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Contested fire management: Understanding trade-offs between traditional and government approaches to fire management


Project Description

Fire is a critical component of many agricultural and livestock-based land use systems in the Global South where its management benefits from generations of local experience in how, when and where to set fires for maximum local benefit. In many countries, governments and conservation organisations have implemented a range of fire-related policies (from promoting ‘early burning’ to banning all burning, or undertaking controlled burning) to address concerns about impacts on nearby populations (from smoke or property damage caused by out-of-control fires), biodiversity and levels of carbon emissions. Both traditional ecological knowledge and science-based knowledge (which may have underpinned government policies) are being challenged by a changing climate and growing pressure on land to meet both conservation and development aspirations. There is therefore an urgent need not only to understand the knowledge base and value systems underpinning different fire management practices in specific contexts but also to explore the potential trade-offs between these changing fire management practices.

This project will investigate changing local fire management practices in a country of the student’s choice, either in Sub-Saharan Africa or the Indian sub-continent. It will look at who takes fire management decisions (including both local communities and government departments) and on what basis, how fires are considered to benefit different groups and whether there are trade-offs with costs borne by other groups. Examples of interesting topics within this general area include an investigation into fires used in the context of shifting cultivation and how they are perceived by the conservation community (e.g. Madagascar), annual fires used for clearing fields and their smoke impact on nearby cities (e.g. India), or fires used in pasture-management and impacts on sedentary land users (e.g. Kenya). The project will probably involve a mixture of data collection techniques including participatory methods, interviews, policy analysis, ecological surveys and/or remote sensing. The findings of this PhD will contribute to the advancement of a wider model of human-climate-fire interaction being developed by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society.

Studentship Overview
The studentship will be supervised by Dr Kate Schreckenberg, Department of Geography, King’s College London (KCL). Dr 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 Contested Development Research Group within the Department of Geography, King’s College London, which explores environmental, political and social questions in relation to contested and uneven processes of development. 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 new Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society (https://centreforwildfires.org/) 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, 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 preferably have experience of fieldwork and possibly also remote sensing and GIS skills. 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);
iii) An outline research proposal (up to 2000 words not including references). The proposal should explain in some detail the field of study you want to contribute to within the general area outlined above, highlighting current research gaps, formulating one or more research question and presenting a feasible set of research methods to address them.

These should be sent by email to by 14/02/2020 with “Leverhulme PhD” as the subject. Interviews will take place in March 2020.

For further information on the project, please contact .

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded at £17,009 stipend per annum (including London allowance) paid for four years. The studentship will also cover HEU fees (with possibility of overseas fees being covered) 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 either in May or September 2020. Please state your start date availability within your application.

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