PhD in Exploring future fire regimes through modelling, valuation and narratives (Closing date 15 Apr 2024)

PhD in Exploring future fire regimes through modelling, valuation and narratives (Closing date 15 Apr 2024)

About the Project

Project Description

Understanding both the physical drivers and human dimensions of future fire regimes is vital for identifying appropriate contemporary policies and governance to achieve sustainability and conservation goals. Dynamic physical feedbacks between fire, vegetation and climate cannot be ignored if accurate assessments of future ecosystem service provision are to be made. Similarly, the values, knowledge and livelihoods of residents cannot be ignored if equitable and just decision-making processes – likely incorporating physical assessments – are to ensure sustainable landscapes. While many technical tools have been developed to model spatio-temporal processes (e.g. agent-based and simulation models of landscape fire) and evaluate environmental scenarios (e.g. the InVEST models for mapping and valuing ecosystem services), their use for enabling change can be ineffective where they are untrusted because of poorly-understood, incomplete, obscured or contested representation of processes and decisions. Stakeholder-centred and participatory approaches can improve engagement with modelling tools, and narratives have been proposed as an intermediary between formal (simulation) model structures and aggregated (statistical) summaries of model output to improve interpretation, understanding and learning by non-modellers.

Taking a socio-ecological systems approach, this project will investigate the use of simulation (e.g. agent-based) modelling and spatial valuation of nature tools in participatory ways and to generate narratives about desired, possible, and avoidable future fire regimes and governance. For example, many landscapes of southern Europe have experienced rural outmigration and associated land abandonment in recent decades. The resulting changes in vegetation, combined with increased climate variability and wider policy agendas, is posing challenging questions about how land and fire should be managed for multiple economic, social and environmental benefits into the future. What land and fire uses should be permitted, incentivised or banned? Who benefits from these different options? Developing novel approaches to explore trade-offs and to generate narratives of possible future landscapes are central aims of this interdisciplinary project. Mediterranean landscapes are a prime candidate for this study and the supervision team has existing contacts in Spain (but suggestions from applicants for other study locations are possible). The project will likely require a combination of qualitative, quantitative and simulation methods – utilising spatial, environmental, social and economic data – to represent environmental processes and human decisions through modelling. Participatory research with local stakeholders and collaborators will lead to the most innovative and valuable outcomes.

Studentship Overview

The studentship will be supervised by Dr James Millington and Prof Kate Schreckenberg in the Department of Geography at King’s College London. Rooted in landscape ecology and environmental geography, Dr Millington’s research focuses on human impacts and interactions with wildfires and the drivers and consequences of land use and land cover change, often using computational or statistical models. Prof Schreckenberg’s research focuses on the governance of natural resources with a particular interest in community-based resource management and equity in the context of ecosystem services.

The student will be part of the Physical & Environmental Geography (P&EG) and Political Ecology, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (PEBES) research groups within the Department of Geography. The Department is home to around 120 PhD students and provides an exciting and supportive environment for students to take forward innovative research projects.

The student will be funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society ( established in 2019. The Centre comprises social and natural scientists from Imperial College, King’s College London, Royal Holloway and University of Reading, working together to create a new, integrative science of wildfire. The student will therefore join a vibrant interdisciplinary research community with a common vision of producing evidence-based understanding of the human-fire nexus that can help inform policy and practice.

How to apply

The applicant will have a good undergraduate degree in geography an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a masters degree or equivalent in a relevant field. The successful candidate will preferably have experience with spatial data analysis and computational modelling and possibly experience working with local stakeholders to identify challenges and understand priorities. They will have experience of writing to a high standard, and a willingness to work in interdisciplinary teams with stakeholders and collaborators.

Applicants should submit:

i) A CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references;

ii) A cover letter outlining and demonstrating how their qualifications, experience, and interests make them suitable to pursue the research outlined above, including possible ideas for how they might focus the work on particular questions;

iii) Examples of written and/or technical work (e.g. previous dissertations, papers, data visualisations, code via GitHub).

These should be sent by email to  by 15/04/2024 with “Future Fire PhD” as the subject. Interviews will take place in April 2024 with an expected September 2024 start. Please state your start date availability within your application.

For further information on the project, please contact .

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded at UKRI stipend rates paid for four years (for 2024/2025 this is £21,237 per annum, including London allowance) paid for four years. The studentship will also cover Home Fees (UKRI rate) (with possibility of international fees being covered, awaiting decision) for three years, and writing-up fees for the final year. There will be support funding for fieldwork and conference attendance.

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