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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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GILL_UBIO18EE - Landscape and local-scale management for threatened breeding wader populations (CASE studentship with the BTO)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors:
Dr Jennifer Smart (RSPB)
Dr Samantha Franks (British Trust for Ornithology)

This PhD, in collaboration with top UK conservation charities, will address the conservation needs of threatened wading birds. Breeding populations of large-bodied migratory waders across the world are in sharp decline, and we urgently need to identify actions to reverse these declines. The UK hosts around one-quarter of the world’s population of breeding Eurasian Curlews, and this species is now the most threatened wader in the UK. National-scale analyses have implicated changes in land use practices and predation pressure as key contributors to Curlew declines and range contraction. This study will address the urgent need to identify the types and scales of land management that could potentially deliver sustainable breeding Curlew populations on lowland farmland.

This project will be based in Eastern England and will have a strong fieldwork component. To test specific hypotheses regarding the demographic and distributional consequences of land management, the study will combine regional-scale surveys of abundance and distribution, local-scale studies of breeding success and tracking of individuals to determine patterns of movement and habitat use. Field-based and remote-sensing datasets will be used to quantify landscape structure and land management characteristics, and to construct models of Curlew population dynamics in response to a range of prospective conservation and management options.

Students will receive training in field and analytical techniques, including bird and habitat surveying, spatial analyses, and modelling population responses to environmental conditions. The student will benefit from a close collaboration with organisations working on breeding wader conservation, including Drs Samantha Franks and Niall Burton from the BTO (CASE partner) and Dr Jennifer Smart from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.

Candidates must have a good Honours degree in a relevant subject area (Ecology, Biology or Environmental Science), and ideally will have an MSc in an ecological discipline. Applicants should have a strong interest in applied conservation, and will ideally have good knowledge of avian ecology and experience in conducting fieldwork, especially ornithological field research. Experience in bird surveying, ringing and/or nest-finding is desirable. Experience of handling large datasets and use of GIS and relevant statistical approaches will be an advantage.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Brown, D.J., Douglas, D.J.T. et al. (2017) A global threats overview for Numeniini populations: synthesising expert knowledge for a group of declining migratory birds. Bird Conservation International, 27, 6–34.
  2. Laidlaw, R.A., Smart, J., Smart, M.A. & Gill, J.A. (2017) Scenarios of habitat management options to reduce predator impacts on nesting waders. Journal of Applied Ecology, 54, 1219–1229.
  3. Laidlaw, R.A., Smart, J., Smart, M.A. and Gill, J.A. (2015). The influence of landscape features on nest predation rates of grassland‐breeding waders. Ibis, 157, 700-712.
  4. Franks, S.E., Douglas, D.J.T, Gillings, S. & Pearce-Higgins, J.W. (2017) Environmental correlates of breeding abundance and population change of Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata in Britain. Bird Study.
  5. Leigh, S.G., Smart, J. & Gill, J.A. (2016) Impacts of grassland management on wader nest predation rates in adjacent nature reserves. Animal Conservation, 20, 61–71.