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Reference CTP-SAI-066

From regenerative farming to restoration: assessing the environmental impacts of future management changes in UK lowland peatlands

Reference CTP-SAI-066

From regenerative farming to restoration: assessing the environmental impacts of future management changes in UK lowland peatlands

Dr Nick Girkin (University of Nottingham),
Dr Lydia Smith (NIAB),
Ron Stobart (Sainsburys)


The Cambridgeshire Fens contains extensively drained lowland peatland soils, covering 4,000 km2 and including areas for crop production and grazing, unproductive degraded peat, small reserves of deeper peat, and areas under active restoration. UK lowland peatlands have an important role in climate regulation, acting as both sources and sinks for GHGs. Intact peatlands are a vitalcarbon store, but degraded peatlands now account for 3.5% of total UK GHG emissions, resulting in substantial GHG footprints for food produced in the fens. Peat loss is compromising long-term agricultural productivity and increasing vulnerability to climate-related risksm and resulting in low levels of resilience for both agricultural production and farmer livelihoods. There is an urgent need for solutions to improve agricultural sustainability, identify areas suitable for restoration or alternative management, and to understand how changes in management will translate across supply chains. Potential strategies to reduce GHG emissions range from the adoption of more sustainable grazing, crop, soil and water management practices which will reduce the rates of peat erosion, to wetland crop production (paludiculture), and restoration. However, there is a lack of information on current peatland distribution, depth and carbon storage to identify optimal areas for management pathways, and no understanding of how resultant changes in food production to achieve UK Net Zero targets will translate across supply chains. This project will address these challenges.


The overall aim of this project is to quantify the current extent of carbon storage and losses in the fens, how these translate across supply chains, and understand the implications of future changes in management to improve sustainability. You will address the following objectives:

O1: Synthesise evidence of climate impacts and ecosystem resilience for UK lowland peatlands under contrasting agricultural managements, and identify high priority areas of ongoing peat loss across farming landscapes.

This will be addressed using a systematic literature review combining the published scientific and grey literature, and be of interest to farmers and policymakers.

O2: Quantify peatland extent and carbon storage in the Cambridgeshire fens.

Various sources of data are already avaialble on peatland extent and carbon storage for the Cambridgeshire Fens, and there is a new opportunitiy for data synthesis, identifying key gaps, and field measurments to produce an up-to-date understanding of distribution and carbon storage

O3. Develop a landscape scale opportunity model and use it to identify some optimal management trajectories that enhance climate resilience for different peatland areas.

Using data from O1 and O2, you will establish the vulnerability of peatland carbon storage in different areas, and opportunities for enhancing resilience by changes in agricultural management in different areas.

O4. Assess the impact of changes in farm management (for example a shift to minimal or zero tillage in the fens) on the greenhouse gas footprint of key fenland agricultural products.

You will finally investigate how changes in management in the Fens will impact food production at regional and national scales, and assess the potential impacts on the sustainability of food supply chains using greenhouse gas footprinting techniques.


The student will be registered with the University of Nottingham, and based there, with the option for extended time at NIAB, Cambridge.


Students will have access to training in key bioscience areas (bioinformatics, statistics and mathematics) to enhance employability and research capability.

The CTP – SAI ( is a groundbreaking partnership between leading businesses, charities and research providers offering outstanding training for the agri-food sector.  All CTP-SAI students will receive the Leadership and Management training provided by MDS ( and will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring with regards to their career plans and skills development (in addition to the scientific project supervision).

Specific further training will be made available at the University of Nottingham and NIAB in soil science, agronomy, laboratory and field experimental design, in addition to transferable skills in data handling, and presentation, amongst other areas.


Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.


Contact Nick Girkin for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.

This studentship will begin in October 2024. The successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.

This studentship is for four years and is fully funded in line with UKRI-BBSRC standard rates. These will be for 2024/2025, an annual maintenance stipend of £19,237, fee support of £4,786, a research training support grant of £5,000 and conference and UK fieldwork expenses of £300.

Due to funder-mandated caps for the CTP as a whole, this project is only available to ‘Home’ applicants

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have settled status, or

  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or

  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an international student would not be eligible for this round of recruitment.

Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 17th June 2024. Interviews will be held during June 2024.

Please contact for further application details.

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NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
NIAB logo transparent background_edited.jpg
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