PhD Studentship: The Political Ecology of Trees and Birds in Ghana


The populations of many birds that migrate between Europe and Africa are in decline.  One factor affecting numbers is the availability of wintering habitat in West Africa, particularly scrub and trees in and around dryland farms.  Rural communities in the semi-arid West Africa depend on the successful management of these agricultural landscapes for their livelihoods. There are long-standing debates about environmental change in these environments, ranging from concerns about desertification to reports of sustainable intensification and ‘greening’.  In particular, information is lacking about the sustainability of dryland agriculture, and the supply of ecosystem services such as fuelwood and livestock fodder in fields, fallows and woodlands in farmed landscapes.  Trajectories of landscape change are uncertain, and the political, economic and social drivers of change are inadequately understood. These trajectories and drivers have significant implications for the livelihoods and wellbeing of rural people as well as biodiversity, including migratory birds.

This project builds on previous research, and will explore the political ecology of landscape change in a study area in northern Ghana. This area is already the focus of ornithological and ecological research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, co-sponsors of this project), and their local partners. 

The PhD will be based in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge, working with the RSPB (based in Sandy, Bedfordshire). It will be co-supervised by Juliet Vickery (RSPB) and Bill Adams (Geography), collaborating under the Cambridge Conservation Initiative). Candidates may have a background in either the natural or social sciences, but must have experience of social science fieldwork, and a strong interest in socio-economic  and environmental change in sub-Saharan Africa. Field experience in a developing country context and a capacity for self-directed work in remote field locations are an advantage. The project currently has only partial funding, and funding will be dependent on a successful application for an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) CASE Award at the Cambridge ESRC Doctoral Training Centre.

Candidates must have graduated at a University before 1 October 2016 and be eligible to pay University fees at the ‘home’ (UK/EU) rate. Consideration will normally be restricted to those who have obtained, or who have a strong prospect of obtaining, a First Class Honours degree and evidence of subsequent intellectual development – eg. Masters degree..

Application: Please contact Ms Gae Matthews, Graduate Office Administrator, Department of Geography.  Tel: 01223 333375 or email by 1200 noon Monday 7 December 2015. Late applications will not be accepted. Candidates should submit a covering letter (no more than 2 sides A4) stating why they are suitable for the project, a CV, and the names of two academic referees who can be contacted by email.

Interviews will take place in Cambridge before the Christmas holiday. Following selection, the successful applicant will be required to submit a complete formal application to study for a PhD at Cambridge.


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