Regenerative agriculture on lowland peat; an oxymoron?


Regenerative agriculture on lowland peat; an oxymoron?


Project Description


Professor William Blake, University of Plymouth – Contact me

Dr Scott Davidson, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth

Dr Jennifer  Rowntree, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Professor Brian Reid, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia


Sustainably intensifying agricultural production and meeting UK targets for net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions requires a detailed understanding of GHG sources and sinks. In the UK, drainage of lowland peatlands (waterlogged, high carbon soils) to sustain highly productive agriculture is important for UK food security, but drying peatland causes peat degradation. While intact peatlands are long-term carbon stores they also emit GHGs. Drained peatlands, for different reasons are also GHG sources (Evans et al., 2022). This project aims to unravel the complex trade-offs linked to peatland management and sustainable food production.

Research Methodology

To achieve this, you will quantify the influence of rapid transition to regenerative farming principles on exemplar high carbon peat soils (Cambridgeshire Fens) on soils properties, GHGs and yields. Using regenerative farming trials, led by G’s Fresh Ltd, as an experimental living lab, you will develop and apply novel tools to track change in soil biology, chemistry and physical states before, during and after transition. With specific attention to carbon, your research will provide important evidence to inform future adoption and debates on the role of regenerative methods to leverage green financing (Keenor et al., 2021).


Training will be provided in field survey and sampling techniques, experimental design, statistics and data manipulation/presentation. In terms of analytical skills, soil microbial assessment (e.g. microbial biomass, metabarcoding; Craig et al., 2021) and assessments of soil biological activity (e.g. enzyme assays), quantification of GHG flux (Davidson et al., 2023), soil nutrient and carbon assessment including evaluation of sensor (near infra red spectroscopy and proximal gamma spectrometry) technology as rapid on-site screening tools (Taylor et al., 2023).

Person Specification

Applicants should hold a BSc in a suitable discipline to develop required field and laboratory activities e.g., environmental sciences, geography, biology. A proven commitment to evaluating potential for land management innovation to support sustainability goals will be an advantage.


  • 1 Evans et al., 2022 Aligning the peatland code with the UK peatland inventory. Report to Defra and the IUCN Peatland Programme, Bidwells Consultants
  • 2 Keenor, S. G., Rodrigues, A. F., Mao, L., Latawiec, A. E., Harwood, A. R., Reid, B. J. (2021). Capturing a soil carbon economy. Royal Society open science, 8(4), 202305.Keenor, S. G., Rodrigues, A. F., Mao, L., Latawiec, A. E., Harwood, A. R., Reid, B. J. (2021). Capturing a soil carbon economy. Royal Society open science, 8(4), 202305.
  • 3 Craig H., Antwis R.E., Cordero I. Ashworth D., Robinson C.H., Osborne T.Z., Bardgett R.D., Rowntree J.K., Simpson L.T. (2021) Nitrogen addition alters composition, diversity and functioning of microbial communities in mangrove soils: an incubation experiment. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 153:108976
  • 4 Davidson SJ, Daze E, Byun E, Hiler D, Kangur M, Talbot J, Finkelstein S & Strack M (2022) 'The unrecognized importance of carbon stocks and fluxes from Swamps in Canada and the USA' Environmental Research Letters, 17, 053003
  • 5 Taylor, A., Kalnins, A., Koot, M., Jackson, R., Toloza, A., Said Ahmed, H., Goddard, R., Blake, W.H. 2023. Portable gamma spectrometry for rapid assessment of soil texture, organic carbon and total nitrogen in agricultural soils. Journal of Soils Sediments, 23, pg 2556–2563

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications open

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