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Fully Funded PhD Studentship: Dormouse conservation in upland forests

Project Background

We are inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship on hazel dormouse conservation. The project will focus on dormouse ecology in fragmented, upland and marginal landscapes at the edges of their range. The student will investigate the connectivity, dynamics and resilience of dormouse populations in such landscapes and how best to manage them in the face of climate change, to ensure their conservation at local, regional and national levels.3803_Dormouse

Fieldwork will comprise investigations of dormouse population biology and habitat use, including at Clocaenog Forest in northeast Wales. Laboratory studies may include analyses of foraging using stable isotopes, population genetics and modelling of dormouse populations. The student will also work with local partners at Chester Zoo, who have maintained dormouse surveillance in the region, and with ecologists and site managers at Innogy Renewables.

The student will join Professor McDonald’s research group at Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. We work on native and introduced, wild and domestic species and aim to achieve goals for controlling and eradicating disease in people and animals, for conserving biodiversity and for improving livelihoods. Co-supervisors are Dr Jon Bennie, who works on climate change and habitat fragmentation as drivers of change in populations and individuals, and Professor Mike Bruford, who is a conservation geneticist, and whose interests include demographic and evolutionary processes affecting populations, species and ecosystems of conservation concern.

About the Award

The studentship is available to start in early 2020, or soon thereafter. Funding is confirmed for this project and comes from Innogy Renewables UK Ltd and the University of Exeter. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend (in 2019/20 this is £15,009) for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study, plus research expenses. Students who would pay international tuition fees are eligible, but note that the award will only provide payment for part of the tuition fee and no stipend.

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall, with fieldwork away from campus, and laboratory work in Cardiff.

Candidate Requirements:

You should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK in a broadly relevant discipline. A Masters degree is not essential but is desirable. Experience of working successfully in a research or conservation environment and in partnership with stakeholders is highly desirable. Experience of dormouse survey work and possession of, or progress towards, a relevant wildlife licence are highly desirable, though not essential. For essential fieldwork, you will need to be able to get to locations that are not accessible by public transport. If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project. Alternative tests may be acceptable.

Click here for more information and to apply.


PhD Studentship: Environmental and social dynamics of lead ammunition use.

Project Background


Image credit: Bert de Tilley

Lead ammunition is still widely used in the UK, despite growing international concern about its environmental and health impacts. However, after centuries of use, things are on the cusp of change, with the ‘lead debate’ at a crossroads (Cromie et al., 2019). Recent research by this team (Newth et al., 2019) has identified diversity in the perspectives and practices of ammunition users and, at this pivotal moment, there is an urgent need to better understand how topographical, ecological and social factors interact to produce, reduce, and remediate environmental contamination. This interdisciplinary project will investigate spatial and behavioural variation and change in the use, distribution, and impacts of both lead and non-toxic ammunition. Combining innovative approaches from geography and environmental sciences, the student will develop skills in ecotoxicology, ecosystem health assessment and contemporary social research methods, as well as experience working at the science/policy interface. The collaborative CASE partnership will involve working with specialists at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and engaging constructively with ammunition users and shooting organisations in a range of contexts.

Project Aims and Methods 

Driven partridge shooting in Suffolk, UK

Image credit: Fieldsports Channel.

This project aims to understand how variations in shooting sites and practices affect the distribution and impacts of lead in the landscape, providing evidence to inform best practice and policy recommendations in relation to ammunition use. It also offers opportunities to examine the impacts of both lead and non-toxic shot on different species and habitats (e.g. gamebird and wildlife exposure, wounding rates, and plastic pollution), and investigate the environmental effects and social processes of transitioning from lead to non-toxic ammunition. The project is expected to integrate natural and social scientific research methods, and the student will have the opportunity to develop project scope and direction. The project will involve extensive field research in the UK, including (i) analysis of soil and shot composition to quantify and map vertical and spatial distributions of lead and non-toxic shot, (ii) assessing the shooting accuracy of ammunition users using different shot types (using clays), (iii) soft tissue, bone, and gizzard content analysis to determine levels of lead and non-toxic shot in shot game-birds, and (iv) case study research focusing on experiences and outcomes for individuals and shoots transitioning from lead to non-toxic ammunition. There are also opportunities to conduct comparative case research in Denmark and the USA.


This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

Candidate Requirements

The project will suit a student interested in a career in applied environmental or conservation science. The student will need to develop and apply a range of research skills, including both natural and social scientific methods. The work will require a willingness to carry out both field and laboratory research and to constructively engage with ammunition users and other key stakeholders.

Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Click here for more information and to apply

Prospective Research Fellows & PhD Students

Professor McDonald is interested in supporting PhD students and collaborating with fellows in any of our key research areas:

  • Wildlife management and conservation
  • Conflicts and disputes about animals and their management
  • Ecology and management of domestic animals in the environment
  • Animal social networks and their implications for ecology and diseases
  • Ecology and management of introduced and invasive species

“Most of my work is conducted on mammals and birds in the UK, and this will continue to be the priority. Right now, I am especially keen to undertake further work on dormice and woodland management, predators, predation and shooting interests, badgers and bTB, cats, dogs and other domestic animals in the environment and other gnarly problems with wildlife.

I am especially keen on supervising students in collaboration with colleagues in other disciplines, across campus and beyond. Most of my PhD projects on badgers and TB are undertaken in this way. PhD supervision is also undertaken in collaboration with a number of my colleagues at partner organisations, including Professor Richard Shore at Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Professor Dez Delahay at National Wildlife Management Centre, Dr Henry Schofield and Dr Jenny Macpherson at The Vincent Wildlife Trust, Dr Robin Gill at Forest Research, Dr Ruth Cromie at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Dr Menna Jones at the University of Tasmania. I also co-supervise students across the GW4+ network with Dr Sarah Perkins and Dr Liz Chadwick at Cardiff University.

For all PhD students, funding is hard to come by and all scholarships for which I have secured funding will be advertised here and on

I am always keen to hear from UK resident graduates, with excellent academic credentials with a view to applying for Doctoral Training Partnership and other highly competitive scholarships. If you fit this bill and are keen to develop a project in the areas above, or related areas, get in touch at any time.

The next entry date for PhD students is September 2020, with applications between now and then.