Managing trade-offs between biodiversity, carbon, people and productivity to balance benefits from the forests of the future


• Expansion of forest cover is recognised as an essential tool in our efforts to reduce rising greenhouse gas concentrations and mitigate a broad range of negative impacts resulting from the climate crisis. Governments around the world have, therefore, set ambitious targets for tree planting over the next decades. Native woodland provides key benefits for biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation, as well as holding significant social and cultural value. There is high and growing societal support for expanding the cover and diversity of native woodland in Britain, but considerably less public support for expanding forestry with non-native coniferous species. Yet commercial forestry remains essential for sustainable timber provision and decarbonising the economy in response to climate change. Moreover, the creation of fully functioning ancient native woodlands is a very long-term process spanning centuries. Thus, while conflicts and tradeoffs exist between these two approaches to forest expansion, there is significant opportunity to optimise production forestry to reconcile some of these tradeoffs. Alternative management solutions are required in the short to medium-term which balance the needs of forestry with habitat restoration and biodiversity conservation by shifting away from a binary approach to woodland creation.

• In this PhD project you will explore how we create multifunctional forests to optimise biodiversity, carbon sequestration and economic value for timber production and maximise their public acceptability. You will integrate research and implementation to bridge the gaps between science, conservation management, sustainability and commercial forestry and gain valuable experience of working with researchers, ecologists, land-owners and commercial foresters.

The project will be structured flexibly around the following objectives:

• To investigate management and restructuring techniques in existing plantation forests for maximising opportunities for biodiversity and potential to deliver “functional equivalence” to native woodlands.
• To quantify the trade-offs in alternative forest management scenarios involving the use of different stand densities, tree ages and species mixtures.
• Between these scenarios, compare species richness and the richness of specialist species which represent functionally diverse components of woodland habitats
• To determine how changing the rotation length of species mixtures impacts growth, carbon stocking and associated biodiversity and understand consequences for stand management and risk.
• To assess implications of alternative management approaches for timber quality and production practicality, acceptability and economics.


• You will combine data including tree growth, productivity, stand structure, biodiversity, social and economic values collected specifically for this project during your PhD fieldwork across Scotland with existing data including those from experimental field trials and historical and restructured plantations from the CASE partner, Corrour Estate and other locations to be incorporated during your fieldwork planning.
• Stand structure, tree growth, productivity and timber characteristics will be assessed using a range of dendroecological and forest inventory methods including tree core analysis.
• Biodiversity will be explored using key indicator species and functional groups from a range of plant and animal assemblages (e.g. birds, invertebrates and small mammals).
• Surveys, focus group meetings and walking interviews with landscape users will be employed to understand how different forest structures are perceived and valued
• Relationships between different forest values, optimisation and trade-offs will be explored using statistical and scenario-based modelling.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Literature review, detailed planning and training needs assessment. Field site identification and initial forest inventory assessments.

Year 2

Biodiversity assessments and tree core sampling. Planning for social surveys and setting up of focus group meetings across forestry, conservation and landscape user groups.

Year 3

Analysis and publication of biodiversity and stand structure data. Tree core analysis. Forest and landscape user surveys. CASE placement with Corrour Lands Ltd.

Year 3.5

Combined statistical and scenario-based modelling, research paper and PhD write up. Findings presented to stakeholder groups engaged in year 2.

& Skills

You will gain a wide range of training delivered through one-to-one training on Ecological monitoring and assessment (Sarah Watts) forest inventory and dendroecological analysis (Alistair Jump and Rob Wilson) alongside training in forestry and estate planning through your CASE placement. Further training on PhD skills and statistical analysis will be gained through a range of courses available through IAPETUS2 and the universities of Stirling and St Andrews, with potential for further commercially provided training opportunities where necessary.

References & further reading

Mori, A.S. (2017), Biodiversity and ecosystem services in forests: management and restoration founded on ecological theory. J Appl Ecol, 54: 7-11.

Jeffrey Sayer, Terry Sunderland, Jaboury Ghazoul, Jean Laurent Pfund, Douglas Sheil, Erik Meijaard, Michelle Venter, Agni Klintuni Boedhihartono, Michael Day, Claude Garcia, Cora van Oosten, Louise E. Buck 2013 Ten principles for a landscape approach to reconciling agriculture, conservation, and other competing land uses PNAS 110 8349-8356;

de Koning J, Turnhout E, Winkel G, Blondet M, Borras L, Ferranti F, Geitzenhauer M, Sotirov M, Jump AS (2014). Managing climate change in conservation practice: an exploration of the science management interface in Beech forest management. Biodiversity and Conservation, 23, 3657-3671,

Hannes Cosyns, Daniel Kraus, Frank Krumm, Tobias Schulz, Patrick Pyttel, Reconciling the Tradeoff between Economic and Ecological Objectives in Habitat-Tree Selection: A Comparison between Students, Foresters, and Forestry Trainers, Forest Science, Volume 65, Issue 2, April 2019, Pages 223–234,

Maria Nijnik, Albert Nijnik, and Iain Brown. Exploring the linkages between multifunctional forestry goals and the legacy of spruce plantations in Scotland. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 46(10): 1247-1254.

Cosyns, H., Joa, B., Mikoleit, R. et al. Resolving the trade-off between production and biodiversity conservation in integrated forest management: comparing tree selection practices of foresters and conservationists. Biodivers Conserv 29, 3717–3737 (2020).

Further Information

For further information and to discuss a potential application for this PhD project, please contact Alistair Jump at

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