represented at the meetings.

What man-made structures are of interest to INSITE?

Structures of interest include steel and concrete oil and gas installations, pipelines and renewable energy structures. Shipwrecks are also considered relevant in providing an analogue of a structure of known age.

Who decided which proposals will receive funding and that the Programme outcomes are of the highest scientific quality?

It is the responsibility of the Programme Advisory Group (PAG) to recommend funding awards from the proposals which it believes will best deliver on the Programme’s objectives. The PAG is responsible in ensuring that the Programme delivers the highest quality science.

When research is completed, how will the outcomes be made available to the wider interested community?

The INSITE Programme is committed to seeing the outcomes from the research published in peer reviewed scientific journals in order to facilitate access to and use of the findings by all stakeholders. It is a requirement of the Programme that outcomes from all contracted research will be published in this way by the researchers. Publications from the Foundation Phase are available here.

Does INSITE have any links to any other initiatives?

INSITE is an entirely independent programme and has no links to any other programmes. Independence is of paramount importance to the validity of the outcomes from INSITE and the reputation of the Programme and those associated with it.

Why are there no sponsors from the renewables sector?

As the original concept for INSITE was facilitated by Oil & Gas UK, the core sponsor group to make the Programme viable was sought from its membership who had participated in previous studies. It is however recognized that the Programme is as relevant for renewable structures as oil and gas structures and we would welcome hearing from companies in the global renewable energy sector who may be interested in becoming sponsors of INSITE.


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