PhD Studentship: The complexity of adopting environmental management, conservation and restoration initiatives within fire-prone landscapes

PhD Studentship: The complexity of adopting environmental management, conservation and restoration initiatives within fire-prone landscapes

Project description

There is a global push to better manage, conserve and restore ecosystems to mitigate the climate and biodiversity crisis. For example, restoration targets such as the Bonn challenge – aiming to restore 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2030 – encourage widespread forest restoration. At the same time, the frequency and intensity of fires is increasing, killing people, destroying property and ecosystems and fuelling the climate change and biodiversity crisis. In general, a greater amount of vegetation within the land increases the likelihood of wildfires spreading. Thus, there is a tension between the international push for healthier and more natural ecosystems and the increasing threat of wildfire as a result of climate change.  A nuanced understanding of the complexity of landholder decisions within fire-prone landscapes is needed to develop policies that acknowledge this disconnect and better reflect the landholder’s concerns.

This project seeks to investigate how a landholder’s perception and use of fire influences their decisions on how to manage, conserve or restore ecosystems within their land, aiming to inform environmental policy within fire prone landscapes. 

For example, adoption of forest restoration initiatives focussed on landscapes threatened by fire can pose multiple risks to a landholder, thus decreasing their likelihood of adoption.  The risk that the landholder’s property is threatened by fire as fuel to burn accumulates increases. Additionally, the benefits of restoration (e.g. carbon storage, water retention, biodiversity) are also more uncertain, and so are potential financial incentives associated to these benefits.

On the other hand, fire can also be part of the restoration initiative and decrease the perceived risk of wildfire. For example, in Australia, the uptake of indigenous fire management (e.g. Kimberley Land Council’s Indigenous fire management program) is increasing as it reduced the risk of wildfires and protects habitats for numerous species and overall ecosystem health.  

Specifically, this project focuses on (1) how adoption of environmental management, conservation and restoration programs is influenced by fire and (2) the impact of fire on biodiversity and human well-being.  

This project will investigate these questions within indigenous and private land within four case study areas: the Brazilian Amazon, Northern Territory in Australia, northern India and northern Zambia. These case studies will illustrate unique and contrasting social-ecological systems that are currently being transformed by fire.  We will deliver insights associated to two of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfire, Environment and Society research aims; quantifying the impact of fire for people and the environment and understanding how different social groups live with fire.  

Studentship Overview

The studentship will be supervised by Dr Morena Mills and co-supervised by Dr Jeremy Woods both at Imperial College London, and also by Dr Vanessa Adams at the University of Tasmania. Dr Mill’s research focuses on applied conservation policy and practice, from a biodiversity and human perspective. Dr Wood’s research focuses on bioenergy and the interplay between development, land-use and the sustainable use of natural resources. Dr Adam’s research focuses on modelling dynamic social-ecological systems to inform conservation decisions.

The student will be based within the Centre for Environmental Policy (CEP) based at Imperial’s South Kensington campus. CEP focuses on the interface between science and policy in key environmental subjects through the interdisciplinary study of science, technology and innovation. The student will also join a vibrant interdisciplinary research community in the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, which includes staff and PhD students and staff from Imperial College London, King’s College London, the University of Reading and Royal Holloway, University of London, 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 (min 2.1) in environmental sciences or an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a Masters degree or equivalent in a relevant field. The successful candidate will have good quantitative skills and a background in or keen interest in social sciences or economics. They will have experience of writing to a high standard, and a willingness to work in interdisciplinary teams.

Applicants should submit:
i) A CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references;
ii) A cover letter outlining their qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides)
These should be sent by email to by 24th July with “Leverhulme PhD” as the subject. Interviews will take place, virtually, early August 2020.

For further information on the project, please contact

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society. The student will be funded at £17,285 stipend per annum (including London allowance) paid for four years. The studentship will cover UK/EU fees for three years, and writing-up fees for the final year. There will be support funding for fieldwork and conference attendance. The studentship will start in October 2020.