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Motivations to visit green and natural spaces– how perceptions of ‘quality’ vary across different communities

Department of Geography and Planning

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Dr S Clement , Dr K L Evans , Dr L Jones , Dr B Brockett No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Increasing the extent, accessibility, and quality of green and blue space is key to addressing numerous environmental and social challenges. The need for such spaces is particularly acute in poorer communities, who are disproportionately exposed to negative environmental (e.g. air pollution) and socio-economic (e.g. health inequalities) conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for equitable access to green and blue space and its resultant well-being benefits. We are a long way from achieving this. There is a dearth of evidence regarding how communities that face multiple deprivations, including ethnic minorities, perceive the quality of green and blue space and of which environmental, social and personal factors influence visitation rates and associated benefits. 

This PhD takes an evidence based approach to help tackle these knowledge gaps and inform policy. Specifically, the studentship will address current knowledge gaps regarding how communities that under use green and blue spaces perceive the ‘quality’ of these locations, and the factors that determine their motivation and capacity to use them. These analyses will consider individual and synergistic impacts to develop a more nuanced understanding of quality, subjective experience, and the benefits people receive from visiting green and blue space, and reasons why they do not visit. Through links with project CASE partners (Natural England) the studentship will use this information to better address societal challenges and contribute to more inclusive policy and planning.

The student will use a mix of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including social and ecological data. The student will conduct their own novel data collection and access data from the Natural England’s current People and Nature (PAN) and Monitor Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) surveys. These provide large nationally representative samples (~half a million respondents) and capture the ways in which people use green space as well as respondents’ perceptions and attitudes. Original research is expected to be conducted using interviews, participatory photo mapping, and Q-methodology, but there is flexibility in the design of the methodology.

The student will be guided by an inter-disciplinary supervisory team, led by Dr Sarah Clement. Sarah’s research team (University of Liverpool) is embedded in the Environmental Assessment and Management (EAM) Research Centre and the Environmental Change Research Group. The EAM Centre is a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre with a track record of publishing in high quality journals as well as impacting policy and planning. The student will spend time working with a panel of co-supervisors with complementary research skills. The panel includes two supervisors at Natural England (Beth Brockett and Katherine Burgess), one at UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology - UKCEH (Laurence Jones), and one at University of Sheffield (Karl Evans), all of whom will be an integral part of the PhD studentship. Students will receive training tailored to their specific needs based on discussion with the supervisors. Additional training will be provided through the North West Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership in which the studentship is embedded, which also provides additional opportunities for the successful student to engage in research events with other PhD students beyond the supervisors’ research groups.

The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in, and aptitude for: inter-disciplinary environmental social sciences research, handling large data-sets, use of GIS, conducting qualitative and quantitative data analysis, and an ability to collaborate with a diverse range of stakeholders. Although primarily a social science project, candidates from natural science backgrounds are encouraged to apply, so long as they can demonstrate their capacity and interest in developing interdisciplinary research skills.

See below for funding details, but please note that the studentship has been funded in a 1+3 format, which means it is for a 1-year masters programme initially, followed by 3 years PhD funding. there are 2 approved Masters Programmes that could be undertaken in the first year, which are the Masters in Civic Design and the MSc in Environmental Assessment and Management. If the candidate already has a relevant masters degree, then there may be an opportunity to wave this requirement, which can be discussed with the supervisors.

For any enquiries please contact Dr Sarah Clement on [Email Address Removed]

To apply please visit: and select the 'Apply online button'

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council through a CASE Partnership award within the Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership. Student fees are covered and there is an annual stipend for living expenses (£15,285 in 2020/21). The student will receive £1,000 per year additional funding from Natural England to be spent on research and training activities. The university has agreed that international students (EU and worldwide) will not be charged additional fees, but there is a cap on how many international students that will be given studentships (30% of the cohort).
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