Finding the Feel-Good Factor: Relating Human Subjective Wellbeing to Biodiversity

CASE award with Natural England and the RSPB (DAVIES_K19AS)

Finding the Feel-Good Factor: Relating Human Subjective Wellbeing to Biodiversity

CASE award with Natural England and the RSPB (DAVIES_K19AS)

Project Description

This project has been shortlisted for joint NERC-ESRC funding, with the SeNSS ESRC Doctoral Training Partnership


Prof Zoe Davies (University of Kent)

Prof Jay Mistry (Geography, Royal Holloway University of London)

Dr Robert Fish (University of Kent)

Dr Martin Dallimer (University of Leeds)

Dr Katherine Irvine (James Hutton Institute)

Dr Richard Bradbury (RSPB)

Dr Dave Stone (Natural England)


We live in a time of profound environmental change. Phenomena such as urbanisation and agricultural intensification are degrading ecosystems and decreasing biodiversity. Yet, while it is widely asserted in research, policy and practice arenas that interacting with nature is fundamental to human subjective wellbeing, there is little evidence characterising how biodiversity underpins this accepted truth. This PhD tackles this challenging problem by working across the disciplines of human geography, environmental psychology and ecology.


(1) Explore how people relate to different biodiversity attributes (e.g. particular morphologies, sounds, smells, ecological behaviours), both positively and negatively.
(2) Quantify variation in how people value different biodiversity attributes in relation to their social characteristics/identities (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, experience of rural-urban living).
(3) Examine whether increased biodiversity awareness/knowledge and biodiversity on sites interact to deliver non-additive wellbeing benefits.

Research methods

The studentship will entail a mixed methods approach:
(1) Thematic analyses of how motifs, imagery and sounds centred on human relationships with woodland biodiversity attributes are conveyed in the arts (e.g. paintings, film, music).
(2) Participatory video with local communities to investigate people’s interactions and relationships with woodland biodiversity attributes.
(3) In-situ and online questionnaires to assess human subjective wellbeing, biodiversity awareness and the (un)desirability of woodland biodiversity attributes.
(4) Biodiversity manipulations and surveys in woodland sites to relate to wellbeing results obtained from the questionnaires.


Depending on the successful candidate’s background, training could include biodiversity survey skills, quantitative and qualitative social science data collection and analytical techniques (e.g. participatory visual methods, questionnaire design, NVivo, R), academic skills (e.g. writing journal papers, interdisciplinary collaboration), and transferable skills (e.g. multi-media communication, time management, collaboration with government and non-academic partners).

Person specification

We are seeking a highly motivated individual, excited by the prospect of conducting cutting-edge interdisciplinary research. He/she will demonstrate enthusiasm for working collaboratively with social scientists, ecologists, conservation NGOs and government agencies. The successful candidate will have a BSc in conservation, ecology, zoology, environmental sciences, geography or psychology. He/she will be keen to undertake both ecological and social fieldwork, and have an interest in applying qualitative and quantitative methods.


  • Dallimer M, Irvine KN, Skinner AMJ, Davies ZG, Armsworth PR, Rouquette JR, Maltby LL, Warren PH, Gaston KJ (2012). Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. BioScience 62: 47-55
  • Fish R, Church A, Winter M (2016). Conceptualising cultural ecosystem services: a novel framework for research and critical engagement. Ecosystem Services 21: 208-217
  • Marselle MR, Irvine KN, Lorenzo-Arribas A, Warber SL (2016). Does perceived restorativeness mediate the effects of perceived biodiversity and perceived naturalness on emotional well-being following group walks in nature? Journal of Environmental Psychology 46: 217-232
  • Mistry J, Berardi A, Haynes L, Davis D, Xavier R, Andries J (2013). The role of social memory in natural resource management: insights from participatory video. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39: 115-127
  • Pett TJ, Shwartz A, Irvine KN, Dallimer M, Davies ZG (2016). Unpacking the people-biodiversity paradox: a conceptual framework. BioScience 66: 576-583

Open for applications

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