The historic emergence of human-associated woodland biodiversity and its recent demise.


   Department of Archaeology

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  Prof Jonathan Finch, Prof CD Thomas  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Oliver Rackham published Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape (1976) ten years before his landmark study, The History of the Countryside. Rackham’s legacy is evident in recent studies of the cultural meaning and historic management of trees. This project explores the relationship between British species diversity and historic land development and management in UK woodland for the first time. Considering multiple scales, you will study the relationship between landscape exploitation and biodiversity within the context of landscape change. 

You will be based in the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity (LCAB) at the University of York, supervised by Jon Finch and Chris Thomas. Your project will:

  • Evaluate the dependence of conservation priority species upon systems of historic management, evaluating whether they represent historic biodiversity gains followed by recent retreats due to now-uneconomic land management.
  • Study historic woodland management using archival, cartographic and archaeological sources alongside ecological datasets to provide the first index of biodiversity alongside major landscape changes.
  • Assess biodiversity impacts of historic land uses based on data analysis present-day habitat associations of key taxonomic groups

You will have experience in analysis of archaeological, historical, geographical, ecological or palaeoecological data sources and/or environmental reconstructions, and knowledge of historical ecology; ideally with knowledge of key changes in UK landscapes over the Holocene, particularly the last millennium. You will be skilled in synthesis across literary and analytical sources of information. Competency with GIS or equivalent is desirable, and/or familiarity with key archival sources, such as estate records and tithe surveys.

LCAB provides opportunities to interact with students and researchers across departments and institutions, and will offer additional training as required. 

Several studentships are available with LCAB - take a look at our others, including the option to submit your own research proposal under the theme of Biodiversity Gains and Resilience. 

Entry requirements: 

Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this research project means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any relevant subject that provides appropriate skills, knowledge and experience for the project. Further training will be available.


Biological Sciences (4) Geography (17) History & Archaeology (19)

Funding Notes

This studentship covers UK fees for 4 years and a tax-free stipend to match the UKRI’s minimum rate for 2024/25 for 3.5 years. To qualify for UK (home) fee status, students must be from the UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) or Islands (Channel Islands and Isle of Man) and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for the past three years.

Where will I study?