Funded Opportunity: How and Where Should we Expand UK Woodlands to Benefit People and Biodiversity?

Joint studentship with the SeNSS ESRC DTP and CASE studentship with Woodland Trust (DAVIES_K21AS)

Funded Opportunity: How and Where Should we Expand UK Woodlands to Benefit People and Biodiversity?

Joint studentship with the SeNSS ESRC DTP and CASE studentship with Woodland Trust (DAVIES_K21AS)

Project Description


Prof Zoe Davies (University of Kent) contact me

Dr Hazel Jackson (Woodland Trust)

Dr Robert Fish (University of Kent)

Professor Robert Smith (University of Kent)

Dr Martin Dallimer (University of Leeds)


We live in a time of profound environmental change due to climate collapse, land-use change, biotic homogenisation and species declines. The UK government has pledged to increase woodland cover from ~13% to ~19% to help achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This could also have important implications for conservation, as 10% of UK woodland species are threatened with extinction and 53% are declining. How and where we expand tree cover therefore represents an unprecedented opportunity to transform our nation into a better place for people and biodiversity. This PhD will work across disciplines (conservation, ecology, human geography, environmental psychology, environmental economics) to explore how to maximise social and ecological benefits.

Research objectives and methodology

(1) Use mixed methods (e.g. focus groups, citizen juries, contingent ranking, Q methodology) to assess private landowner willingness to protect, restore or create woodland, through various initiatives (e.g. woodland creation grants).
(2) Use mixed methods to understand and quantify the people’s preferences for different woodland types (e.g. native/introduced species, ancient woodlands, plantations), species (e.g. rare species, species they can encounter), accessibility (e.g. distance from home, woodland size), and use/non-use ecosystem service values (e.g. recreation, carbon sequestration and storage).
(3) Use existing biodiversity data, and the findings from (1) and (2), within spatial conservation prioritisation software to determine where best to protect, restore and create woodland to maximise biodiversity and social benefits.


Depending on the candidate’s background, training could include use of systematic conservation planning/prioritisation software (e.g. Marxan, Zonation), ArcGIS/QGIS, social science data collection and analysis (e.g. participatory methods, questionnaire design, NVivo, R), academic skills (e.g. writing journal papers), and transferable skills (e.g. multi-media communication, time management). The individual will also collaborate with the research, evidence and policy teams at Woodland Trust.

Person specification

A highly motivated individual, excited by the prospect of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research of policy relevance. He/she will demonstrate enthusiasm for working collaboratively with social scientists and ecologists, have an interest in applying qualitative and quantitative methods, strong analytical skills and, ideally, GIS expertise. The successful candidate will have a BSc in conservation, ecology, environmental sciences or geography.


  • Gardner CJ, Bicknell JE, Balwin-Cantello W, Struebig MJ, Davies ZG (2019). Quantifying the impacts of defaunation on natural forest regeneration worldwide. Nature Communications 10: 4590
  • Maund PM, Irvine KN, Dallimer M, Fish R, Austen GE, Davies ZG. Do ecosystem service frameworks represent people's values? Ecosystem Services (in review)
  • Davies ZG, Dallimer M, Fish R, Irvine KN, Maund PM, Austen GE. Embedding biodiversity at the heart of human-nature interactions. Nature Ecology and Evolution (in review)
  • Smith RJ, et al (2018). Synergies between the key biodiversity area and systematic conservation planning approaches. Conservation Letters 12: e12625
  • Bicknell JE, Collins MB, Pickles RSA, McCann NP, Bernard CR, Fernandes DJ, Miller MGR, James SM, Williams AU, Struebig MJ, Davies ZG & Smith RJ (2017). Designing protected area networks that translate international conservation commitments into national action. Biological Conservation 214: 168-175

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. 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 in the subject area.
  • 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 significant relevant non-academic 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.

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