Integrating modern and long-term ecology to inform UK peatland fire management in a changing climate

(WOODBRIDGE_P24ARIES) CASE studentship with Natural England

Integrating modern and long-term ecology to inform UK peatland fire management in a changing climate

(WOODBRIDGE_P24ARIES) CASE studentship with Natural England

Project Description


Dr Jessie Woodbridge, University of Plymouth – Contact me

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

Dr Gareth Clay, University of Manchester, School of Environment, Education and Development

Professor Ralph Fyfe, University of Plymouth, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Scientific background

Climate change is increasing wildfire risk globally. In the UK, peatland wildfires have been frequent and severe in recent years (1). Peatlands are important carbon-rich biodiverse ecosystems and wildfire can severely damage these ecosystems with significant environmental impacts (2). Fire has played an important role in shaping landscapes historically (3), but uncontrolled fires lead to loss of ecosystem function and reduced peatland carbon storage capacity (2). This research aims to inform future peatland fire management strategies and improve understanding of carbon loss following fire events. Information about recent and long-term past (palaeo) ecological trends (4) in response to fire, climate and vegetation change will be integrated with modern ecological research.

Research methodology

The research will be based within two National Parks (Peak District and Dartmoor) facing current and future wildfire challenges. This project will use palaeo-environmental indicators to investigate the relationships between vegetation (fossil pollen analysis (4)), fire activity (micro-charcoal analysis), climate, and carbon accumulation over centennial to millennial timescales to understand long-term patterns of change that lead to greater ecosystem resilience to fire (3). Remote-sensing maps will be used to evaluate patterns of peatland disturbance, vegetation loss and post-disturbance recovery. Fire modelling techniques (5) will be used to predict biomass and burned areas under different climate and fire frequency scenarios integrating past and modern ecological data. Post-fire carbon exchange will be evaluated through measuring CO2 flux in areas where wildfires have previously taken place. Spatial analysis and mapping techniques will be used to generate outputs with ArcGIS Online.


The supervisory team will provide training in microscopic pollen and charcoal analysis, carbon flux monitoring and data analysis. You will attend training courses on vegetation, climatic and fire modelling. Time will be spent with a partner organisation (Natural England) developing multidisciplinary skills. You will learn to use a range of computer software (e.g. GIS) and R programming.

Person specification

We seek an enthusiastic individual with a 2:1 degree grade or above within Geography, Environmental Science and related disciplines. Students from numerical disciplines are also encouraged to apply. Experience of long-term ecology, programming and/or fieldwork is desirable.


  • 1 Belcher, Clay, et al. (2021) UK Wildfires and their Climate Challenges. Expert led report prepared for the Third Climate Change Risk Assessment. (online: Accessed: July 2021.
  • 2 Wilkinson, Davidson, et al. (2023) Wildfire and degradation accelerate northern peatland carbon release. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-023-01657
  • 3 Connor, Woodbridge, et al. (2019) Humans take control of fire-driven diversity changes in Mediterranean Iberia’s vegetation during the mid–late Holocene. The Holocene. 29, 886-901. DOI: 10.1177/0959683619826652.
  • 4 Woodbridge, Fyfe, et al. (2021) What drives biodiversity patterns? Using long-term multi-disciplinary data to discern centennial-scale change. Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.13565.
  • 5 Benito et al. (2023) PalaeoFireModeling. [Online:]. Accessed: 9/8/23.

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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