PhD Studentship - Blackwell Park Woodlands Project

University of Surrey

Guildford & Woking, Surrey
Stipend of £18,000 pa

Paid • Full Time • Fixed Term Contract

Sectors: sustainability, conservation & wildlife, ecology

Closing date: Wednesday, 6th June 2018  

Centre for Environment and Sustainability, University of Surrey

Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability: Project Brief

Project Title: Blackwell Park Woodlands Project

Sponsoring organisation: University of Surrey, Surrey Wildlife Trust

Project Overview and Background

In response to the Guildford Local Plan process, the University of Surrey will be offering a residential-led, mixed use community of 1800 dwellings on land at Blackwell Farm (to become Blackwell Park) to the west of Guildford. This site is located adjacent to the university campus at Manor Park and the Surrey Research Park, along with the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Surrey Sport Park and a large existing local community in the North West of Guildford.

The University of Surrey’s strategy to deliver Blackwell Park is underpinned by it being a sustainable development that is framed by nature and which challenges itself to not just maintain, but enhance biodiversity and the natural environment. This effort and its outcomes will also benefit the neighbouring communities (some of which fall within the 10 % most deprived within the UK - assessed through the indices of multiple deprivation) and related sustainability and environmental projects locally. This means that not only does the development have a role to play in providing housing for local residents, but it also has a role to play in valuing and increasing the natural capital in the local area for the benefit of a range of stakeholders.

The integration of the communities both new and existing in and around Blackwell is a key driver in the overall regeneration of the North West Guildford Area. The Woodland project provides an invaluable opportunity to engage these communities involving them fully in the plans for the natural environment and how it relates to existing green spaces as well as those to be repaired (the woodland) and those to be developed. We would envisage volunteer activity forming a pivotal role in the repair and conservation of the woodland. Groups will be able to take part in conservation activity and local schools will be engaged. This ensures the young people who will be the future of that area are invested and understand the importance of the woodland and their green spaces more widely.

We will learn from existing local conservation projects such as those at Westborough Woods and Chittys Common (which are facilitated by Surrey Wildlife trust), as well as those within the region such as at RHS Wisley, and harness local volunteers.

Blackwell’s ancient woodland provides a range of environmental, social and economic benefits to the area. To ensure that these are fully realised they need to be sustainably managed – including selective removal of trees and items not native to the woodlands – to create a diverse authentic habitat, improve public access, ensure the woodland is contributing to cleaning Guildford’s air and reducing the adverse impacts of climate change. This project seeks to better understand the condition of Blackwell’s ancient woodland at its core and immediate environs and identify opportunities to increase the level of sustainable management for social, environmental and economic benefit for the local area and community.

At Blackwell and through using the ancient woodlands as an anchor for a wider environmental project, we have a unique opportunity. This Practitioner Doctorate in Sustainability project will develop significant knowledge and insight, and publish results of environmental and social research for the benefit of the development and the (new and existing) local communities. The post holder will engage with professional environmental bodies (local and national), local and regional government, research and academic colleagues at the University of Surrey and the nearby local community, who would also have full involvement and engagement with the project and its outcomes.

Project Deliverables

  1. Contribute to the management, conservation, repair and sensitive development of Blackwell’s ancient woodland.
  2. Build an understanding and framework to connect how the ancient woodland forms a central part of the wider ecological and environmental/sustainable picture in the local area and its communities.
  3. Using the natural capital protocol principles and framework undertake extended research to assess the existing value of the woodlands and wider green areas in the locality. Assess benefits of the ancient woodland to the local community and wider Guildford area (for example, this may include: benefits of accessing nature environments, health, fitness, mental wellbeing, educational, resource delivery (wood coppicing for example), improved/mitigation against local air pollution levels).
  4. Make an assessment before, during and after any activity to repair and develop the ancient woodlands has taken place along with assessing impact and value of other university led local green space initiatives and community green spaces working collaboratively with stakeholders both within and external to the university.
  5. Propose further projects, activity and interventions that will further benefit the ancient woodlands and its links and usability to the local community.
  6. Through research and engagement build a solid base for future study of the longitudinal benefits of development that will be undertaken at Blackwell, with sustainability at its core; before development, after woodland restoration, during construction after construction and when occupied by new communities.


The approaches chosen for this research are likely to include some or all of the following

  1. Stakeholder engagement through surveys, engagement/education events and communications.
  2. Measurement of local air pollution levels/carbon and tree, plant and animal population within the woodlands.
  3. Develop (collaboratively with various stakeholders and colleagues) a programme of ‘citizen science’ – working with the local population which will lead to higher engagement and utilisation (and appreciation) of the ancient woodland and adjacent green spaces, whilst measuring ‘enjoyment’, health improvements, aspiration raising etc.

Person specification

  • English proficiency and particularly excellent spoken English, as stakeholder liaison with a variety of local groups will be required often face to face or presenting in community meeting settings.
  • A first degree in ecology or environmental science and a minimum of 1-2 years work experience.
  • An MSc in a subject related to sustainability or biodiversity would be an advantage
  • A strong understanding and interest of social science.
  • Inquisitive nature and ability to understand and solve intractable or sensitive problems by thinking creatively and out of the box.
  • Ability to work independently as well as part of a team and draw together personnel and resources to deliver for the wider project.
  • Ability to collect, analyse, summarise and draw conclusions from a variety of data sources. Experience in SPSS, Excel and Nvivo/MaxQDA would be advantageous
  • Strong communication skills are necessary and evidence of stakeholder engagement at all levels is required, including excellent report and general writing skills and ability to write for a variety of audiences.
  • The candidate must be able to display a capacity for independent thought, as well as a pragmatic attitude to working with industry, local government, higher education and in a community setting.


All applications must be emailed to and include all of the following documentation to be considered:

  • Up to date cv
  • Cover letter including why this project is of interest and how your experience and interests make you a suitable candidate.
  • Degree certificates and transcripts
  • References – 2x academic references or 1x academic reference and 1x other reference

Project Positioning within the Organisation and Impact

This project will sit under the auspices of a Blackwell Woodlands Project Committee chaired by an external individual to the University. Serving on that committee will be representatives from recognised and reputable local and regional environmental organisations such as (for example and TBC) Surrey Nature Partnership, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Surrey Hills AONB, Centre for Environment and Sustainability, Guildford Borough Council and representatives of the communities around Blackwell (Manor Park, Beechcroft, Park Barn, Wood Street Village, Westborough). There would also be representatives of the Blackwell Park development on the committee.

Principles behind the committee would be (a) that all work be expert advised and driven, (b) that there would be an annual budget, and (c) that the remit of the committee will be focussed to the natural environment and woodlands.

Key Dates and Information

This project is due to begin on the 1st October 2018. The successful candidate will spend an initial 11 weeks in Guildford, UK undertaking intensive sustainability and personal development training, after which they will be predominately based at the University of Surrey, Guildford and the Surrey Wildlife Trust, Woking.

The programme will run for three to four years.

The successful candidate will receive a generous stipend of £18,000 per annum throughout this time (with potential to increase to c. £20,000 per annum after two years). Stipends are usually tax-free and DPs will also benefit from an additional £500 p.a. allowance for attendance at conferences etc. In addition to this, full-time tuition fees (£4,195) will be covered at the current Home/EU rate for the duration of the programme.

The deadline for applications is Wednesday 6th June and Interviews for this post will take place week of 11th June 2018.

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