Quantifying biodiversity benefits and disease disbenefits from woodland creation projects


Woodland creation projects and ecological networks for nature (eg Natural England Nature Networks) are increasing in the UK under government policies to increase tree planting for climate change mitigation and to promote biodiversity by enabling species dispersal and movements. These large-scale land-use changes are highly likely to affect wildlife host density, community composition and wildlife host space use by changing landscape connectivity. As well as expected benefits, there are potential disbenefits if this results in increased interfaces between wildlife species, humans and livestock with potential for pathogen spill-over. Therefore, there is a need to understand relationships between landscape structure, biodiversity and disease risk for significant zoonotic and livestock pathogens and to predict how these will change in future.

This project will compare, evaluate and integrate methodologies for estimating wildlife host communities, movements and densities across study landscapes using existing species distribution and population models, survey data (eg British Trust for Ornithology bird survey data) and novel field data (camera traps, deer dung and rodent sign surveys, live rodent trapping, acoustic monitoring data for birds). To estimate effects of human disturbance and potential spillover of zoonotic pathogens, human usage of landscapes will be estimated from maps of road and paths, Strava data, existing recreational surveys, and camera trap and acoustic monitoring data. Using empirical and literature derived data, models of how biodiversity and zoonotic pathogen hazard varies across study landscapes will be developed for vector-borne and environmentally transmitted pathogens. This will increase our understanding of how disease risk varies across natural biodiversity gradients, and how this may change in future with woodland creation projects and environmental land management schemes.


- Develop methodology to estimate the composition of wildlife host communities and interactions with humans across two study landscapes with a gradient of woodland patch size and isolation, integrating different data sources.

- Use models to estimate the impacts of woodland creation projects on avian and deer biodiversity and risk of pathogen spill-over to humans and livestock for multi-host pathogens: i) tick vector transmitted (Borrelia burgdorferi and Anaplasma phagocytophilum) and ii) environmentally transmitted (Leptospira spp.)

Novelty and Timeliness

This project will develop new data and understanding which can be combined with a current UK-CEH e-planner tool for land managers (https://e-planner.ceh.ac.uk/About) to understand how landscape changes will benefit biodiversity and estimate disbenefits for human and animal health through spillover of parasites and pathogens.


Notes and details of how to apply are available here: https://accedtp.ac.uk/acce-dtp-phd-opportunities-at-university-of-liverpool/

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a normal personal/supporting statement/cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries may be made to 


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.



Millins, C., Gilbert, L., Medlock, J., Hansford, K., Thompson, D. B.A. and Biek, R. (2017) Effects of conservation management of landscapes and vertebrate communities on Lyme borreliosis risk in the United Kingdom. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 372(1722), 20160123 (doi:10.1098/rstb.2016.0123) (PMID:28438912)
Millins, C., Dickinson, E.D., Isakovi, P., Gilbert, L., Wojciechowska, A., Paterson, V. Tao, F., Jahn, M., Kilbride, E., Birtles, R., Johnson, P., Biek, R. Landscape Structure affects the distribution and persistence of a tick-borne zoonotic pathogen. Parasites and Vectors, (2018) 11:621. doi:10.1186/s13071-018-3200-2
Li S., Gilbert L., Vanwambeke S.O., Yu J., Purse B.V., Harrison P.A. (2019) Lyme Disease Risks in Europe under Multiple Uncertain Drivers of Change, Environmental Health Perspectives 127, 6, 10.1289/EHP4615.