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Catch 22: University of York researcher featured in new marine conservation film - inspired by hit BBC series 'Wild Isles'

Posted on 26 April 2023

A new campaigning film made by the same team who devised the acclaimed BBC series ‘Wild Isles’ has been released, featuring University of York research that aims to transform the way businesses think about marine life and the UK’s coastline.

Bryce Stewart in Sargassum with blue jellyfish

Catch 22 showcases the world-leading expertise of the University of York’s Dr Bryce Stewart. It aims to tackle the UK’s biodiversity crisis in marine habitats and makes clear the damage being caused, not just to wildlife,but also to the UK economy, businesses and livelihoods.

 ‘Catch 22’ is free to watch here.  

Natural world

Alongside the campaigning film, a series of downloadable resources to help organisations and businesses have less impact on the natural world are being made available through the Save Our Wild Isles website. The campaigning film was made by the Wild Isles production company Silverback Films and was the result of a special partnership between the nature conservation charities RSPB, WWF and the National Trust. 

Research from the University of York was also featured in David Attenborough’s major BBC Wild Isles show that was broadcast on BBC1 in March and April and is still available on iPlayer. 

Academics in York are hoping it will inspire a greater awareness of marine environmental issues and help to inspire “ocean optimism” by showing that solutions are available to help tackle these issues. 


The University’s research into a ‘No Take’ zone off the coast of the Isle of Arran in Scotland was profiled in the final episode of Wild Isles. The research examined how the community-backed project, set up by the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), is helping to tackle the effects of decades of overfishing and accompanying loss of biodiversity - kickstarting a return of wildlife to the waters with some species increasing by nearly four-fold since the No Take zone was introduced. 

Now, Dr Bryce Stewart a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist from the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, is featured in a campaigning Wild Isles spin-off programme ‘Catch 22’. 

In the film, Dr Stewart joins entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, conservationist Professor Dan Laffoley from the IUCN and Pete Kibbel, Managing Director and co-founder of Fishtek Marine, among others, to highlight the loss of biodiversity in our seas, but also how things can be turned around.


Dr Stewart said: “Wild Isles has been a landmark television series, it has inspired people to see the United Kingdom and its remarkable nature in a whole new light. To hear Sir David Attenborough quoting from our research on national television was a special moment and highlights the impact of the work being done by the Environment and Geography Department.

"I am incredibly proud of both our long running partnership with COAST, and our many students who have worked so hard to collect these scientific data over the years. The film highlights some of the work that needs to be done here but also underlines both the beauty of Britain’s biodiversity and some of the ‘ocean optimism’ I think we need to share. There are some remarkable success stories of industry working alongside ecologists here in really dynamic and unique ways - it was a superb opportunity to share our research with David Attenborough and the Wild Isles team.”

‘Catch 22’ recommends four key solutions to improving the health of the ocean. Reforming fishing practices, sustainable quotas, marine protected areas, protecting blue carbon and a holistic plan for our seas are all explained in clear and jaron-free ways in the impact-focused film. 


It is hoped the campaigning film is a fantastic way to engage with businesses and organisations who can make small changes to improve the quality of Britain’s waters. Dr Stewart added: “I’m hopeful that this campaigning film will move things from awareness to action. There are so many things businesses can do to make incremental improvements that could have a huge impact on British waters. I’m happy to come into businesses both here in Yorkshire and nationwide to screen this film, host Q&As and help kickstart new ways of working that will protect the future of our waters.”

The Lamlash Bay No Take Zone in Arran was established by the Scottish government, in 2008, after decades of overfishing. The designation means that the 2.67 sq km zone is completely protected from all forms of fishing from its waters or seabed. The zone, the first of its type in Scotland, was the result of years of campaigning by local community group the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST), who had witnessed the dramatic decline of fish stocks all around Arran.

A recent University of York study found that there were nearly four times more king scallops in the area since 2010. The size of adult scallops has also increased and more juvenile scallops have appeared. Lobsters are also benefiting with growing numbers of larger lobsters and evidence of lobster ‘spillover’ into surrounding areas.


Dive surveys show the seabed is recovering after damage caused by fishing with trawls and dredges, with the growth of structurally complex ‘nursery habitats’ which provide refuge for marine life.

Dr Stewart added: “We’re so proud of our work in Arran. The research is so important because it has helped to deliver international recognition for the conservation successes and is inspiring greater involvement of local communities around the UK and further afield. Evidence from Lamlash Bay has supported the development of strong protection for marine protected areas, at times seeing off lobbyist efforts to weaken management.

“Local communities around the UK have looked at the story unfolding in Lamlash Bay and have decided to take the destiny of their coastal waters into their own hands. The lesson from Arran is that with community support, strong science and political will, we can start to recover our seas. If any coastal communities are looking for help or support to start similar schemes I’d urge them to get in touch, we can clearly see the transformational impact this work can have.”

Sir David Attenborough

Wild Isles is a series for BBC One and iPlayer and was made by Silverback Films. Co-produced by The Open University, the RSPB and WWF. It was commissioned by Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Science and Natural History. The Executive Producer is Alastair Fothergill and the Series Producer is Hilary Jeffkins.

Aerial photography revealed the beauty of the British and Irish countryside and oceans, as it has never been seen before. Motion controlled time-lapse photography brings to life the story of the passing seasons; the latest low light cameras uncover the secret nocturnal lives of many of our favourite animals; and macro photography reveals the miniature worlds of rock pools, ponds and grasslands. The series was shot at 4K resolution allowing for an ultra-high definition television delivery.

Sir David Attenborough said: “In my long lifetime, I have travelled to almost every corner of our planet. I can assure you that in the British Isles, as well as astonishing scenery there are extraordinary animal dramas and wildlife spectacles to match anything I have seen on my global travels.”

Further information:

The film is available to watch on YouTube, click here.

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