Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD.

Essential skills

  • Background in social science, environmental science, conservation biology, geography or similar experience is necessary
  • The candidate should be willing to conduct fieldwork in rural locations
  • Excellent communication skills in English are necessary
  • Willingness to develop capacities in qualitative and quantitative social science methodologies

Desired skills

  • Skills in social science methodologies would be highly beneficial
  • Previous experience in working in remote locations, with different stakeholders is highly desirable

Photo by Svetozar Cenisev on Unsplash.


Flurina Wartmann

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Flurina Wartmann
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Geosciences

Paul Caplat

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Paul Caplat
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Ana Payo-Payo

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Ana Payo-Payo
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


Deary, H., & Warren, C. R. (2017). Divergent visions of wildness and naturalness in a storied landscape: Practices and discourses of rewilding in Scotland’s wild places. Journal of Rural Studies, 54, 211–222.

IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., et al. (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 56 pages.

Pettorelli, N., Barlow, J., Stephens, P. A., Durant, S. M., Connor, B., Schulte to Bühne, H., Sandom, C. J., Wentworth, J., & du Toit, J. T. (2018). Making rewilding fit for policy. Journal of Applied Ecology, 55(3), 1114–1125.


Rapid declines in biodiversity related to climate change, land-use change and changes in land management practices (e.g. intensification and mechanization in agriculture) have negatively affected habitats across the UK. The UN sustainable development goals call for action to halt the loss of biodiversity and foster resilient ecosystems that deliver benefits to people and the environment (UN Sustainable Development Goal 15: Life on Land). To achieve this transition and halt the loss of biodiversity, a transformative change is needed to alternative forms of land management. To address this challenge, notions of rewilding and restoration have been increasingly popularized, but there is a dearth of scientific knowledge about factors influencing the decision-making of stakeholders, including about which management approaches are adopted, and why, as well as how such approaches are informed based on different ecological, social and economic criteria. For example, what is the importance of ecological considerations, including species composition and monitoring, social factors, including cultural values, and economic factors such as cost-effectiveness of measures?

Given that there is currently no governmental policy for rewilding in place in the UK, the results from this PhD project will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of rewilding initiatives and their respective potential for delivering a range of ecosystem services. This PhD research is of value for nature conservation organisations and individuals interested in ecological restoration/rewilding, stakeholders involved in rewilding, policy, and future research. For nature conservation organization, this cross-site comparison will deliver scientific evidence on how different approaches are implemented and how this implementation affects the delivery of ecosystem services. For stakeholders involved or interested in such approaches, additional evidence will be provided from the cross-site comparison on decision-making and ecological, social and economic outcomes of different rewilding projects. For policy, this research provides scientific evidence on the range of management options and their links to the delivery of different ecosystem services. By providing a better understanding of criteria used in decision-making, future research can use this information for e.g. agent-based models developed for species under consideration and how stakeholder decisions will affect the spread and survival of newly introduced species in the future.

Proposed Timetable

1st year

The student will familiarise themselves with the literature on rewilding, focusing on the UK and submit a 1st review paper on current knowledge about rewilding approaches in the UK, identifying knowledge gaps related to ecological, social and economic sustainability of these projects. The student will also start selecting case studies and develop interview guidelines for interviewing stakeholders

2nd year
Fieldwork phase. The student will collect data by interviewing stakeholders implementing rewilding, and conduct focus group discussions with rewilding networks, local communities affected by rewilding, and academics from fields including ecology and conservation biology, social science and economy to assess the perceived sustainability of these projects from an academic perspective.

3rd year
Analysis of field data using qualitative and quantitative approaches, including transcription of interviews, open and structured coding in NVIVO software, and statistical analyses where applicable. Preparation and submission of 2nd paper on criteria influencing decision-making and implementation of rewilding projects.

4th year
Preparation and submission of 3rd paper on different perspectives of the sustainability of rewilding projects and formulating recommendations to stakeholders and policy-makers.


  • environmental-management

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