Project Highlights:

  • Fieldwork in Yorkshire
  • Collaborative working with the Environment Agency
  • Work at the cutting edge of restoration ecology

The range of ecosystem services supplied by extensive, species-rich grasslands are well documented (Bullock et al., 2011; Morris and Camino, 2011). There is also a large literature pertaining to restoration techniques (Walker et al., 2004; Edwards et al., 2007). The success of a restoration exercise depends on the targets that were set, which have traditionally been compositional. Recent movements in ecological restoration circles give increased emphasis to service delivery rather than purely the species composition of a restored habitat, though the two are necessarily linked.

This project will aim to use an opportunity for large scale restoration in a Yorkshire River Valley to investigate the merits of the new approach. The research will be based around setting up a management trial on an area of grassland designated for the creation of high-quality habitat in order to offset the loss of habitat elsewhere. Other existing and planned restoration schemes will be considered (either via fieldwork or analysis of existing data) to contrast the effectiveness of management techniques, but more fundamentally of how criteria for success are set, assessed and responded to.

Many previous studies have focussed on the introduction of propagules to a restoration site in order to diversify the species composition. However, some studies (Coulson et al., 2001; Warren et al., 2002) have indicated that it is the subsequent management of the grassland, in terms of its cutting and grazing regime that determines the success of the project. This project will seek to make recommendations about how goals should be set and identify some demonstration sites that can be used to exhibit the effect of alternate management practices, especially with respect to the ecosystems services they provide.

The output of the project will be academic papers describing how restoration targets influence habitat development and the production of guidance to the EA setting out best practice for grassland restoration with particular emphasis on floodplains.

An area of flower-rich restored grassland delivering multiple services


The student will work closely with the Floodplain Meadow Partnership, Natural England and the Environment Agency to help guide the restoration of floodplain north of York. The objective for the site is to offset the loss of high-quality habitat as part of flood-defence operations and to provide a demonstration of good practice in terms of habitat restoration.

Training and Skills

Full training will be provided in terms of botanical survey, use of differential GPS equipment and soil profile description. The Open University will offer support in the use of “R” for data analysis. The student will be located within a team of conservation ecologists, who will provide support with respect to accessing the literature and developing presentation skills. They will also attend regular internal forums to discuss initiatives in conservation science.


Year 1: Literature review of how targets are set for ecological restoration schemes and what factors are most critical for success against the criteria set. On the basis of the review and in consultation with partners, to select treatments to trial as part of a new restoration scheme. Botanical training and practising vegetation, soil and topographic survey.

Year 2: Implementation of trials at main site, botanical surveys for baseline. Visits to secondary sites with botanical survey as required. Draft paper on selection of success criteria for restoration schemes. Presentation at National meeting.

Year 3: Repeat surveys at main and subsidiary sites. Data analysis. Thesis planning. Presentation at international conference

Funding is available for 3.5 years and it is expected that the thesis can be completed within that period.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The EA will act a s a CASE partner in this project, helping to steer the development of the project and offering the successful candidate the opportunity to work alongside Agency staff for discrete periods to give the student work experience and a better appreciation of the role of a statutory agency in ecological management.

The Floodplain Meadows Partnership (www.floodplainmeadows.org) will make its database of restoration trials available and will provide logistical support in terms of fieldwork and data analysis.

Further Details

This project has been selected as a CENTA Flagship project. This is based on the projects fulfilment of specific characteristics e.g., NERC CASE support, collaboration with our CENTA high-level end-users, diversity of the supervisory team, career development of the supervisory team, collaboration with one of our Research Centre Partners (BGS, CEH, NCEO, NCAS), or a potential applicant co-development of the project.


Students should have a strong background in ecology or conservation. Experience of plant identification and a strong interest in habitat restoration are highly desirable. The successful student will join the well-established ecosystems research group and a vibrant postgraduate community at the Open University.

Please contact Dr Clare Lawson, (clare.lawson@open.ac.uk) for further details.

Applications should include: