Overview - The natural capital and ecosystem services concepts are a popular way of describing the multiple benefits we get from the natural environment. The publication of the Millennium Assessment in 2005 have, along with national publications such the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, raised the profile of the importance and study of these concepts. Natural capital refers to the stock of natural features/assets - e.g. freshwater, land, soil, minerals, air, seas, habitats, biodiversity and processes which together provide the foundation for the flows of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the flows of benefits such as food, flood regulation, climate regulation, recreational opportunities which people gain from natural ecosystems. Both global and national trends show that natural capital has been on the decline due to human influenced land use changes such as urbanisation and natural resource depletion. Understanding of these concepts have led to an interest in the development of suitable metrics, models, datasets and tools for measurement of natural capital as well as assessing how it is changing overtime. The Natural Capital Committee suggests the concept of natural capital be tried in core environmental context such as urban settings. This PhD will take this research further, focusing on natural capital assessments and opportunities associated with different blue/green infrastructure systems for urban resilience and sustainability in light of future uncertainties associated with factors such as climate change, demographic changes etc. The aim of this PhD is in twofold; firstly, to investigate how different blue/green infrastructure investment pathways and future land use change scenarios affect the dynamic evolution of natural capital and secondly, this study will also seek to compare the technical suitability location of blue/green infrastructure to where the multiple benefits from such intervention systems are needed the most (demand areas) in a locality as identified by local stakeholders. Methodology - The PhD student will be expected to undertake original research on natural capital assessment and develop novel techniques and approaches which can be applied in practice. Understanding of natural capital and blue/green infrastructure systems requires biophysical knowledge on the elements of these concepts and approaches as well as a recognition of the multiple benefits provided to local communities. In this regard the potential PhD candidate will tackle this challenge from both angles based on an integrated methodological approach (mixed research methods). Tasks such as mapping natural capital areas, locations of multiple benefit provision areas and blue/green infrastructure systems for example, will be complemented by knowledge of beneficiaries of these multiple benefits and stakeholder prioritised benefits. There is growing interest in using practically applicable analytical tools that link the natural environment and society. A wide range of tools have recently been developed to analyse ecosystem services, natural capital and green infrastructure (see: tinyurl.com/y8teql9g). This PhD study will for example utilise tools such as the Natural Capital Planning Tool (NCPT) to assess the impact of proposed housing developments on natural capital and ecosystem services, and a GIS based analysis will be used to evaluate current and future natural capital spatiotemporal changes associated with different blue/green infrastructure investment pathways. Fieldwork will be undertaken to case study sites for activities such as verifying the natural capital maps, stakeholder consultations.
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The scholarship will cover tuition fees and provide an annual stipend of approximately £15,009 for the 36 month duration of the project. It is available to applicants from the UK, EU and overseas.