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Future fens: using palaeoecology to inform restoration and conservation of the Lincolnshire Fenlands

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

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Dr R Johnston , Dr K Selby , Mr D Bromwich No more applications being accepted

About the Project

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust conserve and seek to restore Lincolnshire’s last vestiges of fenland. The restored habitats contribute to healthy functioning ecosystems and an environment more resilient to climate change. A major question the Trust faces in this dynamic landscape and the question this PhD will help to address is: ‘What ecological conditions should fenland restoration projects aim to create?’

The fenlands of eastern England represent a unique landscape, shaped by 500,000 years of natural and anthropogenic processes. The area’s low relief, in association with Holocene sea-level rise, resulted in a sensitivity to episodes of marine and freshwater inundation, producing a diverse and species rich landscape.

Much of this ecologically rich fenland has been lost. Artificial drainage in association with agricultural intensification has transformed wetland areas into arable land, leaving only 1000 fragmented hectares of undrained fenland. Continuing intensive cultivation and hydrological imbalance has caused desiccation and wastage of peat soils via oxidation and wind erosion. Many parts of the fenland continue to fall below current sea level, reducing its biodiversity and subsequently decreasing the agricultural resource base.

Little palaeoenvironmental research has been undertaken on past landscape and sea-level changes in the Lincolnshire Fenlands. Climate-induced changes are projected to increase in future years and add to the vulnerability of the region. Immediate palaeoecological investigation of the remaining fenland is imperative for aiding conservation and informing the land management potential of the fenland, particularly when faced with additional challenges associated with climate change and accelerated sea-level rise.

The PhD student will undertake a palaeoecologically informed conservation study of the Lincolnshire Fenlands:
1. Establish a Holocene landscape change record, including vegetation, sea level, and anthropogenically induced landscape changes at geographically diverse sites.
2. Use the landscape change record to determine how the ecological conditions of the landscape have altered in response to environmental and anthropogenic influences.
3. Utilise the results to inform current and future conservation and regeneration of both wetland fen areas and agricultural land.

The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust own and manage fenland in Lincolnshire including the Baston and Thurlby Fen SSSI and a new fen restoration project at Willow Tree Fen. The Trust will provide access to seven nature reserves in the region, allowing the Lincolnshire Fenlands to be used as a living laboratory. The Trust will host the student, training them in field techniques and accompanying them into the field. They will train the student in conservation and policy orientated aspects of the work ensuring the research is transferable and applied. The office, workshop and welfare facilities at Willow Tree Fen will provide a field base for the PhD student.

We welcome applicants from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including (though not limited to) environmental science, environmental archaeology and physical geography. The project would suit a student interested in palaeoenvironments, particularly coastal wetlands, with a proven enthusiasm and aptitude for a mix of field and lab-based work.

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

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