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Evaluating the effectiveness of rangeland resting initiatives in communal grazing systems in South Africa

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Background and Motivation

Currently, most rangeland systems in communal areas of South Africa are subject to limited collective management and tend to be continuously grazed as a result (Palmer and Bennett 2013). This has led to long-term declines in grassland cover, the quality of grass species available and in some cases invasion by unpalatable shrubs and trees. In the short term there is also an inability to conserve forage to meet animal requirements during the dry season. A standard practice in many commercial grazing systems is to ensure at least one area (paddock) is removed from grazing (rested) for set period to enable grass plants to rest and recover by investing less resources in above ground foliage production.

The efficacy of this in helping to conserve grassland production over the longer term is supported by a number of studies (e.g. O’Reagain and Turner 1992, Briske et al 2008). Initiatives driven by local NGOs such as Conservation South Africa are underway in communal areas of Eastern Cape Province to reinstate rotational resting programmes and help address these recognised declines, as well as potentially improve animal production during the dry season. However, to date there has been limited objective assessment of the gains in primary production from this approach or how successfully it has been implemented by local institutions. A one year, MRes opportunity is available to evaluate the efficacy of these initiatives.

Aim of the Project

The overall aim of the project is to evaluate rangeland resting initiatives currently being trialled in communal grazing systems in the Matatiele area of Eastern Cape Province.

Research Questions

What additional gains in primary grassland production are being realised through these resting initiatives? How valuable is this in terms of livestock production, particularly in helping meet intake requirements during the dry season? Do these gains vary between communities? Can this be related to community ‘buy in’ (as opposed to just biophysical determinants of grass growth) and, if so, what are the key social and institutional factors that might be preventing the approach being implemented as effectively in some communities?

Research Objectives

Specifically, the research aims to:

1. Evaluate the primary production gains from resting areas of rangeland compared to continuously grazing them.
2. Examine the extent to which areas currently designated for resting are actually fulfilling this role and how this varies between communities.
3. Determine the key institutional and social factors that might account for this variation in resting success between communities.

Academic Environment

Coventry University has been the UK’s top modern university for seven consecutive years (Guardian University Guide 2013-2019) and holds a number of other prestigious accolades. Established in 2014 through substantial university investment, the Centre for Agroecology, Water & Resilience (CAWR) is rapidly building a global reputation for transdisciplinary research into processes of resilience in social-ecological systems. Among its key lines of research is work focusing on modelling of water and food systems, aided by high performance computing facilities.

Training and Development

The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.
All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities.

Entry criteria for applicants to PhD

• A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average.
the potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years
• a minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component)

Some background in or understanding of livestock systems in Africa would be useful.

For further details see:

How to apply

To find out more about the project please contact James Bennett email
To apply on line please visit:

All applications require full supporting documentation, a covering letter, plus a 2000-word supporting statement showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project.

Eligibility: UK/EU/International graduates with the required entry requirements

Start date: May or September 2020 depending on availability of successful candidate

Duration of study; Full-Time – one year fixed term

Application deadline: This opportunity will only remain open until a suitable candidate is identified- early application is therefore recommended

Interview dates: Date will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Enquiries may be addressed to: or general enquiries to

Funding Notes

For self funded opportunities only please include the text below

PhD Loans for 2019

You can apply now for a doctoral loan of up to £25,700 for a new UK PhD in any subject this year.

The money is provided by the UK Government and is paid to you in instalments.

Repayments are income-contingent and are made when you are earning over £21,000 a year.

You can get a PhD loan if you're an English - or Welsh-resident student studying in the UK or an EU student coming to study in England or Wales.

Find out more about Doctoral Loans: View Website

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