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Urban horticulture: assessing the ecosystem service costs and benefits of expansion into UK cities

Project Description

Over half the global population live in urban areas, and in the UK that figure exceeds 80%. Ecosystem service provision (e.g., food production) by urban green infrastructure and biodiversity is therefore increasingly important for quality of life and environmental sustainability. However, urban green infrastructure is highly dynamic, with land-use shifting in response to policy drivers, land managers and local requirements. Urban horticulture has been widely recognised as a key contributor to local food security and cities are now exerting their power to influence the global food system towards one that operates in a more sustainable and equitable way. For example, 205 cities are enacting the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, which recommends actions to ‘promote and strengthen urban and peri-urban food production’, and many cities have developed food strategies to facilitate these changes, including Sheffield (case-study city for this research). These goals could be met in part through urban horticulture, particularly given rising demand for land to grow food. Recent city-scale research by the supervisory team has demonstrated that urban horticulture makes an important contribution to the diet of a UK city with considerable potential for expansion into existing green infrastructure. This expansion could limit alternative land-uses (e.g., reforestation) and their attendant ecosystem service benefits (e.g., carbon storage). However, the ecosystem service and biodiversity costs and benefits of expanding urban horticulture are poorly understood. This understanding is critical for policy-makers and land managers (including gardeners) to make informed decisions about how to preserve and invest in urban natural capital.
This PhD will focus on key indicators of ecosystem services and biodiversity both above- and below-ground, including: food production, carbon storage, flood and urban heat island mitigation and invertebrate biodiversity. It will address four key questions at a city-scale and then upscale findings nationally:
What key ecosystem services and biodiversity are provided by green infrastructure (grassland, urban trees and woodland and urban allotments)?
What forms of horticultural production (e.g. allotment growing or urban orchards) are most suitable for expansion into green infrastructure and what are their associated ecosystem service costs and benefits?
Where are the most suitable locations for expansion of urban horticulture based on ecosystem service and biodiversity indicators?
What is the UK-wide potential for expansion of urban horticulture into green infrastructure?
The supervisors combine expertise in urban agriculture and ecosystem services (Edmondson – APS), remote sensing (Croft – APS), entomology and ecology (Campbell – APS) and hydrology and flood management (Stovin – Civil and Structural Engineering). Sheffield City Council support this project and will provide access to land and green infrastructure expertise. The student will have the opportunity to gain training in a range of techniques and approaches which will be applicable to a wide range of academic and non-academic career paths. .By studying the ecosystem service costs and benefits of an expansion of urban agriculture this project will provide an important evidence base to support both local food security and the sustainable management of green infrastructure. This an EPSRC funded studentship. Students from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
This award is made in conjunction with the Institute for Sustainable Food, one of the University of Sheffield’s four flagship research institutes: The Institute conducts basic, translational and transformative research, taking the latest scientific knowledge and applying it in real-world settings, to ensure that the production and consumption of the world’s food is sustainable and resilient.
Please contact Dr Jill Edmondson () with any enquiries.

Funding Notes

Tuition fees and an annual tax-free maintenance stipend at the standard UK Research Council rate (£15,285 in 2020/21) for up to three
and a half years.

The applicant should have, or expect to gain at least an upper second class degree, or equivalent overseas qualification, in a relevant subject.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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

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