Project 1: Uncovering the biodiversity impacts of rewilding on entire ecological communities at a landscape scale using environmental DNA
PhD Student: Clare Cowgill
Supervisors: Lori Lawson Handley, James Gilbert, Ian Convery (University of Cumbria), Blake Morton
Partners: The Natural Capital Laboratory, Forestry England, Trees for Life
As rewilding becomes more popular, we need to monitor the impacts that large scale projects have on biodiversity and ecological functioning, especially considering the unpredictable nature of rewilding. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is now widely used as a non-invasive tool to monitor freshwater habitats but has rarely been applied for terrestrial ecosystems. We will look at how eDNA collected from different samples in terrestrial habitats, such as from soil, scat, or water, can be used to monitor ecological communities and species interactions. We will then apply this method to different rewilding projects across the UK including Scottish woodland restoration and the beaver reintroduction at Cropton Forest to help monitor their impacts on ecological communities.
Project 2: Effective biodiversity monitoring of river rewilding projects using eDNA modelling
PhD Student: Clare Collins
Supervisors: Jon Bolland, Bernd Hänfling (University of the Highlands and Islands), Lori Lawson Handley, Rob Dorrell, Dan Parsons
Project Partners: Natural England and Environment Agency
Rewilding introduces change and whilst the aim of such ecological restoration is to mitigate biodiversity loss, we need community-wide and spatially-explicit data to understand the success or failures of these aims. Environmental DNA metabarcoding is less invasive than traditional biodiversity monitoring methods and more sensitive at detecting rare and elusive species. In rivers, eDNA can travel some distance and therefore modelling the source location of the eDNA will improve the effectiveness of eDNA metabarcoding as a community-wide and spatially-explicit monitoring technique for rewilding projects. We will apply this work to real world river rewilding projects such as the migration of the twaite shad up the river Severn.
See here for more information on the Unlocking the Severn project, and how this project is contributing to our understanding of fish passage.
Project 3: Greening Blue spaces in Hull
PhD Student: Matthew Morgan
Supervisors: Africa Gomez, Rodney Forster, Charlotte Hopkins
Project partners: Hull City Council, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
Access to rivers, lakes and coastal waters (‘blue space’) and green space provide social and health benefits. Urban blue and green spaces are also important for biodiversity, with positive interactions between organisms from both environments. Hull has a wide range of blue spaces: large public park lakes, reservoirs, drains, the River Hull that dissects the city from north to south, and the Humber, that bounds the south of the city.
This PhD will assess the benefits for society of urban blue spaces surrounded by green spaces of different value in terms of biodiversity. Three core areas will be investigated 1) how blue spaces influence urban biodiversity; 2) public perception of nature around blue spaces; 3) identify where existing blue spaces could be greened or rewilded to benefit people and nature
The PhD will develop in collaboration with a network of stakeholders including Hull City Council, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Humber Nature Partnership and others. National and regional databases (NEYEDC, NBN, iRecord) will be interrogated to design and successfully implement the project. The project is one of six within the University of Hull REWILD Research Cluster.
Project 4: Rewilding the Sea: Perceptions, values and challenges
PhD Student: Esther Brooker
Supervisors: Charlotte Hopkins, Gerald Midgely /Amanda Gregory, Neil Burns (Scotland’s Rural College)
“Rewilding” is a current buzzword in conservation, with intersections over working with natural processes in response to climate driven pressures, yet there is no firm definition of which initiatives constitute marine rewilding, the number of initiatives, nor the effectiveness of rewilding projects. In terms of re-establishing and reintroducing lost and vanishing species, the marine realm has trailed behind terrestrial counterparts, habitat restoration efforts are also more limited in scope. Rewilding the common space of the sea is a complex problem; it is crucial to appraise the governance, policy and implementation challenges prior to widespread uptake of the concept. This PhD will evaluate the current state of nascent rewilding across UK inshore waters and the policy landscape into which marine rewilding fits. Using social science methods that facilitate dialogue and drawing on systems thinking, this PhD will expand on current research with coastal communities to understand the drivers for the “rewilding the sea” concept, the potential for conflict as budding initiatives progress and the feasibility of widespread implementation.
Project 5: Rewilding Blue Carbon: natural regeneration of saltmarshes and carbon storage in the Humber Estuary through managed realignment
PhD Student: Charlie Trotman
Supervisors: Rodney Forster, Rob Thomas
Project partners: Environment Agency
Saltmarshes are being increasingly recognised as important blue carbon habitats. Natural regeneration and managed realignment of saltmarshes has been used to create new saltmarsh habitat and reduce flood risk elsewhere across the Humber, and this newly regenerated saltmarsh has the potential to sequester and store large amounts of carbon through estuarine processes. The Humber Estuary has a range of saltmarsh and reclaimed land both natural and restored. These are dynamic habitats with relatively short histories but highly varied histories.
This PhD will investigate aspects of carbon storage and sequestration in natural, and naturally regenerated (managed realignment) salt marsh around the Humber, and other reclaimed land that is undergoing rewilding. The core areas being investigated will be 1) the historic carbon storage of these sites, 2) the current rates of sediment and carbon accumulation and storage and 3) future carbon sequestration and storage with an aim to understand whether managed realignment increases carbon stocks and over what time period.
Project 6: Understanding environmental adaptability in wild mammalian carnivores: A multidisciplinary perspective
PhD Student: Kristy Adaway
Supervisors: Blake Morton, Charlotte Hopkins, Lori Lawson Handley
Project partners: The Wildlife Trusts, Forestry England, Forestry and Land Scotland, National Trust, The Land Trust
The notion of ‘rewilding’ is a controversial topic, particularly in terms of public opinion. Negative public attitudes are often due, in part, to the fact that rewilding signals the re-establishment of wild carnivores to a given landscape, which members of the public do not support (e.g., perceived conflict from farmers or urban residents). Thus, despite carnivores playing a crucial role in maintaining healthy ecosystems, negative public attitudes towards carnivores can limit the success of rewilding programmes (e.g., hunting ‘nuisance’ carnivores and impacting the healthy return of that ecosystem). Very few studies, however, have highlighted differences in perceived versus real conflict between carnivores and people, which makes it difficult to evaluate the true impact carnivores have on local communities. One example comes from red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) which, according to public surveys, notoriously raid bins. When in reality, studies show foxes rarely raid bins. The goal of this PhD is to address this issue through a psychological lens, by using field tests to measure carnivores’ responses to novel food-related opportunities, and by administering public opinion surveys to establish real versus perceived conflict.