Novel Approaches to Engaging Land Managers in Monitoring the Impact of Agri-Environment-Climate Schemes

University of Aberdeen

Department of Geography and Environment

Project Description

Agri-environment-climate schemes (AECS) are a voluntary policy mechanism to incentivise and compensate farmers for undertaking environmental measures as part of their land management. However, schemes have been criticised for limited effectiveness and questions raised whether the money spent is justifiable (Batary et al. 2015). Even though farmers undertake the prescribed measures, the impact is uncertain because monitoring data is poor or lacking. With limited government budget available for monitoring there is an urgent need to trial novel approaches to monitoring, recording and analysing change that occurs as a result of implementing AECS. Keith et al. (2011) emphasise the critical need to develop less costly (per observation) monitoring schemes using approaches such as stakeholder involvement in data gathering.

The aim of this project is to trial a novel approach for engaging land managers (in particular farmers) and (conservation) volunteers in monitoring, thus testing findings from the literature that indicate farmer buy-in with AECS is higher if they witness the effects of the measures they implement (Mills et al. 2016), which could ultimately lead to higher scheme effectiveness and generate monitoring data that is complementary to scientific monitoring data. This study will identify the levels of interest among land managers, explore the supporting role that volunteers could fulfill, trial suitable technologies and approaches to monitoring, and make recommendations to address any barriers to this approach and the infrastructure necessary to make the data accessible and compatible with existing data. The project would also develop a process for independent verification (to inform the potential of using this data) in order to address issues with reporting of biodiversity effects or other environmental impact by non-scientists.

The research will build on the literature on adaptive management, land manager behaviour and decision making. This includes insights from numerous citizen science initiatives that suggest that volunteers can generate data of sufficient quality (Baggaley et al. 2014; Conrad & Hilchey, 2011). In particular, a recent study on monitoring pollinators (Carvell et al., 2016) found close similarity in species community composition (bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies) between the experts’ sightings and those of the volunteers with limited taxonomic expertise. The project will follow an action research approach. Species or environmental impacts to be monitored would be decided on with the participants, and protocols and trials co-developed, taking into account realistic expectations of farmer/volunteer effort. Potential methods include key informant interviews (e.g. British Trust for Ornithology, Butterfly Conservation, Conservation Volunteers, agri-environment advisors, farmer organisations), and participant observation and interviews on the experience during the trials.

The PhD student will be able to select and adjust the theoretical framework used in the project, decide the focus of the monitoring efforts (e.g. which AECS options to investigate, which environmental impacts) and the case study region(s). They could shape the trials with regard to the technological infrastructure to be used, how to generate support for the trial and longer term commitment, and inform the design of new schemes such as Environmental Land Management in England.

Funding Information

This project is advertised in relation to the research area of Human Geography. The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting View Website. THERE IS NO FUNDING ATTACHED TO THESE PROJECTS.

Additional research costs will be required (above tuition fees and living expenses) and these should be discussed with the supervisor

Eligibility Requirements

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in geography, rural or environmental sociology, rural development, agriculture, ecology, political sciences, sustainability.

Essential Background: Excellent English communication skills (speaking, writing, comprehension)
An interview will be undertaken with suitable candidates before an offer is made.

Application Process

  • Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Geography
  • State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
  • State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding
  • State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

  • All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)
  • Detailed CV
  • Details of 2 academic referees

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr K Prager ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ([email protected])

The other supervisor on the project is Robin Pakeman (James Hutton Institute)


  • Bat├íry, P., L. V. Dicks, D. Kleijn and W. J. Sutherland (2015). “The role of agri-environment schemes in conservation and environmental management.” Conservation Biology 29(4): 1006-1016.
  • Keith, D. A., Martin, T. G., McDonald-Madden, E. & Walters, C. (2011). Uncertainty and adaptive management for biodiversity conservation, Biological Conservation, 144(4), 1175-1178.
  • Mills, J., Gaskell, P., Ingram, J., Dwyer, J., Reed, M. & Short, C. (2016). Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of behaviour, Agriculture and Human Values 34(2): 283-299.
  • Baggaley, N.; Prager, K.; Donnelly, D.; McKee, A.; Lilly, A.; Cooksley, S., (2014) How can we employ citizen science to determine the extent of soil erosion in Scotland- SNIFFER Project Report.
  • Conrad, C. C. & Hilchey, K. G. (2011). A review of citizen science and community-based environmental monitoring: issues and opportunities, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 176, 273-291.
  • Carvell, C., Isaac, N. J. B., Jitlal, M., et al. (2016). Design and Testing of a National Pollinator and Pollination Monitoring Framework. Final summary report to the DEFRA, Scottish Government and Welsh Government.

To apply for this PhD, please use the following application link:

  • Supervisor Name
    Dr Katrin Prager, Prof S Redpath
  • Deadline
    Open all year round
  • Funding Type
  • Subject(s)