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Urban agroecology: Risks and Benefits

   School of Natural and Built Environment

Belfast United Kingdom Environmental Engineering Environmental Geography Geochemistry Pollution Soil Science

About the Project

Urban agriculture has been widely recognised as one of the most efficient nature-based solutions that can be implemented in an urban or peri-urban area carrying multiple benefits. Urban agroecology is not just an agricultural method, but a package of value-based practices explicitly addressing social and environmental justice. Sustainable agricultural practices and investing in sustainable soil management entail multiple benefits in terms of food security and nutrition, poverty reduction, provision of ecosystem services and sustainable development. However, often the most appropriate sites for urban gardens (in terms of community access and urban redevelopment) are underused brownfield sites which may have a legacy of harmful contamination. Therefore urban agriculture must also reduce any potential risks from contaminant uptake and educate users about safe use of the sites.

As part of the Horizon 2020 UPSURGE project, community gardens will be developed by Belfast City Council (BCC) in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) using tailor-made urban soils specifically purposed for ecological gardening. This PhD research project will assess potential benefits and risks posed at the site, by characterising soils and measuring contaminant and nutrient bioaccessibility in both soils and plants. It will also consider the potential environmental benefits from agroecology including recarbonisation of soils, provision of ecosystem services and reduction in air pollution. The PhD scholarship offers the opportunity to work with the Horizon 2020 UPSURGE project team in Belfast (BCC and QUB) and collaboration with 4 other partner European cities.


  • Applicants will normally have a 2.1 hons in Environmental Engineering/Environmental Science or other relevant discipline
  • Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering, in the School of Natural and Built Environment
  • State name of lead supervisor on application: Rory Doherty/Siobhan Cox
  • Include the following SOURCE OF FUNDING on application form: EPSRC 3.5 years
  • To apply, visit the Queen's University Direct Application Portal:


  • Applicants should use the ‘Research Proposal’ section on the QUB application form to provide a 500-word maximum (excluding references) discussion of the project description outlining:
  • Understanding of the proposed research question(s) aims and objectives
  • The broader context of the research and its relevance to engineering and science
  • A methodological approach to the work
  • Options for analysis of the data gathered

Funding Notes

This EPSRC funded 3.5-year studentship is open to UK candidates. The value of an award includes the cost of approved fees as well as maintenance support. In academic year 2020-2021 the basic rate of maintenance support for a Research Studentship is £15,285. The start date for this project will be 1 October 2021.

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