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Urban horticulture: co-benefits to physical, mental and environmental health.

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Dr J Edmondson , Dr Sam Caton No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Sheffield United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Climate Science Ecology Environmental Biology Environmental Geography Environmental Health Plant Biology Social Geography Soil Science Urban Geography

About the Project

More than 80% of the UK population are urban and detached from primary food production. The UK commercial horticultural sector grows <20% of fruit and just over 50% of vegetables consumed domestically. We are reliant on fruit and vegetables (F&V) imports from an environmentally costly and complex global food system, however, recent work at the University of Sheffield (Edmondson et al.) has demonstrated that urban horticulture (UH) could sustainably increase UK F&V production. For example, there is potentially enough land to grow F&V to feed 122% of Sheffield’s population on their 5-a-day diet. 

We are starting to understand the production potential and environmental costs and benefits of UH expansion but we do not yet know the additional co-benefits of UH to people. This project will address the co-benefits of UH needed to fully support UH expansion, and the use of UH activities as part of social prescribing for decision-makers such as local authorities. Using a mixed-methods, interdisciplinary approach spanning environmental science, public health and nutrition, this PhD will develop an understanding of the benefits of UH to food security, health, wellbeing and sustainability. With Sheffield as a focal city, the research will utilise the existing cohort of allotment growers from Dr Jill Edmondson’s EPSRC project “MYHarvest” ( and work with local partners involved in allotment and home-based food growing. 

This PhD will address the overarching research question of “Do families/individuals that grow food live more sustainable and healthier lifestyles?” Three key areas will be explored. 1) The impact of engaging with UH on diet: varied aspects related to diet will be explored, including food security, “healthfulness” of habitual diets, types and amounts of food grown, purchased and consumed by UH growers. 2) Potential impact of UH engagement on physical and mental health: using objective measures of physical activity this work will quantify the duration and intensity of physical activity of allotment holders. Mental health and general well-being will be explored. 3) The impact of UH on sustainability practices: do growers contribute less waste into the urban system - urban symbiosis (the potential to use resources otherwise wasted in the urban system, such as rainwater or organic waste)? 

The supervisors combine expertise in urban agriculture and ecosystem services (Dr Jill Edmondson – Animal and Plant Science) and, nutrition and public health (Dr Sam Caton, Public Health, School of Health and Related Research). Due to the multidisciplinary nature of this project candidates from a wide variety of disciplines will be considered such as (but not limited to); ecology, conservation, nutrition, public health or any other related social/ behavioural sciences. 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. 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.

Science Graduate School

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

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

Please contact Dr Jill Edmondson ([Email Address Removed]) with any enquiries.

Funding Notes

The applicant should have, or expect to gain at least an upper second class degree, or equivalent overseas qualification, in a relevant subject.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Research Council Stipend - at least £15,285 (UKRI rate for 2020/21)
• Tuition Fees at the UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,406)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Please note that international and EU fee rate candidates would need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International and EU tuition fees for 2021 entry £24,950.

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