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How to design and implement a National Ecological Network that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals?

Project Description

*** This project is an exciting collaboration between the Edinburgh Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes, The James Hutton Institute, Forest Research and the Scottish Wildlife Trust ***

There is much evidence and consensus that biodiversity conservation should focus not only on nature reserves but also on the wider landscape, paying particular consideration to habitat connectivity and fragmentation (Lawton et al., 2010; Landscape Institute, 2016). Scientific principles grounding the placement of ecological networks can be used alongside resilience theories to strategically plan and implement ecological networks that deliver multiple societal as well as environmental benefits (Isaac et al. 2018; Mitchell et al., 2015). Ecosystem services that can be provided by a strategically designed ecological network include drinking-water supplies, flood amelioration, food and raw materials, carbon stores, biodiversity, recreation, tourism revenues and health and wellbeing benefits. As such, ecological networks could provide a valuable mechanism to contribute to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A National Ecological Network (NEN) is recognised within Scotland’s Third National Planning Framework. Scotland’s ‘Biodiversity Route Map to 2020’ also sets out some key steps that are required to implement the network and identifies the need to create an integrated habitat ‘opportunity’ map for central Scotland. However, despite some good examples of projects that illustrate how the principles of such a network could be implemented on the ground (e.g. Riverwoods, see photo), overall progress has been slow. By designing and testing approaches to implementing ecological networks that can make valuable contributions to the SDGs, this PhD project could be pivotal in moving the NEN in Scotland closer to reality.

Research questions
1) What can be learned from ecological network design and implementation in relation to ecological, social and economic benefits?
2) How can ecological network opportunities be identified and prioritised in Scotland at different geographical scales?
3) How can ecological networks be designed to deliver multiple benefits appropriate to these scales?
4) How can these multiple benefits be measured and evaluated to demonstrate their contribution to meeting SDGs within a national ecological network?

This is a highly collaborative project with the aim of producing scientifically robust outcomes that are useful, usable and widely used. This will be achieved by co-design and testing approaches with a range of stakeholder groups, and full support from the supervisory team and their colleagues. An initial review of ecological network design in the academic literature and international ecological networks and landscape scale projects in Scotland will identify good practice and state-of-the-art knowledge. Collaborative stakeholder workshops will help identify a suitable case-study area for further co-design of an ecological network that provides multiple benefits and addresses the needs of the SDGs. Participatory methods will be developed to understand barriers to ecological network development and move towards consensus on the key issues relating to the design and implementation of a NEN. Spatial modelling using existing and newly-developed models will allow a range of mutually agreed indicators to be quantified and mapped, and trade-offs between different benefits/disbenefits to be highlighted and discussed, resulting in a suite of ‘opportunity maps’. These maps will be used to develop prototype NEN designs that can be tested within the case-study area and further refined through iterative analyses to critically assess likely impacts, benefits, disbenefits and trade-offs of the different network designs.

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills, such as science communication, stakeholder engagement and organisational planning. Spatial analysis and modelling training is available at the University of Edinburgh and will be complemented by the placements at Forest Research and the James Hutton Institute. The student will benefit from inclusion in conservation and policy networks and will be encouraged to attend relevant national and international meetings.

This project would suit a student with a strong interest in stakeholder engagement, along with a desire to develop cross-disciplinary skills in landscape ecology and spatial analysis. Experience in spatial analysis and modelling is desirable.

Funding Notes

NERC E4 DTP: View Website


Isaac, N., et al. 2018. Defining and delivering resilient ecological networks: Nature conservation in England. Journal of Applied Ecology 55: 1–7. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13196

Lawton, J.H. et al. 2010. Making space for Nature, a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological networks. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/making-space-for-nature-a-review-of-englands-wildlife-sites-published-today

Landscape Institute 2016. Connectivity and Ecological Networks – Technical Information Note 01/2016. https://www.landscapeinstitute.org/publication/connectivity-and-ecological-networks-tin/

Mitchell, M.G.E. et al. 2015. Reframing landscape fragmentation’s effects on ecosystem services. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30:190-122 doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.01.011

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 104.98

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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