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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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HISCOCK_UENV18EE - Can catchment ecosystem benefits be delivered through changes in field cultivation systems?

Project description

Intensive arable farming practices in the last several decades have left soils depleted of organic matter content.  In East Anglia, the organic matter content of arable soils is typically less than 2%, which is often regarded as a minimum threshold for maintaining soil fertility and structure.  Decreasing soil fertility threatens long-term food production and poor physical structure promotes soil wastage and decreased water holding capacity.  

To counter deteriorating soil health, mitigation measures such as the use of over-winter cover crops and reduced tillage methods can help improve soil organic matter content and structure.  Although the soil agronomic aspects are relatively well understood, changes in farm practice on soil water leaching losses and catchment runoff processes are less well researched.  Hence, this studentship will undertake a systematic study of the effects of different cultivation systems on soil and water quality in agricultural runoff, with particular emphasis on inorganic and organic nutrient fractions.  

You will design a field programme for the collection of soil and water samples and will undertake laboratory and data analysis of soil properties and dissolved and particulate nutrient fractions (C, N, P) in water samples.  With these data you will test the hypothesis that reduced tillage cultivation systems improve soil health and aquatic ecosystems. The study area is the Blackwater catchment in north Norfolk, which has been extensively studied as part of the UK government-funded Wensum Demonstration Test Catchment project.  

You will join a team of experienced catchment scientists with the opportunity for training in field and laboratory techniques with access to UEA’s state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.  Therefore, the successful student will acquire skills in agronomy, hydrology, environmental chemistry, catchment science and data analysis and modelling, as appropriate to far-reaching careers in environmental sciences.  Careers in catchment science and management include work in research institutions, agri-environmental policy, environmental regulation, environmental consultancy and the water industry.  Desirable degree subjects of applicants include Environmental Sciences, Earth Sciences, Geography, Environmental Chemistry and Agricultural Sciences.

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. Cooper, R.J., Hama-Aziz, Z., Hiscock, K.M., Lovett, A.A., Dugdale, S.J., Sünnenberg, G., Noble, L., Beamish, J., Hovesen, P., 2017. Assessing the farm-scale impacts of cover crops and non-inversion tillage regimes on nutrient losses from an arable catchment. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 237, 181–193.
  2. Hama-Aziz, Z.Q., Hiscock, K.M., Cooper, R.J., 2017. Dissolved nitrous oxide (N2O) dynamics in agricultural field drains and headwater streams in an intensive arable catchment. Hydrological Processes, 31, 1371-1381.
  3. Islam, R., Reeder, R., 2014. No-till and conservation agriculture in the United States: An example from the David Brandt farm, Carroll, Ohio. International Soil and Water Conservation Research, 2, 97-107.
  4. Outram, F.N., Cooper, R.J., Sünnenberg, G., Hiscock, K.M., Lovett, A.A., 2016. Antecedent conditions, hydrological connectivity and anthropogenic inputs: factors affecting nitrate and phosphorus transfers to agricultural headwater streams. Science of the Total Environment, 545-546, 184-199.
  5. Yates, C.A., Johnes, P.J., Spencer, R.G.M., 2016. Assessing the drivers of dissolved organic matter export from two contrasting lowland catchments, UK. Science of the Total Environment, 569-570, 1330-1340.