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PhD Studentship: The relationship between Biodiversity and the transition to Carbon Net Zero.

Research Office

Location:  Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB
Salary:  As per advert
Post Type:  Full Time
Contract Type: Fixed Term - 36 Months - Up to 36 months
Closing Date:  23.59 hours BST on Sunday 16 April 2023
Reference:  RD-PHD-01-JC-MH

PhD Studentship: The relationship between Biodiversity and the transition to Carbon Net Zero


Professor Michael Lee (Director of Studies), Dr Julia Casperd (Second Supervisor), Scott Kirby (Advisor)

Non-academic partner:

Wm Morrisons Supermarkets Ltd

36 month funded studentship.

The expected start date for the studentship will be end of September/beginning of October 2023. The student will be registered for a PhD at Harper Adams University and based at Harper Adams University, Edgmond, Shropshire, UK. The studentship will cover the current Home tuition fee rate plus a yearly stipend set at the UKRI figure – currently £17,668 per year (2022/23 academic year) with an expected small increase from September 2023. International applicants would need to be able to fund the difference between Home and Overseas fees which will be £10,890 for the 2023/24 academic year with the first year’s fee’s being paid in full before Visa documentation can be issued. 

Project Description:


The Environment Act (Gov.UK, 2021) in line with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and Convention on Biological Diversity Post-2020 Framework (see: Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020; Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity, 2022) aims to halt the decline of species by 2030 by improving the natural environment through the Environmental Land Management Schemes (DEFRA, 2021; DEFRA, 2022); whilst also achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2021). Approximately, 72% of the UK’s land is currently farmed (Norton, 2021), thus supporting farmers in achieving this strategic aim is absolutely key. 

The aim of this Ph.D. project is to quantify biodiversity on farms transitioning towards Net Zero agri systems, and farmland natural capita using existing biodiversity metrics (e.g. UKHab and Biodiversity Metric 3.1) in an emerging climate of Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). This will be achieved using three farms (two Morrisons Supplying Net Zero Agri farms and the Harper Adams Future Farm) by applying interventions in the transition towards Net Zero and exploring their relationship with Biodiversity within a Local Nature Recovery framework. 

The learning outcomes of this thesis are as follows: 1. to understand how/whether biodiversity and Net Zero Agriculture benefit each other and 2. to produce a simple set of parameters for farmers to measure biodiversity at scale.

Chapter 1 Literature Review 

The aim of this chapter is to outline current research on 1. the importance of biodiversity within natural and farmed ecosystems; 2. how carbon Net Zero transition is to be achieved in different farming systems and how biodiversity is managed within these systems; and 3. whether there is any evidence of Net Zero Agriculture impacting positively or negatively on biodiversity. 

Chapter 2 Baselining Carbon Net Zero

This chapter will determine the Carbon Net Zero baseline for the 3 study farms using current carbon calculators (e.g. Agrecalc); the method by which each farm aims to reach carbon Net Zero and the manner in which this will be tracked in financial and carbon terms.

Chapter 3 Towards a Biodiversity Code

Establishing a robust method of quantifying biodiversity is pivotal in the creation of Biodiversity Credits for Environment Banks (Environment Bank, no date). This chapter will model, with reference to the framework set out by the Peatland Code (IUCN 2022), the most effective way of assessing biodiversity on farms for the measurement of biodiversity within natural capita and cropping systems; and the relevance of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) to agriculture. The main objective of this modelling will be to establish a simplified method that may be used by farmers to measure biodiversity across their farm/farming cluster perhaps in conjunction with The Land App (The Land App, no date). This will then be used to track the change in biodiversity on the transitioning farms. 

Chapter 4 Improving on-farm biodiversity measurement through automation

In a similar way in which automation provides the opportunity to accelerate the process of decarbonising agri-food systems (Pearson et al., 2022), it is anticipated that the automation of biodiversity measurement may improve the efficiency and accuracy of measuring biodiversity across farms. This chapter will consider current innovations (e.g. use of drones; eDNA analysis of soil biota; and in field pollination sensors by AgriSound, no date) in this area and how effective they are at establishing biodiversity. 

Chapter 5 Modelling the economic value of biodiversity 

In a system of blended finance placing a value on natural capital is pivotal to manage supply and demand in a system of biodiversity offsetting. This chapter will model the economic value of the three transitioning farms’ natural capital by considering the process by which biodiversity assets are monetised to establish biodiversity credits (e.g. by measuring BNG) and relate this to the level of carbon Net Zero attained by each farm. 

Chapter 6 Conclusions: carbon Net Zero farming, biodiversity and ecosystem service provision 

This final chapter will draw together the lines of enquiry in each chapter in light of the results and will discuss this in terms of the 3 pillars of sustainability with recommendations for government policy. ‘Halting the decline of species’ (DEFRA, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and Rt Hon George Eustice, 2021) and ensuring a net gain of floral and faunal species diversity (biodiversity) as proposed by the UK Government does not necessarily result in sustainable agriculture or optimal ecosystem service provision (see Windsor et al., 2021). For example, a large number of invertebrate species, and an abundance of them, may not equate to a good level of pollination services for crops and other habitats on farms. It is important to have an appropriate level of abundance from relevant invertebrate taxa (that pollinate the crops/plants present) for that particular ecosystem. In short, the measurement of biodiversity does not indicate habitat quality, in terms of ecosystem service provision. This is clearly significant also to cropping systems in terms of both pollination and IPM since the incorrect balance, or assemblages, of invertebrates could lead to reduced pollination services and biological pest control. The level of ecosystem provision within Net Zero farms should act as a standard for Regenerative Agriculture. The question here is: Should DEFRA be focusing on biodiversity? 


AgriSound (no date). Building the largest pollinator globally. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022). 

Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Aichi Biodiversity Targets (

DEFRA, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and Rt Hon George Eustice (2021) World Leading Environment Act Becomes Law. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022).

DEFRA (2021) Environmental Land Management schemes: overview. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022). 

Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (2021) Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022). 

DEFRA (2022) Local Nature Recovery: more information on how the scheme will work. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022).

DEFRA and Natural England (2021) Biodiversity Metric: calculate the biodiversity net gain of a project or development. Available at: (Accessed 28th August 2022). 

Environment Bank (no date). Diversify your business. Available at: (Accessed 28th August 2022).

IUCN National Committee United Kingdom (2022). Peatland Code. IUCN Version 1.2, p1-19.

Norton, E. 2019 Current Agricultural Landuse in the UK. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022). 

Pearson, S., Camacho-Villa, T.C., Valluru, R., Gaju, O, Rai, M.C., Gould, I., Brewer, S. and Sklar, E. (2022). Robotics and Autonomous Systems for Net Zero Agriculture. Current Robotics Reports 3, pp 57-64.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (2022) Convention on Biological Diversity (

The Land App (no date). The Land App. Available at: (Accessed 28th August 2022).

UKHab, no date. UK Habitat Classification. Available at: (Accessed: 28th August 2022). 

Windsor, F.M., Tavella, J., Rother, D.C., Raimundo, R.L.G., Devoto, M., Guimaraes Jr, P.R., Evans D.M. (2021) ‘Identifying plant mixes for multiple ecosystem service provision in agricultural systems using ecological networks’. Journal of Applied Ecology, 58(12) pp. 2770-2782.


Minimum of an upper second class (2:1) honours degree, or equivalent, in Agriculture, Ecology or Environmental Land Management related disciplines.

MSc degree in a related subject is desirable. 

Enthusiasm for Agro-Ecology in a farm setting.

A good understanding of biodiversity and how farms are required to transition to carbon Net Zero is essential.

The ability to communicate clearly with the farming community is essential.

Competency in mathematical modelling and knowledge of R and ArcGIS would be advantageous.

Possess a good level of scientific communication including the ability to write critical reviews of scientific literature as well as scientific reports in English.

Hold a UK driving license for travel during fieldwork is desirable.  

International applicants: A minimum level of competency in English is required. Where necessary, applicants need to be classed as an overall IELTS grade 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component and undertake an English Language interview if short-listed for the studentship.

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Harper Adams University is one of the premier UK Higher Education institutions focused on the land-based and food supply chain sector. With around 2,800 undergraduate students, plus those completing postgraduate, research and CPD programmes, Harper Adams University is the UK's largest single provider of higher education for these subjects.  Programmes fall into eleven broad subject areas – but none operate in isolation. Community and collaboration are key at Harper Adams, meaning everyone, including staff, students and industry partners, benefits from a close network of knowledge and opportunity exchange. Situated in Shropshire, the campus and the surrounding area provide an excellent working and living environment for staff and students alike.

Harper Adams is consistently positioned highly in a range of national ratings, performance measures and league tables. The University has been the highest performing modern university in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide for the last four years, climbing to 17th place in the overall league table. In the 2020 guide Harper Adams was named Modern University of the Year and runner-up University of the Year. In the 2019 Whatuni? Student Choice Awards, based on student reviews, Harper Adams won the Student Support category for the fifth time – the only university to have taken the title since the awards began - and won the category for best job prospects for a fourth year running. In the 2020 QS World Rankings for Agriculture and Forestry published in March 2020, Harper Adams was ranked first in the UK for academic reputation and second in the world for its reputation with employers.

Applied research is at the heart of the university’s activity, with the work of a thriving academic community underpinning both teaching and work with the industries allied to Harper. The 2014 Government Research Excellence Framework rated all of the university’s research as “of international quality”, and more than half was deemed “world leading” or “internationally excellent”.



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