Understanding the relationship between donkey welfare and ecosystem health


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 and The Donkey Sanctuary:

Ref 23-24-JAN-HSS04

The expected start date of this studentship is 1 January 2024.

The closing date for applications is 8 September 2023.

Studentship details

This PhD studentship focuses on the management and welfare of domestic donkeys in temperate climates such as the UK. As descendants of the African Wild Ass, donkeys have retained adaptions to semi-arid environments that allow browsing on nutritionally poor shrubby vegetation when grasses and low vegetation are scarce. In temperate climates, donkeys are often kept in pastures, which are more nutritious than necessary and provide little opportunity for browsing. This can lead to obesity and a multitude associated health problems. Such environments also lack enrichment for donkeys and do not provide opportunities to fulfil their ethological needs in terms of feeding and movement.

Inappropriate management of domestic livestock can result in lasting negative impacts on the environment, such as reduced biodiversity and soil organic carbon stocks. As well as providing ecological benefits, efforts aimed at increasing habitat heterogeneity can potentially improve donkey welfare by providing natural browsing opportunities, increasing choice of food type and species, and reducing time spent grazing nutrient-rich grass and other unsuitable forage.

The aim of this studentship is to identify habitat management techniques that deliver the highest benefits to donkey welfare within a semi-natural environment. The successful candidate will develop methods to assess dietary preference, palatability, and arrangement of browse species. They will also investigate how to apply the principles of conservation grazing at different landscape scales, in order to improve equid welfare and ecosystem health.

This project will involve data collection in the field and data analysis using statistical methods. The PhD will be based at UWE Bristol with regular trips to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon and field sites across the UK.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Dr Paul Lintott at: paul.lintott@uwe.ac.uk


The studentship is available from 1 January 2024 for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax exempt stipend, which is currently £18,622 (2023/24) per annum.

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


Candidates with either a background in animal science, animal welfare, or ecology, with a particular interest in equine nutrition, behaviour, and management are strongly encouraged to apply.

Candidates should have a strong understanding of animal biology and the impact of environmental conditions on animal health and welfare. Experience working with equids or other livestock animals would be beneficial, as well as experience in conducting field research.

In addition, candidates should have strong skills in data analysis, statistical modelling, and GIS (geographic information system) software. Experience in habitat management or conservation grazing would also be an advantage. A full driving licence would also be beneficial.

A recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 23-24-JAN-HSS04.

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 8 September 2023.

Further information

It is expected that interviews will take place on the week commencing 25 September 2023. If you have not heard from us by 1 October 2023, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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