Impact of soil degradation on the loss of ancient carbon from lowland peatland soils drained for agriculture


An opportunity to apply for a funded full-time PhD in the College of Health, Science and Society, UWE Bristol. The studentship will be funded by UWE Bristol.

Ref: 2223-APR-CHSS08

The expected start date of this studentship is Saturday 1 April 2023.

The closing date for applications is Sunday 12 February 2023.

Studentship details

Carbon sequestration is a key component of all the emissions pathways identified by the IPCC for limiting climate change to 1.5°C, and natural storage of carbon in vegetation and soils is currently the only cost effective and proven mechanism of sequestration.

The Somerset Levels and Moors is England’s largest intact lowland peatland and, as such, represents the largest store of soil carbon in Southern Britain. Recent work in this landscape has indicated that up to 1% of the stored soil carbon is potentially being lost annually to the atmosphere as a result of soil drainage, degradation and shifting weather patterns. This is a high rate of loss, particularly as it does not account for further carbon losses via aquatic pathways.

The aim of the project is to evaluate the potential impacts of sustainable regenerative agricultural practice for mitigating the loss of ancient soil carbon from lowland peatlands. The project will focus on characterising carbon loss across a soil degradation gradient by:

  • determination of the age profile of carbon being lost from lowland peatlands
  • identification of indicative chemical markers characteristic of carbon loss, and
  • modelling potential carbon loss across the wider landscape.

Understanding the nature of this carbon loss, so that the correct regenerative agricultural practices can be applied at the landscape scale is an essential step in meeting our short- and long-term climate goals for meeting net zero targets.

The student will be based at UWE Bristol with field-based work at sites across the Somerset Levels (one hour South of Bristol). The student will be trained in a wide range of chemical, ecological and analytical techniques, including in situ carbon flux monitoring, chemical analysis (IC, GC-MS, SIFT-MS, AMS), eDNA, and remote sensing and GIS methods.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please contact Pete Maxfield at


The studentship is available from Saturday 1 April 2023 for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax exempt stipend, which is currently £17,668 (2022/23) per annum.

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years (Home).


Applicants must have, or soon expect to obtain a minimum BSc (upper second class or equivalent) in biology, chemistry, soil science, environmental science, physical geography, or a closely related subject. A Masters-level degree, previous fieldwork experience, and a driving license are desirable, but not essential.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 2223-APR-CHSS08.

Supporting documentation: You will need to upload your research proposal, all your degree certificates and transcripts and your proof of English language proficiency as attachments to your application, so please have these available when you complete the application form.

References: You will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application. At least one referee must be an academic referee from the institution that conferred your highest degree. Your referee will be asked for a reference at the time you submit your application, so please ensure that your nominated referees are willing and able to provide references within 14 days of your application being submitted.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is Sunday 12 February 2023.

Further information

It is expected that interviews will take place on weeks commencing Monday 6 March 2023. If you have not heard from us by this date, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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